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Younger women fare worse after heart attacks

5 hours 51 min ago

Young women who have had heart attacks have worse health outcomes than young men, a new study shows.

Researchers tracked over 230,000 hospitalizations of patients suffering from acute myocardial infarction (AMI) between 30 and 54 years of age from 2001 to 2010.

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Researchers searched for age-and gender-based differences in hospitalization rates and patient outcomes after hospitalization following AMI based on age and gender.

Although hospitalization rates are higher for men than for women, hospitalized women have longer lengths of stay, more comorbidities (the appearance of multiple diseases), and higher in-hospital mortality rates than men, says Aakriti Gupta, resident at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The study also shows that between 2001 and 2010, the hospitalization rate for AMI remained constant for both genders, while hospitalization rates for older patients dropped 20 percent.

“It is concerning that hospitalization rates for heart attack in the young have not shown any reduction, suggesting that lack of awareness and poorer control of cardiovascular risk factors—including diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking may be responsible,” Gupta says.

Harlan Krumholz, director of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, and colleagues are now working to identify the gender-specific biological, clinical, and social factors underlying the higher risks associated with heart attack in younger women. The work is part of a larger research project known as Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes in Young AMI Patients (VIRGO).

In the meantime, Gupta suggests that physicians and other health care professionals inform the patients, policy makers, and the public about cardiovascular risk factors, and direct resources toward younger patients to reduce AMI hospitalization rates.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute supported the research.

Source: Yale University

 

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New ant evolved to mooch off its relatives

9 hours 25 sec ago

A newly-discovered species of ant appears to have branched off from the family tree without leaving home.

Researchers say the new type of parasitic ant—only found in a single patch of eucalyptus trees on the São Paulo State University campus in Brazil—supports a controversial theory of species formation.

“Most new species come about in geographic isolation,” says Christian Rabeling, assistant professor of biology at the University of Rochester. “We now have evidence that speciation can take place within a single colony.”

In discovering the parasitic Mycocepurus castrator, researchers uncovered an example of sympatric speciation, which occurs when a new species develops while sharing the same geographic area with its parent species, yet reproducing on its own.

“While sympatric speciation is more difficult to prove,” Rabeling says, “we believe we are in the process of actually documenting a particular kind of evolution-in-progress.”

A queen ant of the parasitic species Mycocepurus castrator (l) and a queen ant of the host species Mycocepurus goeldii queen (r). (Credit: Christian Rabeling/U. Rochester)

A common ancestor

New species are formed when its members are no longer able to reproduce with members of the parent species. The commonly-accepted mechanism is called allopatric speciation, in which geographic barriers—such as mountains—separate members of a group, causing them to evolve independently.

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“Since Darwin’s Origin of Species, evolutionary biologists have long debated whether two species can evolve from a common ancestor without being geographically isolated from each other,” says Ted Schultz, curator of ants at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and coauthor of the study that is published in the journal Current Biology.

“With this study, we offer a compelling case for sympatric evolution that will open new conversations in the debate about speciation in these ants, social insects, and evolutionary biology more generally.”

Unique species of ant

M. castrator is not simply another ant in the colony; it’s a parasite that lives with—and off of—its host, Mycocepurus goeldii. The host cultivates fungus for its nutritional value, both for itself and, indirectly, for its parasite that doesn’t do any of the work.

That led the researchers to study the genetic relationships of all fungus-growing ants in South America, including all five known and six newly-discovered species of the genus Mycocepurus, to determine whether the parasite did evolve from its presumed host. They found that the parasitic ants were, indeed, genetically very close to M. goeldii, but not to the other ant species.

They also determined that the parasitic ants were no longer reproductively compatible with the host ants—making them a unique species—and had stopped reproducing with their host a mere 37,000 years ago—a very short period on the evolutionary scale.

The researchers found a big clue when they compared the ants’ genes, both in the cell’s nucleus and in the mitochondria.

Sequencing units of genes called nucleotides in the mitochondria of the parasitic ants have begun to reveal differences from what is found in the host ants, though traces of the relationship between host and parasite are still present in the genes of the nuclei. These findings lead Rabeling to conclude that M. castrator has begun to evolve away from its host.

