“We’re coming to recognize that meditation changes people’s brains,” said Wells, an assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “And we’re just beginning to gain understanding of what those changes mean and how they might benefit the meditator.”
In separate clinical studies, Wells has looked into the effectiveness of a meditation and yoga program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) as a therapy for mild cognitive impairment – problems with memory or other faculties without yet having dementia – and for migraine headaches.
In the first study, the participants were adults between 55 and 90 with mild cognitive impairment. Those who practiced MBSR for eight weeks had significantly improved functional connectivity in the brain’s network that is active during introspective thought such as retrieving memories, along with trends of less atrophy in the hippocampus (the area of the brain responsible for emotions, learning and memory) compared with the participants who received conventional care. These findings indicate that meditation may positively affect the areas of the brain most impacted by Alzheimer’s and thus may be capable of slowing the progress of the disease.
Wells’ second study found that adults with migraines who practiced MBSR for eight weeks had shorter and less debilitating migraines than those in the control group who received standard medical care. The members of the MBSR group also had trends of less frequent and less severe attacks, and reported having a greater sense of self-control over their migraines.
A new analysis reported in JAMA Psychiatry raises serious questions about the increasingly common use of second-generation antidepressant drugs to treat anxiety disorders.
It concludes that studies supporting the value of these medications for that purpose have been distorted by publication bias, outcome reporting bias and “spin.” Even though they may still play a role in treating these disorders, the effectiveness of the drugs has been overestimated.
In some cases the medications, which are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, are not significantly more useful than a placebo.
The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University, and the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. The work was supported by a grant from the Dutch Brain Foundation.
Publication bias was one of the most serious problems, the researchers concluded, as it related to double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials that had been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If the FDA determined the study was positive, it was five times more likely to be published than if it was not determined to be positive.
Bias in “outcome reporting” was also observed, in which the positive outcomes from drug use were emphasized over those found to be negative. And simple spin was also reported. Some investigators concluded that treatments were beneficial, when their own published results for primary outcomes were actually insignificant.
“These findings mirror what we found previously with the same drugs when used to treat major depression, and with antipsychotics,” said Erick Turner, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry in the OHSU School of Medicine, and the study’s senior author. “When their studies don’t turn out well, you usually won’t know it from the peer-reviewed literature.”
This points to a flaw in the way doctors learn about the drugs they prescribe, the researchers said.
“The peer review process of publication allows, perhaps even encourages, this kind of thing to happen,” Turner said. “And this isn’t restricted to psychiatry – reporting bias has been found throughout the medical and scientific literature.”
UNSW biomedical engineer Melissa Knothe Tate is using previously top-secret semiconductor technology to zoom through organs of the human body, down to the level of a single cell.
UNSW Paul Trainor Chair of Biomedical Engineering, Professor Melissa Knothe Tate. Photo: Grant Turner/Mediakoo
A world-first UNSW collaboration that uses previously top-secret technology to zoom through the human body down to the level of a single cell could be a game-changer for medicine, an international research conference in the United States has been told.
The imaging technology, developed by high-tech German optical and industrial measurement manufacturer Zeiss, was originally developed to scan silicon wafers for defects.
…the team presents an in-depth analysis of the gut microbiome of the Matses, an Amazonian hunter-gatherer community, which is compared with that of the village of Tunapunco, who are highland small-scale farmers, as well as with urban city-dwellers in Norman, Okla.
In comparing the three groups to previously published studies in Africa and South America, the team observed a striking trend. Human gut microbiota cluster together based on subsistence strategy more than geographic proximity. Thus, hunter-gatherers in South America and Africa are more similar to each other than either are to rural agriculturalists or to urban-industrialists, even from neighboring populations.
It is now well accepted that human gut microbiomes are actively involved in health and that changes in our gut microbes from living more sanitized, industrialized lifestyles, has led to susceptibility to certain autoimmune disorders like asthma and allergies.
Also, it has become clear that industrialization has led to a decrease in gut microbiome diversity. Moreover, in the gut of industrialized peoples, one particular bacteria genus is conspicuously absent, Treponema. These bacteria have co-existed with humans and other primates for millions of years, so their absence in industrialized people is disconcerting.
Improved Decision-Making in How to Use New Technology May be Key to Decrease in Complications Associated with Fracture Healing Procedures
A team of orthopedic surgeons from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has found that modern technology for healing distal femur fractures is as safe and effective as its more established alternative, without a potential shortfall of the older approach. The team found that when done correctly, there are no significant differences between the two approaches – “locked plating” and “non-locked plating” – in terms of healing rates, need for corrective surgery, or hardware failure. The findings are being presented on Thursday, March 26, 2015, at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.
he team examined medical records of 95 patients who underwent surgery to repair distal femoral fractures. Though relatively uncommon in the general population, an increase in the number of these fractures is expected as the population ages. For 80 percent of the patients studied, the fracture healed within 3.5 months of surgery, while 20 percent needed corrective surgery. The researchers found that patients whose surgeons used locked plating – which historically required a second revision surgery roughly 40 percent of the time – had no more setbacks than patients whose providers used non-locked plating.
The two methods differ by virtue of their use of locking and non-locking screws, respectively, to attach metal plates to fractured bone in order to provide stability and promote healing. While locked plating virtually eliminates the possibility of the plate moving, it has been associated with pronounced stiffness and rigidity around the healing bone, which can prevent the broken bone from healing.
“Plates used in distal femur surgery come in various sizes, and have as many as 16 to 20 apertures, or screw holes,” explained the study’s senior author Samir Mehta, MD, chief of the division of Orthopaedic Trauma at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “In the early days of locked plating, some surgeons used screws in every one of these apertures, which we think lead to stiffness, rigidity and pain for patients. Today, surgeons are more judicious, using far fewer screws and picking and choosing which holes to insert the screws in based on factors in the case at hand. This improved decision-making on the part of surgeons is what we believe has resulted in the significant decrease in techincal problems associated with locked plating.”
According to the researchers, the one factor that had a significant impact on fracture healing was if the fracture was open. Additionally, two factors increased the risk of poor healing for the participant population, but did not reach statistical significance: diabetes and non-weight bearing status postoperatively. The latter finding points the way toward early weight-bearing by patients, typically within a few days of surgery, rather than remaining in bed.
“As surgeons become more adept at application of both established and developing implant technologies, outcomes will continue to improve,” said lead investigator Ryan M. Taylor, MD, a fifth-year resident in the department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “However, we must remain cognizant of patient specific variables such as age, weight, and pre-existing comorbidities, which can affect overall care strategies and management.”
Achieving better health outcomes at a lower cost and succeeding with payment reforms that shift from volume to value is difficult without health information technology (IT). Health IT can engage and support health care providers, patients, and consumers with access to timely and accurate clinical information from electronic health records (EHRs) and other sources. It can also provide access to cost and coverage information that avoids burdensome administrative processes and unexpected costs. Health IT can achieve these benefits through interoperability across information and data exchange platforms – avoiding duplicative parallel systems and additional data entry. Engaged patients and providers, supported by flexible, usable and useful health IT, can make informed shared decisions about testing and treatment which can lead to more timely, efficient, and higher-value health care.
Changes in how medical diagnoses are coded under the latest international disease classification system – known as the ICD-10 codes – may complicate financial analysis, research projects and training programs that depend on look-back comparisons of health care data, report researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The report, a collaboration of researchers at UIC and at the University of Arizona, is online in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA).
Codes for diagnoses – used to justify payments, among other things – may not translate from ICD-10 back to ICD-9 in a simple way, says Andrew Boyd, assistant professor of biomedical and health information sciences at UIC and first author of the paper.
Boyd and his colleagues have been looking at issues that could come up as physicians and hospitals change from one system to the other. Previously they found that some ICD-9 codes map well to ICD-10, but many more have highly convoluted mappings, and some don’t map at all. This forward-mapping is needed for continuing payments of ongoing medical conditions.
“Now, we are taking the same methodology and looking backward,” Boyd said. Reverse-mapping from ICD-10 back to ICD-9 will be important for all sorts of retrospective analyses, he said, “because we have 30 years of data that we want. We don’t want to lose all this information.”
Clinical researchers and analysts conducting studies across datasets – and hospital administrators who manage growth and watch trends for strategic planning – will need to pull data under both the new and the old codes. Mapping back from ICD-10- to ICD-9 is just as complex as mapping from ICD-9 to ICD-10.
