Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Mount Sinai researchers develop new gene therapy for heart failure & related general gene therapy Web sites and resources

DNA vaccine and Gene therapy techniques are si...

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From the 28 June 2011 Eureka news alert

 

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found in a Phase II trial that a gene therapy developed at Mount Sinai stabilized or improved cardiac function in people with severe heart failure. Patients receiving a high dose of the therapy, called SERCA2a, experienced substantial clinical benefit and significantly reduced cardiovascular hospitalizations, addressing a critical unmet need in this population. The data are published online in the June 27 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

SERCA2a is delivered via an adeno-associated virus vector—an inactive virus that acts as a medication transporter—into cardiac cells. The therapy stimulates production of an enzyme within these cells that enables the heart to pump more effectively in people with advanced heart failure. After one year, patients who were administered a high dose SERCA2a demonstrated improvement or stabilization. Gene therapy with SERCA2a was also found to be safe in this sick patient population, with no increases in adverse events, disease-related events, laboratory abnormalities, or arrhythmias compared to placebo….

A sampling of general gene therapy resources

  • Genes and gene therapy (MedlinePlus) has links to overviews, latest news, specific conditions, organizations, directories, and more
  • Genetics home reference (US National Institutes of Health) with links to information on over 600 conditions/diseases, information on over 600 genes, a handbook with basic gene related information, a glossary, and links to additional resources
  • Genetics education center (University of Kansas) with links to education resources, Human Genome Project materials, activities, and more
  • Learn Gentics  (University of Utah) includes basic information and research related concepts. Extensive animations and videos.

 

June 29, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Educational Resources (High School/Early College(, Finding Aids/Directories, Medical and Health Research News, Tutorials/Finding aids | , , | Leave a comment

Genes of the immune system are associated with increased risk of mental illness

Genes of the immune system are associated with increased risk of mental illness

From a February 3, 2011 Eureka news alert

Genes linked to the immune system can affect healthy people’s personality traits as well as the risk of developing mental illness and suicidal behaviour, reveals a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Inflammation is part of the immune system and is responsible for defending humans against infection as well as fascilitating the healing of injuries, and is therefore vital for our survival. Research has demonstrated that inflammatory processes also have other roles to play as inflammatory substances produced by the body influence mechanisms in the brain involving learning and memory.

Inflammatory substances produced in moderate quantities in the brain can be beneficial during the formation of new brain cells, for example. However, an increase in the levels of these substances as is the case during illness, can result in damage to the brain.

“Previous studies have shown that individuals suffering from various mental illnesses have an increased peripheral inflammation, but the reason behind this increase is not known,” says Petra Suchankova Karlsson, who wrote the thesis. “It has been suggested that the stress that goes with mental illness activates the body’s immune system, but it is also possible that inflammation in the body affects the brain, which in turn results in mental illness.”

Previous studies have focused on how environmental and psychological factors affect the immune system’s impact on the brain. Suchankova’s thesis presents, for the first time, results that suggest that several different genes linked to the immune system are associated with healthy people’s personality traits. It also demonstrates that some of these genes are associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia or suicidal behaviour….

 

 

February 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just in time for Valentine’s Day: UNC researchers identify a gene critical for heart function

Just in time for Valentine’s Day: UNC researchers identify a gene critical for heart function

Hearts from a wild type control mouse (left) and from a DOT1L-deleted mouse displaying dilated cardiomyopathy (right) . In the absence of DOT1L hearts become severely enlarged, compromising heart function.

 

From the February 5, 2011 Eureka news alert

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Everyone knows chocolate is critical to a happy Valentine’s Day. Now scientists are one step closer to knowing what makes a heart happy the rest of the year.

It’s a gene called DOT1L, and if you don’t have enough of the DOT1L enzyme, you could be at risk for some types of heart disease. These findings from a study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine appear in the Feb. 1, 2011 issue of the journal Genes and Development.***

The team created a special line of mice that were genetically predisposed to dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart expands like a balloon, causing its walls to thin and its pumping ability to weaken. About one in three cases of congestive heart failure is due to dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that also occurs in children.

These mice lack DOT1L. The big discovery came when the researchers were able to prevent the mice from developing the disease by re-expressing a single downstream target gene, Dystrophin….

***For suggestions on how to get this article for free or at low cost, click here

Some other recent recent biomedical research news items

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

You are what your father ate

You are what your father ate
UMMS research suggests paternal diet affects lipid metabolizing genes in offspring

From the December 23, 2010 Eureka news alert

WORCESTER, Mass. — Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Texas at Austin have uncovered evidence that environmental influences experienced by a father can be passed down to the next generation, “reprogramming” how genes function in offspring. A new study published this week in Cell shows that environmental cues—in this case, diet—influence genes in mammals from one generation to the next, evidence that until now has been sparse. These insights, coupled with previous human epidemiological studies, suggest that paternal environmental effects may play a more important role in complex diseases such as diabetes and heart disease than previously believed.