Discreet mating

Just comparing some nuclear and mitochondrial genes may not be enough to demonstrate that the parasitic ants are a completely new species, Rabeling says. “We are now sequencing the entire mitochondrial and nuclear genomes of these parasitic ants and their host in an effort to confirm speciation and the underlying genetic mechanism.”

The parasitic ants need to exercise discretion because taking advantage of the host species is considered taboo in ant society. Offending ants have been known to be killed by worker mobs. As a result, the parasitic queen of the new species has evolved into a smaller size, making them difficult to distinguish from a host worker.

Host queens and males reproduce in an aerial ceremony, in the wet tropics only during a particular season when it begins to rain. The parasitic queens and males, needing to be more discreet about their reproductive activities, diverge from the host’s mating pattern.

By needing to hide their parasitic identity, M. castrator males and females lost their special adaptations that allowed them to reproduce in flight, and mate inside the host nest, which makes it impossible for them to sexually interact with their host species.

Other researchers on the project are from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, and the Center for the Study of Social Insects at São State University, Rio Claro, Brazil.

Source: University of Rochester

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These bacteria use far-red light for photosynthesis

10 hours 59 min ago

Bacteria living in the near darkness of hot springs can use far-red light for photosynthesis, according to new research.

The finding lays the foundation for further research aimed at improving plant growth, harvesting energy from the sun, and understanding dense blooms like those now occurring on Lake Erie and other lakes worldwide.

“We have shown that some cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, can grow in far-red wavelengths of light, a range not seen well by most humans,” says Donald A. Bryant, professor of biotechnology and of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State.

“Most cyanobacteria can’t ‘see’ this light either. But we have found a new subgroup that can absorb and use it, and we have discovered some of the surprising ways they manipulate their genes in order to grow using only these wavelengths,” he says.

The scientists discovered that the cyanobacterial strain, named Leptolyngbya, completely changes its photosynthetic apparatus in order to use far-red light, which has wavelengths longer than 700 nanometers—a little longer than the range of light that most people can see.

The experiments by Bryant’s team reveal that these cyanobacteria replace seventeen proteins in three major light-using complexes while also making new chlorophyll pigments that can capture the far-red light, and while using pigments called bilins in new ways.

A close view of a benthic microbial mat community at the LaDuke hot spring in Gardiner, Montana near Yellowstone National Park, showing cyanobacteria and other chlorophototrophic bacteria. (Credit: Donald A. Bryant lab/Penn State)

Big changes

The scientists also discovered that the organisms accomplish this feat by quickly turning on a large number of genes to modify cellular metabolism and simultaneously turning off a large number of other genes—a process that they have named Far-Red Light Photoacclimation (FaRLiP).

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Because the genes that are turned on are the genes that determine which proteins the organism will produce, this massive remodeling of the available gene profile has a dramatic effect. “Our studies reveal that the particular cyanobacterium that we studied can massively change its physiology and metabolism, and its photosynthetic apparatus,” Bryant says.

“It changes the core components of the three major photosynthetic complexes, so one ends up with a very differentiated cell that is then capable of growing in far-red light. The impact is that they are better than other strains of cyanobacteria at producing oxygen in far-red light, and they are better even than themselves.

“Cells grown in far-red light produce 40 percent more oxygen when assayed in far-red light than cells grown in red light assayed under the same far-red light conditions.”

Bacteria mats and surface crust

To make these discoveries, Bryant’s team used a variety of biological, genetic, physical, and chemical experiments in order to learn how this unusual photosynthesis system works as a whole.

The team’s investigations includes biochemical analyses, spectroscopic analyses, studies of the structures and functions of proteins, profiles of gene-transcription processes, and sequencing and comparisons of cyanobacteria genomes. “Our genome-sequence analyses of different cyanobacteria strains revealed 13 additional strains that also appear to be able to use far-red light for photosynthesis,” Bryant says.