The researchers created a web portal tool and translation tables designed to provide guidance on ambiguous and complex translations and to reveal where analyses may be challenging or impossible. The tool lists all ICD-9-CM diagnosis codes related to the input of ICD-10-CM codes and classifies their level of complexity, which can be a one-to-one “identity,” or reciprocal (the simplest); class-to-subclass; subclass-to-class; “convoluted”; or “no mapping.”
A new study has found some scientists are unknowingly tweaking experiments and analysis methods to increase their chances of getting results that are easily published.
The study conducted by ANU scientists is the most comprehensive investigation into a type of publication bias called p-hacking.
P-hacking happens when researchers either consciously or unconsciously analyse their data multiple times or in multiple ways until they get a desired result. If p-hacking is common, the exaggerated results could lead to misleading conclusions, even when evidence comes from multiple studies.
“We found evidence that p-hacking is happening throughout the life sciences,” said lead author Dr Megan Head from the ANU Research School of Biology.
The study used text mining to extract p-values – a number that indicates how likely it is that a result occurs by chance – from more than 100,000 research papers published around the world, spanning many scientific disciplines, including medicine, biology and psychology.
“Many researchers are not aware that certain methods could make some results seem more important than they are. They are just genuinely excited about finding something new and interesting,” Dr Head said.
“I think that pressure to publish is one factor driving this bias. As scientists we are judged by how many publications we have and the quality of the scientific journals they go in.
“Journals, especially the top journals, are more likely to publish experiments with new, interesting results, creating incentive to produce results on demand.”
Dr Head said the study found a high number of p-values that were only just over the traditional threshold that most scientists call statistically significant.
“This suggests that some scientists adjust their experimental design, datasets or statistical methods until they get a result that crosses the significance threshold,” she said.
“They might look at their results before an experiment is finished, or explore their data with lots of different statistical methods, without realising that this can lead to bias.”
The concern with p-hacking is that it could get in the way of forming accurate scientific conclusions, even when scientists review the evidence by combining results from multiple studies.
For example, if some studies show a particular drug is effective in treating hypertension, but other studies find it is not effective, scientists would analyse all the data to reach an overall conclusion. But if enough results have been p-hacked, the drug would look more effective than it is.
“We looked at the likelihood of this bias occurring in our own specialty, evolutionary biology, and although p-hacking was happening it wasn’t common enough to drastically alter general conclusions that could be made from the research,” she said.
“But greater awareness of p-hacking and its dangers is important because the implications of p-hacking may be different depending on the question you are asking.”
In 28 countries, more medicine has unexpected effects
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Across much of the Western world, 25 years of expansion of the medical system has actually led to people feeling less healthy over time, a new study has found.
A researcher at The Ohio State University used several large multinational datasets to examine changes in how people rated their health between 1981 and 2007 and compared that to medical expansion in 28 countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
During that time, the medical industry expanded dramatically in many of those countries, which you might expect would lead to people who felt healthier.
“Access to more medicine and medical care doesn’t really improve our subjective health. For example, in the United States, the percentage of Americans reporting very good health decreased from 39 percent to 28 percent from 1982 to 2006,” Zheng said.
In fact, Zheng conducted what is called a “counterfactual analysis” using the data to see what would have happened if the medical industry hadn’t expanded at all in these countries since 1982. In this analysis, other factors that are generally linked to improved health, such as economic development, were left unchanged.
Under this scenario, the analysis predicted that self-rated health would have increased in these 28 countries. For example, the percentage of Americans reporting very good health could have increased by about 10 percent.
“It seems counterintuitive, but that’s what the evidence shows. More medicine doesn’t lead to citizens feeling better about their health – it actually hurts,” Zheng said.
Zheng measured three kinds of medical expansion. One was medical investment, which includes health care spending per capita and total health employment; medical professionalization and specialization, which includes the number of practicing physicians and specialists; and expanded pharmaceutical industry, which includes pharmaceutical sales per capita.
Zheng said there are several reasons why medical expansion may actually lead people to feel less healthy. For one, more diseases are discovered or “created,” which increases the risk of being diagnosed with “new” diseases. Three examples, he said, include the rise in diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and autism.
In addition, there is more aggressive screening, which turns up more diseases in people. Overdiagnosis can potentially cause harm to perfectly healthy people, he said.
As more medical care becomes more widely available, people may expect better health, perhaps to an unrealistic degree, Zheng said.
“Consumers begin demanding more medical treatment because of the declines in subjective health and the increasing expectations of good health, and medical expansion continues. It is a cycle,” Zheng said.
In a separate but related study published online in Social Science Research, Zheng found that Americans’ confidence in medicine has declined over the last three decades, again at the same time as medical expansion.
“The decline in confidence has occurred at the same rate, regardless of gender, age, income or any other factor,” Zheng said.
LIVERMORE, Calif.—Technologies developed in Sandia National Laboratories’biosciences program could soon find their way into doctors’ offices — devices like wearable microneedles that continuously analyze electrolyte levels and a lab-on-a-disk that can test a drop of blood for 64 different diseases in minutes.
At a recent seminar for potential investors and licensees, part of the Sandia Technology Showcase series, Sandia bioscientists presented eight ready-to-license technologies in three key areas: medical diagnostics, biosurveillance and therapeutics and drug discovery.
The National Science Foundation (NSF or Foundation) has developed a plan outlining a framework for activities to increase public access to scientific publications and digital scientific data resulting from research the foundation funds. The plan, entitled “Today’s Data, Tomorrow’s Discoveries,” is consistent with the objectives set forth in the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Feb. 22, 2013, memorandum, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research,” and with long-standing policies encouraging data sharing and communication of research results.
As outlined in section 3.1 of the plan, NSF will require that either the version of record or the final accepted manuscript in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions must:
Be deposited in a public access compliant repository designated by NSF;
Be available for download, reading and analysis free of charge no later than 12 months after initial publication;
Possess a minimum set of machine-readable metadata elements in a metadata record to be made available free of charge upon initial publication;
Be managed to ensure long-term preservation; and
Be reported in annual and final reports during the period of the award with a persistent identifier that provides links to the full text of the publication as well as other metadata elements.
This NSF requirement will apply to new awards resulting from proposals submitted, or due, on or after the effective date of the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) that will be issued in January 2016.
From the 12 March 2015 news release at Medical Xpress
Microbes in the human body are estimated to outnumber human cells by 10 to 1, yet research on how they affect health is still in its infancy. A perspective article published by Cell Press on March 12th in Trends in Biotechnology presents evidence that gut microbes produce gases that may contribute to gastrointestinal diseases and could be used as biomarkers for one’s state of health. As means to measure these potential biomarkers, the authors suggest two novel gas-sensing systems, one of which is an electronic gas sensor in the form of a pill you can swallow. These systems may offer a reliable and economical way to understand the impact of intestinal gases on human health, paving the way for the development of new diagnostic techniques and therapies.
Resource May Help Identify Mechanisms of Immune-Related Diseases
An extensive database identifying immune traits, such as how immune cell function is regulated at the genetic level in healthy people, is reported by researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and their collaborators in the journal Cell. While many genetic risk factors have been linked to various diseases, including autoimmune disorders, how a genetic change causes susceptibility to a disease is not always clear. By studying healthy people, researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center, part of the NIH, and colleagues from King’s College London have created a reference resource for other scientists.
The team analyzed blood samples collected from 669 female twins and developed a screening method that could differentiate approximately 78,000 subsets of immune cells, or immune traits. By using twins, the researchers identified which immune traits were most likely to be heritable and thus regulated at the genetic level. They selected 151 promising traits and performed a genome-wide approach to identify which, if any, genetic changes regulated a trait. They discovered 19 immune traits that were regulated by more than 240 genetic changes clustered within 11 areas of the human genome.
The results of this study have far-reaching implications, especially for researchers studying autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, lupus, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. For example, genetic changes in the FCGR2 gene are known risk factors for several autoimmune disorders, including those just noted. However, it remains unclear how FCGR2 influences such a range of disorders. Now, researchers can use this new database to see how a change in FCGR2 or another gene affects components of the immune system and, subsequently, incorporate this information in the design of future studies.