“Knowing what your parents were doing before you were conceived is turning out to be important in determining what disease risk factors you may be carrying,” said Oliver J. Rando, MD, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology at UMMS and principal investigator for the study, which details how paternal diet can increase production of cholesterol synthesis genes in first-generation offspring….

…These observations are consistent with epidemiological data from two well-known human studies suggesting that parental diet has an effect on the health of offspring. One of these studies, called the Överkalix Cohort Study, conducted among residents of an isolated community in the far northeast of Sweden, found that poor diet during the paternal grandfather’s adolescence increased the risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease in second-generation offspring. However, because these studies are retrospective and involve dynamic populations, they are unable to completely account for all social and economic variables. “Our study begins to rule out the possibility that social and economic factors, or differences in the DNA sequence, may be contributing to what we’re seeing,” said Rando. “It strongly implicates epigenetic inheritance as a contributing factor to changes in gene function.”

The results also have implications for our understanding of evolutionary processes, says Hans A. Hofmann, PhD, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the study. “It has increasingly become clear in recent years that mothers can endow their offspring with information about the environment, for instance via early experience and maternal factors, and thus make them possibly better adapted to environmental change. Our results show that offspring can inherit such acquired characters even from a parent they have never directly interacted with, which provides a novel mechanism through which natural selection could act in the course of evolution.” Such a process was first proposed by the early evolutionist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, but then dismissed by 20th century biologists when genetic evidence seemed to provide a sufficient explanation.

Taken together, these studies suggest that a better understanding of the environment experienced by our parents, such as diet, may be a useful clinical tool for assessing disease risk for illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease. “We often look at a patient’s behavior and their genes to assess risk,” said Rando. “If the patient smokes, they are going to be at an increased risk for cancer. If the family has a long history of heart disease, they might carry a gene that makes them more susceptible to heart disease. But we’re more than just our genes and our behavior. Knowing what environmental factors your parents experienced is also important.”

The next step for Rando and colleagues is to explore how and why this genetic reprogramming is being transmitted from generation to generation. “We don’t know why these genes are being reprogrammed or how, precisely, that information is being passed down to the next generation,” said Rando. “It’s consistent with the idea that when parents go hungry, it’s best for offspring to hoard calories, however, it’s not clear if these changes are advantageous in the context of a low-protein diet.”

 

 

December 27, 2010 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Nutrition | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Farm Environment, Cats Help Kids Avoid Skin Disease & Related Article (Growing Up on Farm Strengthens Immune System)

Farm Environment, Cats Help Kids Avoid Skin Disease

HealthDay news image

European researchers report rural living less likely to lead to atopic dermatitis for infants

Childhood exposure to germs in the environment strengthens their immune system, according to current scientific evidence. (See  Immune System (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/immuneSystem/Pages/immunity.aspx) by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIAID])

Now it seems that the environment not only confers immunity through not only interacting with a child’s immune system after birth, but before birth.

Excerpts from a recent Health Day news article by Robert Preidt

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) — The children of mothers who were around farm animals and cats during pregnancy are less likely to develop atopic dermatitis in their first two years of life, new European research shows.

Atopic dermatitis (also called atopic eczema) is a chronic and painful inflammation of the skin that frequently occurs in childhood. The condition affects up to 20 percent of children in industrialized countries and is one of the most common childhood skin diseases….

….Along with the first finding, the researchers also identified two genes associated with a child’s reduced risk of developing atopic dermatitis in the first two years of life.

The findings support the theory that a gene-environment interaction with a child’s developing immune system influences the development of atopic dermatitis, said the researchers.

The study appears in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.***
[The abstract of the article may be found here]

Previous research has found that allergies are less likely in children who grow up on farms and whose mothers lived on farms during their pregnancy.

SOURCE: Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, news release, Dec. 2, 2010

Click here for suggestions on how to get the full text of the article

 

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Growing Up On A Farm Directly Affects Regulation Of The Immune System

From the 9 February 2012 Medical News Today article

Immunological diseases, such as eczemaand asthma, are on the increase in westernised society and represent a major challenge for 21st century medicine. A new study has shown, for the first time, that growing up on a farm directly affects the regulation of the immune system and causes a reduction in the immunological responses to food proteins. …

…Dr Marie Lewis, Research Associate in Infection and Immunity at the School of Veterinary Sciences, who led the research, said: “Many large-scale epidemiological studies have suggested that growing up on a farm is linked to a reduced likelihood of developing allergic disease. However, until now, it has not been possible to demonstrate direct cause and effect: does the farm environment actively protect against allergies, or are allergy-prone families unlikely to live on farms?” ,,,

 


December 12, 2010 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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