The Leptolyngbya cyanobacterial strain that Bryant’s team studied is one that was collected at LaDuke hot spring in Montana, near Yellowstone National Park. This strain was living on the underside of a 2-milimeter-thick mat that is so dense with bacteria that only the far-red wavelengths of light can penetrate to the bottom.

Another environment where understanding photosynthesis in far-red light may have important implications is in the surface crusts of deserts and other soils, which cover a large percentage of the Earth’s surface.

“It is important to understand how this photosynthetic process works in global-scale environments where cyanobacteria may be photosynthesizing with far-red light, in order to more fully understand the global impact of photosynthesis in oxygen production, carbon fixation, and other events that drive geochemical processes on our planet,” Bryant says.

Injecting plants

The research raises questions about the possibility of introducing into plants the capacity to use far-red wavelengths for photosynthesis. But Bryant says much more basic research is required first.

“Our research already has shown that it would not be enough to insert a new far-red-light-absorbing pigment into a plant unless you also have the right protein scaffolds to bind it so that it will work efficiently. In fact, it could be quite deleterious to just start sticking long-wavelength-absorbing chlorophylls into the photosynthetic apparatus,” he says.

“We now have clearly established that photosynthesis can occur in far-red light, in a wavelength range where people previously did not think that oxygenic photosynthesis could take place, and we have provided details about many of the processes involved. Now there are a whole set of associated scientific questions that need to be answered about more of the details before we can begin to investigate any applications that may or may not be possible,” Bryant says. “Our research has opened up many new questions for basic scientific research.”

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, contributed to the study in Science Express.

Funding from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy supported the work.

Source: Penn State

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More verbal abuse among young “50 Shades” readers

11 hours 32 min ago

Young women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely than others to show signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, a new study suggests.

Further, those who read all three books in the Fifty Shades erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in Fifty Shades, says Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator. And while the study did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books, it’s a potential problem either way, she says.

“If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading Fifty Shades might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma,” says Bonomi, chairperson and professor in Michigan State University’s department of human development and family studies.

“Likewise, if they read Fifty Shades before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it’s possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors.”

Depictions of violence

The study, which appears in the Journal of Women’s Health, is one of the first to investigate the relationship between health risks and reading popular fiction depicting violence against women.

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Past research has tied watching violent television programs to real-life violence and antisocial behaviors, as well as reading glamour magazines to being obsessed with body image.

The researchers studied more than 650 women ages 18-24, a prime period for exploring greater sexual intimacy in relationships, Bonomi says.

Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first Fifty Shades novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.

Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink—or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month—and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.

‘Critical eye’

Bonomi says she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life.

However, it’s important women understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship. Toward that end, Bonomi says parents and educators should engage kids in constructive conversations about sexuality, body image, and gender role expectations—and that these conversations start as early as grade school.

Prevention programs can also be beneficial, such as Safe Dates, which targets abuse prevention through relationship skills training and gender role examination.

Finally, kids and young adults should be taught to consume fiction, television, movies, magazines, and other mass media with a critical eye, Bonomi says.

“We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem,” Bonomi says. “The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it.”

Source: Michigan State University

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How coffee could help you keep your teeth

12 hours 34 min ago

Researchers find that drinking coffee, which is a source of antioxidants, appears to curb tooth loss due to gum disease.

“We found that coffee consumption did not have an adverse effect on periodontal health, and, instead, may have protective effects against periodontal disease.” says Nathan Ng, lead author and recent Boston University’s School of Dental Medicine.

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Coffee consumption was associated with a small but statistically significant reduction in number of teeth with periodontal bone loss. The researchers conclude that coffee consumption may be protective against periodontal bone loss in adult men—the group examined in the study.

“This is the first long-term study of its kind that has investigated the association between coffee consumption and periodontal disease in humans,” Ng adds. The research appears in the Journal of Periodontology.

Researchers looked at data collected from 1,152 men in the US Department of Veterans Affairs Dental Longitudinal Study (DLS) during triennial dental visits between 1968 and 1998. The DLS is a prospective study of the oral health of medically healthy male veterans that began in 1968. The men were 98 percent non-Hispanic white males ages 26 to 84 at the start.