M Roederer, L Quaye, M Mangino et al. The genetic architecture of the human immune system: a bioresource for autoimmunity and disease pathogenesis. Cell DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.046 (2015).
Mario Roederer, Ph.D., chief of the ImmunoTechnology Section in NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center, is available to discuss the findings.
“What’s published in medical journals doesn’t necessarily match what was reported in clinicaltrials.gov….In a significant proportion of cases, the results on cliniclaltrials.gov were reported more thoroughly than the results in corresponding journal articles,”
Despite legal and ethical mandates for disclosure, results from most clinical trials of medical products are not reported promptly atclinicaltrials.gov, according to Duke Medicine researchers.
Among all clinical trials of medical products, those funded by industry were the most likely to be publicly disclosed in a timely fashion, but even then, compliance was poor.
Research funded by the National Institutes of Health and academic institutions lagged further, according to findings published by Monique Anderson, MD, assistant professor of medicine (Cardiology), and her DCRI colleagues in the March 12, 2015, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Read the findings: Compliance with Results Reporting at ClinicalTrials.gov.
From the results section
“From all the trials at ClinicalTrials.gov, we identified 13,327 HLACTs that were terminated or completed from January 1, 2008, through August 31, 2012. Of these trials, 77.4% were classified as drug trials. A total of 36.9% of the trials were phase 2 studies, and 23.4% were phase 3 studies; 65.6% were funded by industry. Only 13.4% of trials reported summary results within 12 months after trial completion, whereas 38.3% reported results at any time up to September 27, 2013. Timely reporting was independently associated with factors such as FDA oversight, a later trial phase, and industry funding. A sample review suggested that 45% of industry-funded trials were not required to report results, as compared with 6% of trials funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and 9% of trials that were funded by other government or academic institutions.”
Read a blog post about the study at Rethinking Clinical Trials, the NIH Collaboratory’sRethinking Clinical Trials: A Living Textbook of Pragmatic Clinical TrialsExcerpts
““We were really surprised at how untimely the reporting was—and that more than 66 percent hadn’t reported at all over the 5 years [of the study interval],””Another unexpected result was the finding that industry-sponsored studies were significantly more likely to have reported timely results than were trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or by other academic or government funding sources. The authors noted that despite a seemingly widespread lack of compliance with both legal and ethical imperatives for reporting trial results, there has so far been no penalty for failing to meet reporting obligations,””reporting clinical trials results in order to contribute to scientific and medical knowledge is as much an ethical obligation for researchers as a legal one: “It’s something we really promise to every patient when they enroll on a trial.””
Listen to a report, with quotes from Dr. Anderson and Mark Stacy, MD, vice dean for clinical research, on National Public Radio: Results Of Many Clinical Trials Not Being ReportedExcerpts
“Even counting the late entries and allowable exceptions, only about 50 percent of taxpayer-funded research has been reported back to the taxpayers on clinicaltrials.gov, ”
“The study doesn’t assess why universities are frequently failing to post their results.”
“scientists are generally more likely to publish good news and ignore bad news, which skews the scientific record.”
“What’s published in medical journals doesn’t necessarily match whatwas reported in clinicaltrials.gov.”In a significant proportion of cases, the results on cliniclaltrials.gov were reported more thoroughly than the results in corresponding journal articles,” he says.
In these images, the ability of the new Cas9 approach to differentiate stem cells into brain neuron cells is visible. On the left, a previous attempt to direct stem cells to develop into neuronal cells shows a low level of success, with limited red–colored areas indicating low growth of neuron cells. On the right, the new Cas9 approach shows a 40–fold increase in the number of neuronal cells developed, visible as red-colored areas on the image. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
New mechanism for engineering genetic traits governed by multiple genes paves the way for various advances in genomics and regenerative medicine
When it comes to gene expression – the process by which our DNA provides the recipe used to direct the synthesis of proteins and other molecules that we need for development and survival – scientists have so far studied one single gene at a time. Anew approach developed by Harvard geneticist George Church, Ph.D., can help uncover how tandem gene circuits dictate life processes, such as the healthy development of tissue or the triggering of a particular disease, and can also be used for directing precision stem cell differentiation for regenerative medicine and growing organ transplants.
The findings, reported by Church and his team of researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School in Nature Methods, show promise that precision gene therapies could be developed to prevent and treat disease on a highly customizable, personalized level, which is crucial given the fact that diseases develop among diverse pathways among genetically–varied individuals. Wyss Core Faculty member Jim Collins, Ph.D. was also a co-author on the paper. Collins is also the Henri Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science and Professor in the Department of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A new study has found women who smoke when pregnant are putting their daughters at a greater risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer later in life.
The Australian National University (ANU) study, published in Human Reproduction, found mothers who reported smoking most days while pregnant had daughters who had an earlier age of first menstruation, or menarche.
Lead researcher Dr Alison Behie said reaching menarche at an earlier age increases the number of ovulation cycles a woman will have in her life, and puts her at greater risk of developing reproductive cancers possibly due to increased exposure to hormones such as oestrogen.
“We’re discovering more and more that major aspects of our biology, and even our behaviour, are set before we are born,” said Dr Behie, a biological anthropologist from the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology.
“We know the mother’s exposure to stress, such as smoking in this case, can influence the long-term health of the child.
Major rethink in order for some of us, including me? Or is the jury still out, so to speak. Perhaps a major rethink of some substances in light of the emerging role of personalized medicine.
Personal flashback to 1979 and Peace Corps training in Nashville TN. We were housed in motel rooms during our 1 1/2 month stateside training. One evening I returned to my room, where my two roommates were lounging. One told me the other was tripping on LSD (it had come to her on the back of the postage stamp from a mailed letter from a friend). Well, I about lost it, I had smoked (but not inhaled!) some marijuana once, but my perception of LSD was that it, well, took control of you and made you do things you wouldn’t normally do. The other roommate told me I just had to accept it. I said I didn’t have to and left the room for a few others and hung out with other volunteers. I was well, a bit scared that if the roommate was caught or reported, I could get kicked out of the Peace Corps program. Well, we never talked about the LSD, and had about 3 weeks to go in the program. And we all managed to get along fairly well after this incident. Stayed home while I attended college, so I guess this was a version of college roommate “drama”.
U.S. adults with a history of using some nonaddictive psychedelic drugs had reduced likelihood of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts, according to data from a nationwide survey.
While these psychedelic drugs are illegal, a Johns Hopkins researcher and study author recommends reconsidering their status, as they may be useful in treating depression.
Some people have serious adverse reactions to these drugs, which may not stand out in the survey data because they are less numerous than positive outcomes.
The observational nature of the study cannot definitively show that psychedelics caused these effects, Johnson says, because those who chose to use psychedelics may have been psychologically healthier before using these drugs. However, the results probably reflect a benefit from psychedelics — the study controlled for many relevant variables and found that, as the researchers expected, other drugs assessed in the study were linked to increased harms, he says. The use of nonaddictive psychedelic drugs may exacerbate schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders and can sometimes elicit feelings of anxiety, fear, panic and paranoia, which can lead to dangerous behavior, Johnson says. But these instances of individual harm, while serious, may not stand out in the survey data because they occur less often than the positive outcomes that some people experience.
“Our general societal impression of these drugs is they make people go crazy or are associated with psychological harm, but our data point to the potential psychological benefits from these drugs,” he says. Current research at Johns Hopkins and several other universities is examining the therapeutic potential of one of the psychedelics, psilocybin, when administered in carefully controlled, monitored medical studies.
The use of psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, does not increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems, according to an analysis of information from more than 135,000 randomly chosen people, including 19,000 people who had used psychedelics. The results are published today in Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Clinical psychologist Pål-&Ostroke;rjan Johansen (http://www.EmmaSofia.org) and neuroscientist Teri Krebs (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) used data from the US National Health Survey (2008-2011) to study the relationship between psychedelic drug use and psychological distress, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts. The researchers found no link.
Johansen and Krebs previous population study, which used data from 2001-2004, also failed to find evidence for a link between psychedelic use and mental health problems.
“Over 30 million US adults have tried psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of health problems,” says Johansen.
“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances,” adds Krebs. In contrast to alcohol, psychedelics are not addictive.
Johansen and Krebs found that, on a number of measures, the use of psychedelic drugs is correlated with fewer mental health problems. “Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics,” says Krebs. However, “Given the design of our study, we cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others,” adds Johansen.
Psychedelics and human rights
“With these robust findings, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure,” Johansen argues. Krebs adds that the prohibition of psychedelics is also a human rights issue: “Concerns have been raised that the ban on use of psychedelics is a violation of the human rights to belief and spiritual practice, full development of the personalty, and free-time and play.”
Lots of potentially useful medical information is getting lost. McGill researchers discovered this when they looked into the lack of reporting of information from “stalled drug” trials in cancer, cardiovascular and neurological diseases.
“Stalled drugs” are drugs that fail to make it to the market either because they prove to be ineffective or unsafe or both. Because only one in ten of the drugs that goes into human testing actually gets licensed, most of the information collected in developing new drugs is currently being lost. This is despite the fact that this information is critical for effective care, protecting patients, and discovering better drugs.
Findings from trials of stalled drugs:
1. Allow drug developers to discover what didn’t work, and then adjust the compound or method of delivery so that it might work for other conditions. For example, the drug Viagra failed initially as a drug for treatment of angina. We now know it to be a very effective drug for erectile dysfunction.
2. Help us learn about the safety of other approved drugs. Often, trials of experimental drugs generate valuable evidence about the safety of approved drugs – especially if the approved drugs are in the same chemical family.
3. Help drug discoverers learn about the limits of animal models and other experimental techniques. “When a drug works in animal models but not in patients, we have an opportunity to study why our model fell short and to improve it,” says Amanda Hakala, a Master’s student who is first author on the study.
4. Contain safety and efficacy information that might be useful in other parts of the world. Often, drugs that are considered unsafe and ineffective in one part of the world are approved in another. “Failure to publish these trials deprives patients in those other jurisdictions of state of the art evidence of safety and efficacy,” says Kimmelman.
Households can serve as a reservoir for transmitting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a study published this week inmBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. Once the bacteria enters a home, it can linger for years, spreading from person to person and evolving genetically to become unique to that household.
The researchers found that isolates within households clustered into closely related groups, suggesting a single common USA300 ancestral strain was introduced to and transmitted within each household. Researchers also determined from a technique called Bayesian evolutionary reconstruction that USA300 MRSA persisted within households from 2.3 to 8.3 years before their samples were collected, and that in the course of a year, USA300 strains had a 1 in a million chance of having a random genetic change, estimating the speed of evolution in these strains. Researchers also found evidence that USA300 clones, when persisting in households, continued to acquire extraneous DNA.
“We found that USA300 MRSA strains within households were more similar to each other than those from different households,”
We’re also getting hints at how it evolves inside households. Decolonization of household members may be a critical component of prevention programs to control USA300 MRSA spread in the United States.”
Highly effective regimen for decolonization of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus carriers.“Standardized decolonization treatment consisted of mupirocin nasal ointment, chlorhexidine mouth rinse, and full-body wash with chlorhexidine soap for 5 days. Intestinal and urinary-tract colonization were treated with oral vancomycin and cotrimoxazole, respectively. Vaginal colonization was treated with povidone-iodine or, alternatively, with chlorhexidine ovula or octenidine solution. Other antibiotics were added to the regimen if treatment failed.”
The extract of onion bulb, Allium cepa, strongly lowered high blood glucose (sugar) and total cholesterol levels in diabetic rats when given with the antidiabetic drug metformin, according to a new study. The study results will be presented Thursday at The Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego.
“Onion is cheap and available and has been used as a nutritional supplement,” said lead investigator Anthony Ojieh, MBBS (MD), MSc, of Delta State University in Abraka, Nigeria. “It has the potential for use in treating patients with diabetes.”
NIH-funded study analyzes data from more than 450 men attempting to conceive
Working in a physically demanding job, having high blood pressure, and taking multiple medications are among health risks that may undermine a man’s fertility, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and Stanford University, Stanford, California. The study is the first to examine the relationships between workplace exertion, health, and semen quality as men are trying to conceive. The results were published online inFertility and Sterility.
3-D printing could become a powerful tool in customizing interventional radiology treatments to individual patient needs, with clinicians having the ability to construct devices to a specific size and shape. That’s according to a study being presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s Annual Scientific Meeting. Researchers and engineers collaborated to print catheters, stents and filaments that were bioactive, giving these devices the ability to deliver antibiotics and chemotherapeutic medications to a targeted area in cell cultures.
“3-D printing allows for tailor-made materials for personalized medicine,” said Horacio R. D’Agostino, M.D., FSIR, lead researcher and an interventional radiologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUH) in Shreveport. “It gives us the ability to construct devices that meet patients’ needs, from their unique anatomy to specific medicine requirements. And as tools in interventional radiology, these devices are part of treatment options that are less invasive than traditional surgery,” he added.
Using 3-D printing technology and resorbable bioplastics, D’Agostino and his team of biomedical engineers and nanosystem engineers at LSUH and Louisiana Tech University developed bioactive filaments, chemotherapy beads, and catheters and stents containing antibiotics or chemotherapeutic agents. The team then tested these devices in cell cultures to see if they could inhibit growth of bacteria and cancer cells.
When testing antibiotic-containing catheters that could slowly release the drug, D’Agostino’s team found that the devices inhibited bacterial growth. Researchers also saw that filaments carrying chemotherapeutic agents were able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Bacteria that talk to one another and organize themselves into biofilms are more resistant to antibiotics. Researchers are now working to develop drugs that prevent bacteria from communicating.
Tracing bacteria: The researchers are testing the new group of drugs in transparent worms called C. elegans, in which they can trace the bacteria while infection develops. They do this by feeding the worms with fluorescent bacteria.
The aim is to find alternatives to antibiotics and reduce the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
– Understanding how bacteria communicate could provide a new means of controlling them and preventing and treating infectious diseases, says Professor Anne Aamdal Scheie at the Department of Oral Biology at the University of Oslo.
Together with Professor Fernanda Cristina Petersen, Aamdal Scheie is shedding light on one of the most important health challenges facing the world today, namely antibiotic resistance. The researchers believe that understanding bacterial communication has a key role to play in the fight against resistant bacteria.
Research groups at the Faculty of Dentistry therefore want to understand how bacteria talk to one another – precisely to prevent them from communicating and becoming hazardous.
In a study of 159 women who had been exposed to at least one assault-related potentially traumatic event, 30% developed major depressive disorder, which may be attributed to self-blame common to survivors of assault. Fewer women (21%) developed chronic posttraumatic stress disorder.
Mastery–the degree to which an individual perceives control and influence over life circumstances–and social support were most prevalent in women who did not develop a trauma-related psychiatric disorder after assault exposure, while mastery and posttraumatic growth were related to psychiatric recovery. These factors were less established in women with a current psychiatric disorder.
The Brain and Behavior findings have significance for the health and wellbeing of women, and for identifying individuals who are most in need of resilience-promoting interventions. “Women exposed to assault may present with post-trauma depression in lieu of posttraumatic stress disorder. Resilience factors like mastery and social support may attenuate the deleterious effects of an assault,” said lead author Heather L. Rusch. “The next step is to determine the extent that these factors may be fostered through clinical intervention.”
Don’t think the article is advocating skip the annual flu shots!
Adults only really catch flu about twice a decade, suggests study
From the release
Adults over the age of 30 only catch flu about twice a decade, a new study suggests.
Flu-like illness can be caused by many pathogens, making it difficult to assess how often people are infected by influenza.
Researchers analysed blood samples from volunteers in Southern China, looking at antibody levels against nine different influenza strains that circulated from 1968 to 2009.
They found that while children get flu on average every other year, flu infections become less frequent as people progress through childhood and early adulthood. From the age of 30 onwards, flu infections tend to occur at a steady rate of about two per decade.
Dr Adam Kucharski, who worked on the study at Imperial College London before moving to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “There’s a lot of debate in the field as to how often people get flu, as opposed to flu-like illness caused by something else. These symptoms could sometimes be caused by common cold viruses, such as rhinovirus or coronavirus. Also, some people might not realise they had flu, but the infection will show up when a blood sample is subsequently tested. This is the first time anyone has reconstructed a group’s history of infection from modern-day blood samples.”
Dr Steven Riley, senior author of the study, from the Medical Research Council Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling at Imperial, said: “For adults, we found that influenza infection is actually much less common than some people think. In childhood and adolescence, it’s much more common, possibly because we mix more with other people. The exact frequency of infection will vary depending on background levels of flu and vaccination.”