Information about coffee intake was self-reported by the participants. Researchers controlled for risk factors such as alcohol consumption, education, diabetes status, body mass index, smoking, frequency of brushing and flossing, and recent periodontal treatment or dental cleanings.

Researchers suggest exploring their findings in a more diverse study population in the future.

Source: Boston University

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To party with friends, young adults pop painkillers

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 19:26

Peers, but not peer pressure, may be key to prescription drug misuse among young adults, a new study suggests.

“With the 18-29 age group we may be spending unnecessary effort working a peer pressure angle in prevention and intervention efforts. That does not appear to be an issue for this age group,” says Brian Kelly, a professor of sociology and anthropology.

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“Rather, we found more subtle components of the peer context as influential. These include peer drug associations, peers as points of drug access, and the motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have pleasant times with friends.”

Prescription drug misuse has risen considerably since 2000, and is the most commonly abused substance after alcohol and marijuana for people 14 and older, according to the American Sociological Association. Popular prescription drugs that are most frequently misused are sedatives, painkillers, and stimulants. The research was presented at the association’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Social pressure

“People normally think about peer pressure in that peers directly and actively pressure an individual to do what they are doing,” says Kelly, who also is director of Purdue’s Center for Research on Young People’s Health.

“This study looks at that form of direct social pressure as well as more indirect forms of social pressure. We find that friends are not actively pressuring them, but it’s a desire to have a good time alongside friends that matters.

“Whether that be because friends are also misusing prescription drugs, or the individual thinks, ‘If I do this, it will allow me to have a better time with my friends,’ we don’t know.”

The findings, collected from 2011-13, are based on survey interviews with 404 adults ages 18 to 29 who misused prescription drugs in the past 90 days. Two hundred fourteen in-person interviews also were conducted. These individuals were recruited from popular nightlife locations such as bars, clubs, and lounges in New York City.

Average misuse of prescription drugs, such as painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants, was 38 times in the past 90 days.

This study evaluated the role of peer factors on three prescription drug misuse outcomes: the frequency of misuse; administering drugs in ways other than swallowing, such as sniffing, smoking, and injecting the drugs; and symptoms of dependency on prescription drugs.

‘Have a good time’

“We found that peer drug associations are positively associated with all three outcomes,” Kelly says. “If there are high perceived social benefits or low perceived social consequences within the peer network they are more likely to lead to a greater frequency of misuse, as well as a greater use of non-oral methods of administration and a greater likelihood of displaying symptoms of dependence.

“The motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have a good time with friends is also associated with all three outcomes. The number of sources of drugs in their peer group also matters, which is notable since sharing prescription drugs is common among these young adults.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse supported the research.

Source: Purdue University

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Face it: Not everyone can spot a fake passport

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 18:19

Accurate face matching is central to a passport officer’s job—and vital to border security. But pairing an actual face to a picture is not necessarily something than can be taught.

A new study of Australian passport office staff reveals a 15 percent error rate in matching a person to a passport photo. In real life, such a degree of inaccuracy would correspond to several thousand travelers using fake passports.

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The findings add to earlier research that suggests one passport photo is not sufficient for security systems to be accurate and recommends that security measures would be enhanced if passports carried several different facial images.

“Psychologists identified around a decade ago that in general people are not very good at matching a person to an image on a security document,” says Mike Burton, professor of psychology at the University of Aberdeen.

“Familiar faces trigger special processes in our brain—we would recognize a member of our family, a friend, or a famous face within a crowd, in a multitude of guises, venues, angles, or lighting conditions. But when it comes to identifying a stranger it’s another story.

“The question we asked was does this fundamental brain process that occurs have any real importance for situations such as controlling passport issuing—and we found that it does.”

Wrong answer

In one test, passport officers were asked if a photograph of a person on a computer screen matched the face of a person standing in front of them. In 15 percent of the trials, officers said  that the photo did match, when in fact, it was of a different person.