In addition to estimating the frequency of flu infection, the researchers, from the UK, the US and China, developed a mathematical model of how our immunity to flu changes over a lifetime as we encounter different strains of the virus.
Tiny particles embedded in gel can turn off drug-resistance genes, then release cancer drugs.
Chemotherapy often shrinks tumors at first, but as cancer cells become resistant to drug treatment, tumors can grow back. A new nanodevice developed by MIT researchers can help overcome that by first blocking the gene that confers drug resistance, then launching a new chemotherapy attack against the disarmed tumors.
The device, which consists of gold nanoparticles embedded in a hydrogel that can be injected or implanted at a tumor site, could also be used more broadly to disrupt any gene involved in cancer.
“You can target any genetic marker and deliver a drug, including those that don’t necessarily involve drug-resistance pathways. It’s a universal platform for dual therapy,” says Natalie Artzi, a research scientist at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and senior author of a paper describing the device in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of March 2.
Researchers affiliated with several organizations, including Simon Fraser University, have realized a major scientific achievement that will advance understanding of how the information in our cells is used and processed.
The scientists are globally celebrating their completion of 20 manuscripts that describe their generation and analysis of reference epigenome maps.
Epigenomes are chemical modifications of DNA and proteins that control the structure and activity of our genome. Ultimately, they cause our genome to stay healthy or develop diseases because they code for cellular properties that distinguish one cell type from another.
The journal Nature has issued a special publication to showcase the researchers’ collection, which contains molecular mark-up language for translating the epigenomes of 111 distinct human cell and tissue types.
“The DNA that makes up a human genome is essentially the same in every cell,” explains Jones, a co-author on the manuscript that integrates all 111 epigenomes into a single comparative analysis.
The project, called the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Roadmap Epigenomics Mapping Consortium, provides a core set of data, methodology and infrastructure for studying the epigenome’s role in human health and disease. The original goal was to map 25 normal reference epigenomes, but new technology allowed the team to produce 111 highly detailed maps on how the epigenome varies and operates in different settings.
A pilot study from North Carolina State University finds that people are not consistent in how they prepare mentally to deal with arguments and other stressors, with each individual displaying a variety of coping behaviors. In addition, the study found that the coping strategies people used could affect them the following day.
The findings stem from a pilot study of older adults, which is the first to track the day-to-day coping behaviors people use in advance of stressful events.
“This finding tells us, for the first time, that these behaviors are dynamic,” says Dr. Shevaun Neupert, lead author of a paper describing the study and an associate professor of psychology at NC State. “This highlights a whole new area for researching the psychology of daily health and well-being.
“And these are behaviors that can be taught,” Neupert adds. “The more we understand what’s really going on, the better we’ll be able to help people deal effectively with the stressors that come up in their lives.”
“The findings tell us that one person may use multiple coping mechanisms over time – something that’s pretty exciting since we didn’t know this before,” Neupert says. “But we also learned that what you do on Monday really makes a difference for how you feel on Tuesday.”
Some anticipatory coping behaviors, particularly outcome fantasy and stagnant deliberation, were associated with people being in worse moods and reporting more physical health problems the following day. Stagnant deliberation is when someone tries, unsuccessfully, to solve a problem. Outcome fantasy is when someone wishes that problem would effectively solve itself.
However, stagnant deliberation was also associated with one positive outcome. Namely, stagnant deliberation the day before an argument was correlated with fewer memory failures after the argument.
The researchers also looked at plan rehearsal and problem analysis as anticipatory coping strategies. Plan rehearsal involves mentally envisioning the steps needed to solve the potential problem, and problem analysis is actively thinking about the source and meaning of a future problem. The researchers found that the use of these strategies changed from day to day, but the changes in these strategies were not related to well-being the next day. They were also not related to the way that people responded to arguments the next day.
“This was a pilot study, so we don’t want to get carried away,” Neupert says. “But these findings are very intriguing. They raise a lot of questions, and we’re hoping to follow up with a much larger study.”
A Concordia study has unveiled the massive potential of a natural chemical
Lithocholic acid, a bile acid produced in the liver, is particularly effective in killing cancer cells.
Montreal, February 17, 2015 — Where can you find the next important weapon in the fight against cancer? Just do a little navel-gazing.New research from Concordia confirms that a tool for keeping the most common forms of cancer at bay could be in your gut.
In a report published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Vladimir Titorenko, a professor of biology at Concordia, and his colleagues show that lithocholic acid, a bile acid produced in the liver, is particularly effective in killing cancer cells.
For the study, the research team tested thousands of chemicals found in the body with the help of a robot and discovered more than 20 that could delay the aging process, something inevitably linked to cancer.
Most effective was lithocholic acid. When entering a cancer cell, the acid goes to “energy factories” called mitochondria and then sends molecular signals that lead to the cells’ demise.
Over the past decade, there have been many encouraging findings suggesting that mindfulness training can improve a broad range of mental and physical health problems. Yet, exactly how mindfulness positively impacts health is not clear.
Carnegie Mellon University’s J. David Creswell — whose cutting-edge work has shown how mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults and alleviates stress — and his graduate student Emily K. Lindsay have developed a model suggesting that mindfulness influences health via stress reduction pathways. Their work, published in “Current Directions in Psychological Science,” describes the biological pathways linking mindfulness training with reduced stress and stress-related disease outcomes.
From the 11 February 2015 Penn State press release
JAMA Paper Among the First to Compare Smartphone App vs. Wearable Device Accuracy
PHILADELPHIA — Although wearable devices have received significant attention for their ability to track an individual’s physical activity, most smartphone applications are just as accurate, according to a new research letter in JAMA. The study tested 10 of the top-selling smartphone apps and devices in the United States by having 14 participants walk on a treadmill for 500 and 1,500 steps, each twice (for a total of 56 trials), and then recording their step counts. Led by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicineand theCenter for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, this study is a follow-up to a recent JAMA viewpoint suggesting that there’s little evidence that wearable devices alone can change behavior and improve health for those that need it mos
“Since step counts are such an important part of how these devices and apps measure physical activity, including calculating distance or calories burned, their accuracy is key,” said senior author Mitesh S. Patel, MD, MBA, MS, assistant professor of Medicine and Health Care Management at Penn and an attending physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. “Compared to the one to two percent of adults in the U.S. that own a wearable device, more than 65 percent of adults carry a smartphone. Our findings suggest that smartphone apps could prove to be a more widely accessible and affordable way of tracking health behaviors.”
From the 10 February 2015 Oregon State University press release
Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that antibiotics have an impact on the microorganisms that live in an animal’s gut that’s more broad and complex than previously known.
The findings help to better explain some of the damage these medications can do, and set the stage for new ways to study and offset those impacts.
The work was published online in the journal Gut, in research supported by Oregon State University, the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon and the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers have known for some time that antibiotics can have unwanted side effects, especially in disrupting the natural and beneficial microbiota of the gastrointestinal system. But the new study helps explain in much more detail why that is happening, and also suggests that powerful, long-term antibiotic use can have even more far-reaching effects.
Scientists now suspect that antibiotic use, and especially overuse, can have unwanted effects on everything from the immune system to glucose metabolism, food absorption, obesity, stress and behavior.
The issues are rising in importance, since 40 percent of all adults and 70 percent of all children take one or more antibiotics every year, not to mention their use in billions of food animals. Although when used properly antibiotics can help treat life-threatening bacterial infections, more than 10 percent of people who receive the medications can suffer from adverse side effects.
“Prior to this most people thought antibiotics only depleted microbiota and diminished several important immune functions that take place in the gut,” Morgun said. “Actually that’s only about one-third of the picture. They also kill intestinal epithelium. Destruction of the intestinal epithelium is important because this is the site of nutrient absorption, part of our immune system and it has other biological functions that play a role in human health.”
The research also found that antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant microbes caused significant changes in mitochondrial function, which in turn can lead to more epithelial cell death. That antibiotics have special impacts on the mitochondria of cells is both important and interesting, said Morgun, who was a co-leader of this study with Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, a researcher in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine who has an M.D. from Kharkiv Medical University.
Mitochondria plays a major role in cell signaling, growth and energy production, and for good health they need to function properly.
But the relationship of antibiotics to mitochondria may go back a long way. In evolution, mitochondria descended from bacteria, which were some of the earliest life forms, and different bacteria competed with each other for survival. That an antibiotic would still selectively attack the portion of a cell that most closely resembles bacteria may be a throwback to that ingrained sense of competition and the very evolution of life.
Digestive dysfunction is near the top of the list, with antibiotic use linked to such issues as diarrhea and ulcerative colitis. But new research is also finding links to obesity, food absorption, depression, immune function, sepsis, allergies and asthma.
This research also developed a new bioinformatics approach named “transkingdom network interrogation” to studying microbiota, which could help further speed the study of any alterations of host microbiota interactions and antibiotic impact. This could aid the search for new probiotics to help offset antibiotic effects, and conceivably lead to systems that would diagnose a person’s microbiome, identify deficiencies and then address them in a precise and individual way.
It claims Prof Susan Jebb – the government’s obesity tsar, a University of Oxford academic and an expert in a recent three-part BBC documentary series on obesity – has attracted more than £1.3m of industry funding.
This includes money from Coca-Cola, Unilever and Cereal Partners.
The article says members of a government advisory panel – the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) – are supported by companies such as PepsiCo, Mars and Nestle.
It also claims that of the 40 scientists affiliated with SACN between 2001 and 2012, just 13 had no connections to the sugar industry.
BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee said the investigation showed there was a “network of relationships between key public health experts and the sugar industry”.
She said “these sorts of links create bias” and “weaken public health efforts to tackle the harmful effects of sugar on the diet”
From the 11 February 2015 article at George Mason University
Sophisticated germ fighters found in alligator blood may help future soldiers in the field fend off infection, according to new research by George Mason University.
The study, published Feb. 11 in the scientific journal PLOS One, is the result of a fundamental research projectsupported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to find bacterial infection-defeating compounds in the blood of the crocodilian family of reptiles, which includes American alligators.
Mason professor Barney Bishop with Fluffy, an American alligator. Photo courtesy of St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.
The project is about to start its fourth year and has received $6 million in funding to date from DTRA. If fully funded over five years, the project will be worth $7.57 million.
Alligators live in bacteria-filled environments and dine on carrion. Yet this ancient reptile rarely falls ill.
“If you look at nature, sometimes we can find pre-selected molecules to study,” says study co-author Monique van Hoek. “I was surprised to find peptides that were as effective as they are in fighting bacteria. I was really impressed.”
From the 11 February 2015 Concordia University press release
Concordia University study has discovered a new link between chronic disease and social isolation
Montreal, February 11, 2015 — Difficult circumstances often bring people closer together. But a new Concordia study published in Health Psychology has found that the onset of chronic illness often results in sufferers feeling lonelier — even for those who have had a steady partner for 50 years or more.
Researchers at the Personality, Aging, and Health Lab at Concordia took on the study because they found that, while plenty of research examined the effect of loneliness on illness, there was a lack of empirical evidence about whether or not illness contributes to loneliness.
“We were surprised by the amount of literature that examined whether people who are lonely are more likely to get sick,” says Meaghan Barlow, the study’s first author. “Yet none of them asked the opposite question: ‘Do sick people get lonely?’”
The new study reveals that they often do when they advance in age, and that it happens regardless of being in a long-term relationship when faced with a bleak diagnosis. “The quality of our social ties plays a role when it comes to coping with the effects of serious disease in later life. And just having a partner around may not be enough,” Barlow says.
“Putting a halt to socializing only contributes to a downward spiral,” Barlow says. “Dealing with a chronic illness shouldn’t prevent you from still trying to get out there if you can.”
Naturally, the challenge for society is to help an aging population find motivation to stay engaged, which means recognizing that the psychological side effects of disease can be offset with an increase in inspiring activity.
“The fact that loneliness can lead to further complications means that measures can be taken to prevent the effects from looping back around,” Barlow says. “Finding different ways to connect with other people also means you are less likely to blame yourself for being sick, and you can’t count on a partner to fill that gap.”
In recent decades, scientists have learned that chimpanzees can use plants to treat their intestinal parasites, as can elephants, sheep, goats and porcupines. “And even more interesting than that is the fact that recent discoveries are telling us that insects and other little animals with smaller brains can use medication, too,” says de Roode.
For the past 10 years, de Roode has studied monarch butterflies and how they get sick from parasites. He discovered that female monarch butterflies are able to use medicinal milkweed plants to reduce the harmful effects of the parasites on the butterflies’ offspring.
“This is an important discovery, I think, not just because it tells us something cool about nature, but also because it may tell us something more about how we should find drugs,” de Roode says. “Most of our drugs derive from natural products, often from plants. In indigenous cultures, traditional healers often look at animals to find new drugs. In this way, elephants have told people how to treat stomach upset and porcupines have told people how to treat bloody diarrhea. Maybe one day we will be treating people with drugs that were first discovered by butterflies. And I think that is an amazing opportunity worth pursuing.”
De Roode is one of the featured speakers for the 2015 Darwin Day Dinner in Atlanta on Sunday, February 15. The title of his talk is “How Darwin laid the groundwork for understanding infectious disease.” Tickets for the event, sponsored by Atlanta Science Tavern, sold out within days after they came available a few weeks ago.
Researchers have cracked a code that governs infections by a major group of viruses including the common cold and polio.
Until now, scientists had not noticed the code, which had been hidden in plain sight in the sequence of the ribonucleic acid (RNA) that makes up this type of viral genome.
But a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Early Edition by a group from the University of Leeds and University of York unlocks its meaning and demonstrates that jamming the code can disrupt virus assembly. Stopping a virus assembling can stop it functioning and therefore prevent disease.
Professor Peter Stockley, Professor of Biological Chemistry in the University of Leeds’Faculty of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “If you think of this as molecular warfare, these are the encrypted signals that allow a virus to deploy itself effectively.
“Now, for this whole class of viruses, we have found the ‘Enigma machine’—the coding system that was hiding these signals from us. We have shown that not only can we read these messages but we can jam them and stop the virus’ deployment.”
Single-stranded RNA viruses are the simplest type of virus and were probably one of the earliest to evolve. However, they are still among the most potent and damaging of infectious pathogens.
Rhinovirus (which causes the common cold) accounts for more infections every year than all other infectious agents put together (about 1 billion cases), while emergent infections such as chikungunya and tick-borne encephalitis are from the same ancient family.
Other single-stranded RNA viruses include the hepatitis C virus, HIV and the winter vomiting bug norovirus.
This breakthrough was the result of three stages of research:
In 2012, researchers at the University of Leeds published the first observations at a single-molecule level of how the core of a single-stranded RNA virus packs itself into its outer shell—a remarkable process because the core must first be correctly folded to fit into the protective viral protein coat. The viruses solve this fiendish problem in milliseconds. The next challenge for researchers was to find out how the viruses did this.
University of York mathematicians Dr Eric Dykeman and Professor Reidun Twarock, working with the Leeds group, then devised mathematical algorithms to crack the code governing the process and built computer-based models of the coding system.
In this latest study, the two groups have unlocked the code. The group used single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy to watch the codes being used by the satellite tobacco necrosis virus, a single stranded RNA plant virus.
Courtesy of Dr. Eileen LudersAreas of the brain affected by aging (in red) are fewer and less widespread in people who meditate, bottom row, than in people who don’t meditate.
Since 1970, life expectancy around the world has risen dramatically, with people living more than 10 years longer. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that starting when people are in their mid-to-late-20s, the brain begins to wither — its volume and weight begin to decrease. As this occurs, the brain can begin to lose some of its functional abilities.
So although people might be living longer, the years they gain often come with increased risks for mental illness and neurodegenerative disease. Fortunately, a new study shows meditation could be one way to minimize those risks.
Building on their earlier work that suggested people who meditate have less age-related atrophy in the brain’s white matter, a new study by UCLA researchers found that meditation appeared to help preserve the brain’s gray matter, the tissue that contains neurons
The researchers cautioned that they cannot draw a direct, causal connection between meditation and preserving gray matter in the brain. Too many other factors may come into play, including lifestyle choices, personality traits, and genetic brain differences.
While health-conscious individuals understand the benefits of eating fresh fruits and veggies, they may not be aware of the amount of pesticides they could be ingesting along with their vitamin C and fiber. A new study published in the Feb. 5 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives is among the first to predict a person’s pesticide exposure based on information about their usual diet.