“This level of human error in Australian passport office staff really is quite striking, and it would be reasonable to expect a similar level of performance at UK passport control,” says Rob Jenkins of the psychology department at the University of York.

“At Heathrow Airport alone, millions of people attempt to enter the UK every year. At this scale, an error rate of 15 percent would correspond to the admittance of several thousand travelers bearing fake passports.”

UK Passports are valid for 10 years and should take into account changes in a person’s appearance over time.

Recognize a face

In a second test, passport officers were asked to match current face photos to images taken two years ago or to genuine photo-ID documents including passports and driving licenses.

Error rates on this task were 20 percent—a level of performance that was no different to a group of untrained student volunteers who were also tested.

“While it might have been expected that years of training and experience would have improved passport officer performance, our study showed this was not the case,” says David White of the University of New South Wales Australia, and lead author of the paper that is published in PLOS ONE. “Passport officers were no more accurate than university students.”

“This study has importantly highlighted that the ability to be good at matching a face to an image is not necessarily something that can be trained,” Burton says. “It seems that it is a fundamental brain process and that some people are simply more adept at it than others.

“Our conclusion would be that focusing on training security staff may be ploughing efforts in the wrong direction. Instead we should be looking at the selection process and potentially employing tests such as the ones we conducted in the study to help us recruit people who are innately better at this process. Because of this study, the Australian Passport Office now set face matching tests when recruiting staff and when selecting facial comparison experts.”

Better technology

The study of Australian passport office staff adds to research being conducted at the University of Aberdeen asking if security measures would be enhanced if passports carried more than one image of a person.

Researchers say they hope that the study—which involves collaboration with worldwide passport controls—could lead to changes in how security systems operate in the future.

“This separate study is examining if having a multitude of images taken under different conditions presented on a passport would increase precision in facial recognition,” Burton says.

“What has been missing in the development of security technology so far is the fact that one photograph does not give us a true representation.There is a great emphasis on a passport image to fit all purposes but people often comment on the fact that their passport photo looks nothing like them.  This observation turns out to be true when tested scientifically.

“Findings from our studies show that what really matters when you learn to recognize someone is the range of pictures you see—all the possible ways a person can look in photos.

“It seems strange that we expect a single passport shot to encompass a person and allow us to consistently recognize them. If we are stuck on the concept that a good representation of a person is achieved through one image, then we are setting ourselves up for errors.”

Source: University of York

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Teens eat better if parents are home for meals

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:23

Teens whose parents spend breakfast and dinner time at home generally eat healthier diets than most adolescents, say researchers. Those teenagers also have, in some cases, better exercise habits.

Parents’ work schedules may be even more important than the number of hours the parents spend at work, says Molly Martin, associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State.

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For example, parents who spend time with their adolescent kids after school may increase the likelihood that those children will eat regular dinners, according to the researchers. Adolescents having mothers who stay home before school are more likely to eat breakfast.

Regular meals at home can help children and adolescents avoid weight problems, Martin says.

“Eating at home can help control portion sizes, for example, and if they don’t eat breakfast at home, they might be more likely to eat junk food later in the day,” she says.

Eating a regular breakfast is an important habit for parents to instill in their children, says Martin, who adds that it can have long-term health benefits.

“Most parents might not consider eating breakfast as a health-related behavior, but it is one of the most important meals that helps kids maintain metabolism throughout the day,” Martin says. She adds that children, particularly daughters, who watch their parents skip breakfasts may be more likely to do the same.

Dads and sports

A father’s availability at home may also play an important role in influencing healthy weight behaviors, according to the researchers, who reported the findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

“Fathers’ availability significantly predicted whether or not children played sports or exercised,” says Martin.

When fathers were at home, their children were more likely to eat fruit, Martin adds.

Parents are actually spending more time with their children now than a few decades ago. They have shifted priorities from spending time on household chores to using that time to be with their children. Some of these scheduling adaptations may have improved their children’s eating behaviors.

“It’s probably not an entirely conscious decision parents make to spend time with their children to improve their children’s eating habits,” Martin says.

“Parents want to spend time with their children and are feeling more of a societal push to do so, so they often choose times around their work schedules and their children’s school hours.”

Economic and social changes, such as flexible work schedules, telecommuting, and greater social expectations that parents will spend more time with their kids, have increased parental availability to children.

The researchers studied data of 16,991 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The data set is one of the few that allowed the researchers to examine parental availability and adolescents’ eating habits.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported this work.

Source: Penn State

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Deadly heart attacks and strokes plummet in US

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:19

The rates of hospitalizations and deaths from heart disease and strokes have dropped significantly in the US in the last decade, more so than for any other condition.

The drop was mainly due to a steady increase in the use of evidence-based treatments and medications, as well as a growing emphasis on heart-healthy lifestyles and behaviors, according to a new study.

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Harlan Krumholz, director of the Center of Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and colleagues examined data on nearly 34 million Medicare Fee-For-Service patients from 1999 to 2011 for trends in hospitalization, dying within a month of being admitted, being admitted again within a month, and dying during the following year.

The team also factored in age, sex, race, other illnesses, and geography.

By the end of 2011, hospitalization rates among all races and areas dropped 38 percent for heart attack; 83.8 percent for unstable angina, sudden chest pain often leading to heart attack; 30.5 percent for heart failure; and 33.6 percent for ischemic stroke.

The team found that risks of dying for people hospitalized within a year decreased about 21 percent for unstable angina, 23 percent for heart attacks, and 13 percent for heart failure and stroke. The study appears in the journal Circulation.

Better lifestyle and treatment

Improved lifestyle, quality of care, and prevention strategies contributed to the decrease,” says Krumholz. He and the team also noted improvements in identifying and treating high blood pressure, a rapid rise in the use of statins, marked declines in smoking, and more timely and appropriate treatment for heart attack patients as contributing to the declines in deaths and hospitalizations.

“It is clear that the efforts of the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and others are helping people avoid premature death and disability,” says Krumholz.

“I look forward to seeing how we can produce the same or greater progress in the next decade. We also need to help others around the world to see the path to progress in the places that are seeing great growth in heart disease and stroke.”

Source: Yale University

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Meds with therapy can lift severe depression

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:05

Combining cognitive therapy with medication improves the odds by as much as 30 percent that a person suffering from severe, nonchronic depression will recover.

The same benefits don’t hold true for people with chronic or less severe depression, research shows.

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In North America, about one in five women and one in 10 men suffer from major depression in her or his lifetime.

“Our results indicate that combining cognitive therapy with antidepressant medicine can make a much bigger difference than we had thought to about one-third of patients suffering from major depressive disorder,” says Steven Hollon, professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University.

“On the other hand, it does not appear to provide any additional benefit for the other two-thirds.”

Previous studies have shown that about two-thirds of all patients with major depressive disorder will improve on antidepressant medications and about one-third of patients will achieve full remission, but half then relapse before fully recovering.

Cognitive therapy is about as effective as medication alone but its effects tend to be longer lasting. Combining the two has been estimated to improve recovery rates by 6 to 33 percent.

“Now, we have to reconsider our general rule of thumb that combining the two treatments keeps the benefits of both,” Hollon says.

Remission to recovery

Reported in JAMA Psychiatry, the study was a randomized clinical trial involving 452 adult outpatients with chronic or recurrent major depressive disorder. Unlike previous studies that followed subjects for a set period of time, this study treated them for as long as it took—first to remission (full normalization of symptoms)—and then to recovery (six months without relapse), which in some cases took as long as three years.

“This provided us with enough data so that we could drill down and see how the combined treatment was working for patients with different types and severity of depression: chronic, recurrent, severe, and moderate,” Hollon says.

The results could have a major impact on how major depressive disorder is treated. The most immediate effect is likely to be in the United Kingdom, which is 10 years ahead of the United States in treatment of depression, Hollon says.

The use of combined cognitive therapy and antidepressive medicine is standard for severe cases in the UK, and the English National Health Service is actively training its therapists in cognitive therapy and other empirically supported psychotherapies.