The study was led by Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in Boise State University’s School of Allied Health Sciences. She recently joined Boise State from the University of Washington.
While Curl’s study is not the first to link organic produce with reduced pesticide exposure, the method she used may have significant implications for future research. By combining self-reported information on typical food consumption with USDA measurements, researchers will be able to conduct research on the relationship between dietary pesticide exposure and health outcomes in bigger populations, without needing to measure urinary metabolites.
“If we can predict pesticide exposure using dietary questionnaire data, then we may be able to understand the potential health effects of dietary exposure to pesticides without having to collect biological samples from people,” Curl said. “That will allow research on organic food to be both less expensive and less invasive.”
Taking in such spine-tingling wonders as the Grand Canyon, Sistine Chapel ceiling or Schubert’s “Ave Maria” may give a boost to the body’s defense system, according to new research from UC Berkeley.
Researchers have linked positive emotions – especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art and spirituality – with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.
“Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health,” said Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, which she conducted while at UC Berkeley.
While cytokines are necessary for herding cells to the body’s battlegrounds to fight infection, disease and trauma, sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health and such disorders as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease and clinical depression.
It has long been established that a healthy diet and lots of sleep and exercise bolster the body’s defenses against physical and mental illnesses. But the Berkeley study, whose findings were just published in the journal Emotion, is one of the first to look at the role of positive emotions in that arsenal.
A research consortium headed by Professor Hossam Haick of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is developing a product that, when coupled with a smartphone, will be able to screen the user’s breath for early detection of life-threatening diseases.
Funded by a grant from the European Commission, the SNIFFPHONE project will link Prof. Haick’s acclaimed breathalyzer screening technology to the smartphone to provide non-invasive, fast and cheap disease detection. It will work by using micro- and nano-sensors that read exhaled breath and then transfer the information through the attached mobile phone to an information-processing system for interpretation. The data is then assessed and disease diagnosis and other details are ascertained.
The technology is supported by a recent €6 million (US$6.8 million) grant to the consortium to expand the “electronic nose” breathalyzer technology that Prof. Haick has been developing since he joined the Technion in 2006. That technology can identify individuals from the general population who have a higher likelihood for contracting a specific disease, and treat them in advance or at an early stage.
The entities participating in the winning consortium include Siemens; universities and research institutes from Germany, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Latvia; and Israeli company NanoVation-GS Israel. NanoVation-GS is a Technion spin-off headed by Dr. Gregory Shuster and Sagi Gliksman, who are both graduates of Prof. Haick’s laboratory. Prof. Haick serves as Chief Scientific Officer.
“The SNIFFPHONE is a winning solution. It will be made tinier and cheaper than disease detection solutions currently, consume little power, and most importantly, it will enable immediate and early diagnosis that is both accurate and non-invasive,” says Prof. Haick. “Early diagnosis can save lives, particularly in life-threatening diseases such as cancer.”
This is the first time that any professional organization has developed age-specific recommended sleep durations based on a rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature relating sleep duration to health, performance and safety,”
National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Duration Recommendations:
May be appropriate
14 to 17 hours
11 to 13 hours18 to 19 hours
Less than 11 hoursMore than 19 hours
12 to 15 hours
10 to 11 hours16 to 18 hours
Less than 10 hoursMore than 18 hours
11 to 14 hours
9 to 10 hours15 to 16 hours
Less than 9 hoursMore than 16 hours
10 to 13 hours
8 to 9 hours14 hours
Less than 8 hoursMore than 14 hours
School-aged Children6-13 years
9 to 11 hours
7 to 8 hours12 hours
Less than 7 hoursMore than 12 hours
8 to 10 hours
7 hours11 hours
Less than 7 hoursMore than 11 hours
Young Adults18-25 years
7 to 9 hours
6 hours10 to 11 hours
Less than 6 hoursMore than 11 hours
7 to 9 hours
6 hours10 hours
Less than 6 hoursMore than 10 hours
Older Adults≥ 65 years
7 to 8 hours
5 to 6 hours9 hours
Less than 5 hoursMore than 9 hours
The recommendations are the result of multiple rounds of consensus voting after a comprehensive review of published scientific studies on sleep and health.
A new discovery shows how a simple intervention—self-affirmation – can open our brains to accept advice that is hard to hear.
“Self-affirmation involves reflecting on core values,” explained Emily Falk, the study’s lead author and director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. Has your doctor ever told you to get more exercise? Has your spouse ever suggested you eat healthier? Even though the advice comes from good intentions, most people feel defensive when confronted with suggestions that point out their weaknesses. Reflecting on values that bring us meaning can help people see otherwise threatening messages as valuable and self-relevant. “Our work shows that when people are affirmed, their brains process subsequent messages differently.”
Past studies have shown that brain activity in VMPFC during health messages can predict behavior change better than individuals’ own intentions, and this study sheds new light on why. VMPFC is the brain region most commonly activated when participants think about themselves and when they ascribe value to ideas. The new results show that opening the brain in this way is a key pathway to behavior change. “Understanding the brain opens the door to new health interventions that target this same pathway,” Falk noted.
“We were particularly interested in using self-affirmation to help people become more active because sedentary behavior is one of the biggest health threats faced by both Americans and people around the world,” said Falk. Overly sedentary lifestyles are becoming a big problem; in some regions nearly 85 percent of an adult population leads an inactive lifestyle. This can cause multiple health problems, including poor heart health, diabetes, and cancer, just to name three. Increasing activity even small amount can have an important impact on both mental and physical health.
Psychologists have used self-affirmation as a technique to improve outcomes ranging from health behaviors in high risk patients to increasing academic performance in at risk youth, suggesting that the findings may be applicable across a wide range of interventions. “Our findings highlight that something as simple as reflecting on core values can fundamentally change the way our brains respond to the kinds of messages we encounter every day,” Falk noted. “Over time, that makes the potential impact huge.”
TMAO Found To Be A Contributing Factor To Development Of Chronic Kidney Disease And Associated Mortality Risk
Thursday, January 29th
Cleveland Clinic researchers have, for the first time, linked trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) – a gut metabolite formed during the digestion of egg-, red meat- or dairy-derived nutrients choline and carnitine – to chronic kidney disease.
TMAO has been linked to heart disease already, with blood levels shown to be a powerful tool for predicting future heart attacks, stroke and death. TMAO forms in the gut during digestion of choline and carnitine, nutrients that are abundant in animal products such as red meat and liver. Choline is also abundant in egg yolk and high-fat dairy products.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more that 20 million Americans are estimated to have chronic kidney disease, many of whom are undiagnosed. It is caused by a gradual loss of kidney function over time. As the disease worsens, waste products can accumulate in the blood and can be fatal without interventions. It has long been known that patients with chronic kidney disease are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, but the exact mechanisms linking the two diseases are not known. This newly discovered TMAO link offers further insight into the relationship between cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.
Scientists have identified a biological clock that provides vital clues about how long a person is likely to live.
Researchers studied chemical changes to DNA that take place over a lifetime, and can help them predict an individual’s age. By comparing individuals’ actual ages with their predicted biological clock age, scientists saw a pattern emerging.
People whose biological age was greater than their true age were more likely to die sooner than those whose biological and actual ages were the same.
Four independent studies tracked the lives of almost 5,000 older people for up to 14 years. Each person’s biological age was measured from a blood sample at the outset, and participants were followed up throughout the study.
Researchers found that the link between having a faster-running biological clock and early death held true even after accounting for other factors such as smoking, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The same results in four studies indicated a link between the biological clock and deaths from all causes. At present, it is not clear what lifestyle or genetic factors influence a person’s biological age. We have several follow-up projects planned to investigate this in detail.
Dr Riccardo Marioni
Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with researchers in Australia and the US, measured each person’s biological age by studying a chemical modification to DNA, known as methylation.
The modification does not alter the DNA sequence, but plays an important role in biological processes and can influence how genes are turned off and on. Methylation changes can affect many genes and occur throughout a person’s life.
This new research increases our understanding of longevity and healthy ageing. It is exciting as it has identified a novel indicator of ageing, which improves the prediction of lifespan over and above the contribution of factors such as smoking, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Professor Ian Deary
Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh
The study is published in the journal Genome Biology and was conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, University of Queensland, Harvard University, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Boston University, the Johns Hopkins University Lieber Institute for Brain Development and the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
This study was carried out at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Epidemiology (CCACE), which is supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme, a collaboration between the UK’s Research Councils and Health Departments which is led by the MRC.
Researchers at UMass Medical School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing a stress-eating smartphone app that will help users better understand why they overeat, with the support of a $2 million award from the National Institutes of Health.
Sherry Pagoto, PhD
Bengisu Tulu, PhD
Development of the “RELAX” application and a pilot clinical study to evaluate its effectiveness will be led by Sherry Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UMMS, and Bengisu Tulu, PhD, associate professor in the WPI Foisie School of Business, joint principal investigators on the grant.
“Most commercial apps available today focus on tracking diet and exercise, but do not help the user understand why they are eating so much and/or exercising so little,” Dr. Pagoto said. “Our clinical and research experience suggests that stress is a very common trigger for overeating and it is a barrier to exercise.”
RELAX will have two components: a mobile application that will enable patients to track their daily activities using a smartphone and a web-based tool clinicians can use to access patient information to help inform treatment.
“We want to use technology to help patients in real time, during their daily activities, and also to enhance the effectiveness of the time they spend face-to-face with their physician or counselor,” Dr. Tulu said.
Using text inputs, barcode scanning and GPS technology, the RELAX patient app will track eating patterns, daily activities, exercise, patient-mood and stress inducing events. The app will provide the patient with an itemized list of foods consumed, indicate the times of day identified as high-stress moments and illustrate the relationship between food intake and stress. The information collected will help the user to better understand his or her habits when it comes to emotional or stress eating.
For example, the patient-facing application will provide coaching for dietary choices or guided stress-reduction exercises to lessen the likelihood of overeating.
“Imagine a person driving into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, at a certain time of day, and getting prompted with a message asking them to think about what they are feeling and whether or not it is the right time to eat,” Tulu said.
Clinicians will be able to access their patients’ information collected through the RELAX patient app using the web-based application. The web tool will present information as easily digestible visual displays and feedback reports for the clinician to review.
Much of the time during traditional weight-loss counseling sessions is spent reviewing paper self-monitoring records and soliciting information from the patient about factors impacting their adherence, such as stress and stress eating. By using the RELAX web tool, clinicians can more quickly get to the heart of causal factors behind the patient’s eating habits, which can be difficult to identify using traditional counseling. The research team believes RELAX will help patients achieve better outcomes with fewer visits to their doctor or counselor.
The researchers hope the interactive design and the clinician’s ability to engage with the patient in a more data-rich way, both unique features of the RELAX application, will enable a more comprehensive approach to counseling patients about weight and stress management.
White House has announced its anticipated “Precision Medicine Initiative,” which it describes as an “emerging field of medicine that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, microbiomes, environments, and lifestyles – making possible more effective, targeted treatments for diseases like cancer and diabetes. ”
The practice of medicine has always been personal regarding the treatment of individual patients, but science has fostered a new era of so-called personalized medicine that takes into account each person’s specific clinical, genetic, genomic and environmental information in designing tailored treatment plans
“I have been thinking lately about the cultural and business phenomena that are currently shaping and accelerating the adoption of connected health and, in that context, came up with five accelerants. The best part of the story is that four of the five are already going on and we can see their early-stage effects.
So, at the risk of ‘dumbing down’ adoption, here is my list of five accelerants. If we could make these go faster, the adoption of connected health would accelerate too.”
1. Increase value-based reimbursement for providers.
2. Create more mechanisms for provider reimbursement for non face-to-face care (like the new CMS CPT code that just took effect).
3. Accelerate consumer choice in the marketplace as well as ‘consumer-driven health care’ (i.e., high deductible plans, health savings accounts (HSAs), etc.).
4. Make the consumer-facing technology truly frictionless.
5. Create a universal privacy/security technology and make it a public good.
About 20 years ago I started thinking along similar lines. Now I am at a point questioning if it is ethical to profit from health care. Two years as a Peace Corps volunteer (back in 1980/81 in Liberia, West Africa) changed my views on many topics considerably. Also I think it was the wonderful humanistic/social justice tone of grade school religious textbooks, notably 8th grade back in 1969.
Ethicists question the impact of health information that is available online, specifically hospital advertisements, and argue that while the Internet offers patients valuable data and tools — including hospital quality ratings and professional treatment guidelines – that may help them when facing decisions about where to seek care or whether to undergo a medical procedure, reliable and unbiased information may be hard to identify among the growing number of medical care advertisements online.
In a commentary piece published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Carnegie Mellon University’s Alex John London and the University of Pittsburgh’s Yael Schenkerquestion the impact of health information that is available online, specifically hospital advertisements. London and Schenker argue that while the Internet offers patients valuable data and tools — including hospital quality ratings and professional treatment guidelines — that may help them when facing decisions about where to seek care or whether to undergo a medical procedure, reliable and unbiased information may be hard to identify among the growing number of medical care advertisements online.
“The marketing objective of selling services by making them seem attractive to consumers can create tensions or outright conflict with the ethical imperative of respect for persons, since the latter requires that patients make medical decisions in light of balanced information about the full range of risks and benefits associated with their care,” said London, professor of philosophy in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and director of the Center for Ethics and Policy.
Referencing a research article in the same journal issue that found hospital websites failed to disclose risk information for transaortic valve replacement (TAVR), a recently approved procedure to treat patients whose aortic valve does not open fully, London and Schenker pinpoint four risk concerns for patients seeking medical information online:
1. Identifying Advertising — Hospital websites often have the appearance of an education portal, leaving patients to assume that the information presented is informational, not persuasive.
2. Finding Unbiased Information — Unlike FDA-regulated direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs, hospital advertising is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission and subject to the same “reasonable” standards applied to advertisements for common consumer goods such as cars and cereal. While hospital advertisements may describe specific medical interventions that entail significant
risks, there is no legal requirement that these risks be disclosed.
3. Recognizing Incomplete or Imbalanced Information — Poor-quality medical information is hard to recognize unless the person reading it is a trained clinician.
4. Influence on Health Care Decisions — As patients seek out information online, the quality of their decision-making and care choices will be influenced by the accuracy or inaccuracy of the information they are likely to encounter.
To begin to fix the risk to patients seeking medical information online, London and Schenker recommend to clearly label hospital websites as advertisements; allocate resources to created balanced online informational tools; and focus future attention on not only the content of health care advertising but its impact.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015 — Like the candy shell on an M&M ®, every cell on the planet has a carbohydrate coating that holds special information. But decoding these coatings has proven elusive. Now Laura Kiessling, Ph.D., and her team at University of Wisconsin-Madison are trying to unlock the mystery of these coatings, known as glycans. In the latest episode of Prized Science, Kiessling explains how glycans could hold the key to new antibiotics and other disease treatments. The video is available at http://youtu.be/D-9utC2fY0k.
Comparative overview of the major types of vertebrate N-glycan subtypes and some representative C. elegans N-glycans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This blog presents a sampling of health and medical news and resources for all. Selected articles and resources will hopefully be of general interest but will also encourage further reading through posted references and other links. Currently I am focusing on public health, basic and applied research and very broadly on disease and healthy lifestyle topics.
Several times a month I will post items on international and global health issues. My Peace Corps Liberia experience (1980-81) has formed me as a global citizen in many ways and has challenged me to think of health and other topics in a more holistic manner. (For those wishing to see pictures of a 2009 Friends of Liberia service trip to this West African country, please visit www.fol.org. My photo album is included).
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My professional work experience and education includes over 10 years experience as a medical librarian and a Master’s in Library Science. In my most recent position I enjoyed contributing to our library’s blog, performing in depth literature searches, and collaborating with faculty, staff, students, and the general public.
While I will never be be able to keep up with the universe of current health/medical news,
I subscribe to the following to glean entries for this blog
Krafty (Medical)Librarian,” a collection of writings from Michelle Kraft on items of interest to medical librarians. She tends to write on technology and medical libraries but she also writes about things in general on librarianship, medicine and health”
Research Buzz, “news about search engines, digital archives, online museums, databases, and other Internet information collections since 1998″
Free Government Information, a “place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information”
Scout Report, a “weekly publication offering a selection of new and newly discovered Internet resources of interest to researchers and educators”