Researchers from University of Pennsylvania, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Rush University, and West Chester University contributed to the study. The National Institute of Mental Health provided funding.

Source: Vanderbilt University

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Why some pregnant teens eat strange things

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 10:52

Pregnant teens who engaged in pica—craving and eating non-food items—had significantly lower iron levels across a number of iron biomarkers, say researchers.

In a study of 158 pregnant teenagers in Rochester, New York, nearly half engaged in pica, the craving and intentional consumption of ice, cornstarch, vacuum dust, baby powder, and soap, and other nonfood items, reports a new Cornell study.

Pregnant teens, regardless of pica, are at higher risk for low hemoglobin, which can lead to iron deficiency and anemia. Low iron in pregnant teens raises the risk of premature births and babies with low birth weights, which in turn, increases infant mortality rates.

“In this study, the strength of the association [between pica and anemia] is as big as any known causal factor of anemia [in pregnant teens]; this is a very strong association,” says Sera Young, a research scientist in nutritional sciences in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and a coauthor of a study published online in the Journal of Nutrition.

Ice, starch, powder, soap

In the study, pica behaviors and iron deficiency increased over the course of the pregnancies.

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“As anemia increased, so did these behaviors, but we don’t know what happens first,” says Kimberly O’Brien, professor of nutritional sciences and the study’s senior author.

The study included African-American, white, and Latina pregnant teens. Of the nearly 47 percent of adolescents who reported pica behaviors, most—82 percent—craved ice, followed by starches (flour, cornstarch), powders (dust, vacuum powder, baby powder), soap (bar, laundry, and powdered), paper (sheet paper, toilet paper, tissues), plastic/foam (pillow stuffing, sponges), baking soda, and a few other items.

Texture appears to be very important to those engaged in pica and is one commonality among the types of substances consumed, says Young.

When people crave ice, they consume “cups and cups and cups of it,” says Young. At the same time, “ice is not going to change someone’s iron status,” says O’Brien, leading to her hypothesis that iron deficiency may have an effect on brain chemistry that leads to these cravings, a theory that will require animal studies to prove.

Public health concern

“The public health importance of pica really needs to be acknowledged,” says Young. “My hope is that these studies put pica on the radar as a legitimate public health issue.”

In the future, the researchers plan to study the mechanism behind whether low iron status or pica comes first and how these cravings develop. And they would like to expand their investigations into other demographic groups.

The researchers are currently studying a group of older women bearing twins and triplets, who also engage in pica behaviors but are “on the opposite end of the reproductive spectrum” as the adolescents, says O’Brien.

Young has documented pica around the world, but “this is happening in our own backyard,” she says. “This is not rural Kenya, this is Rochester, New York,” she says, noting the high prevalence and severity of pica.

Rachel Lumish, who worked in O’Brien’s lab as an undergraduate, is the paper’s first author. Co-authors include researchers from the University of Rochester.

The US Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health supported the study.

Source: Cornell University

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Why you can’t treat breast cancer as one disease

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 09:34

Scientists have identified an overactive protein that may provide a target to treat basal-like breast cancer, a deadly carcinoma that is resistant to many types of chemotherapy.

Basal-like cancer is a category that includes a number of different breast cancers, including the highly aggressive form called triple negative cancer.

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However, when they looked at patterns of gene expression in basal-like cancer and another cancer subtype, they found that a small number of genes are activated by STAT3 protein signaling in basal-like breast cancers but not in luminal breast cancers.

“You can’t treat breast cancer as one disease,” says Curt M. Horvath, professor of molecular biosciences and of microbiology-immunology and medicine at Northwestern University.

“Cancer describes many molecular processes that have gone wrong. We have teased out from large amounts of data that STAT3 activity correlates with distinct patterns of gene expression in one type of breast cancer but not in another.”

Overactive protein

The findings published in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest a clinical study should be conducted of a STAT3-inhibiting drug in patients with basal-like and luminal cancers, Horvath says. Currently there are no pills or injections targeting STAT3 for breast cancer patients.

Previous research has found the STAT3 protein to be overactive in many breast cancers, but its role has not been well understood. The new research is the first reported study to compare breast cancer subtypes and gene expression patterns associated with STAT3 in the tumors of human patients.

The analysis is based on breast cancer patient data taken from the Cancer Genome Atlas. Researchers emphasize that this is a statistical analysis and that the findings need to be verified with careful laboratory and clinical experiments.

“The Cancer Genome Atlas is a really rich and growing database of publicly available data created to help us understand cancer,” Horvath says. “It allows basic scientists to ask interesting questions about cancer and contribute to clinical care.”

Clear patterns

Horvath and Robert W. Tell, a postdoctoral fellow in Horvath’s lab, observed that there are many clearly visible patterns of common gene expression—where certain genes are turned on and certain genes are turned off—in the basal-like cancers. Those clear patterns were not seen in the luminal cancers.

“This opens up the possibility that cancer subtype-specific signaling is driven by STAT3, and that STAT3 inhibitors may be more effective in patients diagnosed with basal-like cancers than in those with luminal cancers,” Horvath says.

STAT3 stands for “signal transducer and activator of transcription 3,” a transcription factor (a protein) encoded by the STAT3 gene in humans. In addition to its known roles in cancerous cells, STAT3 also is an essential mediator of cytokine and growth factor signals in normal cells that are important for diverse processes including immunity and inflammation.

The researchers identified 84 genes that are expressed differently in basal-like cancer tumors as compared to luminal cancer tumors. These genes are highly representative of the immune response and inflammation processes, Horvath says, and are consistent with the role of STAT3.

The intensive analysis used data from 825 breast cancer patients from across the country, each with hundreds of data points. The data included protein expression, protein phosphorylation, which indicates which signaling pathways are activated, and messenger RNA and microRNA expression.

To sort through the vast amounts of data, the researchers used Quest, a high-performance computing system at Northwestern. The computer cluster they used offered the equivalent of the processors and random-access memory (RAM) of eight powerful desktop computers linked together.

The H Foundation and a Signal Transduction in Cancer Training Program of the National Cancer Institute supported the research.

Source: Northwestern University

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Are athletes playing too soon after a concussion?

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 07:29

High school athletes who return to the field less than a month after a concussion may have trouble walking and performing mental exercises at the same time, a new study shows.

Researchers tested 19 athletes and found that 12 showed signs of regression in balance and/or speed. Seven who didn’t return for more than 20 days performed similarly to uninjured control subjects.

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The findings, published online ahead of print in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, take a closer look at data from a 2013 study in the same journal.

That study showed that 25 concussed high school athletes had compromised abilities to focus and switch tasks for up to two months after their injuries. Six of the athletes did not return to action in the study period and were excluded in the new analysis.

In the course of the original research, athletes reported on when they had been cleared to resume practicing. At 28 days post injury, the data suggested a regression, says principal investigator Li-Shan Chou, professor of human physiology at University of Oregon.

“We had seen this same type of curve in an earlier study of college athletes,” he says. “We didn’t have any evidence linking it to a return to activity, but we did discuss that possibility, because we knew that they usually were permitted to return to practice two weeks after a concussion.”

A turn in recovery

For the new analysis, lead author David Howell, looked at when the athletes—13 from football, four from soccer, and one each from wrestling and volleyball—returned to activity.

He focused on individual data, comparing return-to-activity status with the results of three tests: simply walking, separately doing simple computerized mental exercises, and a combination in which they walked and performed mental exercises simultaneously.

“There had been a continuous improvement prior to the athletes’ return to activity,” Chou says. “But at the data point taken after their return to activity, we saw a turn in their recovery in the opposite direction.

“When the athletes did a simple walking test, there was no regression. Just using the computer task to probe their cognitive functioning, we didn’t see a regression. However, put together, we did.”

Slower reaction time

In the dual task exercise, the athletes, while walking, heard a spoken word and identified whether it was delivered in a low- or high-pitched tone. In other variations, the subjects’ were told, as they began walking, to recite months backward from October or subtract 7 repeatedly, beginning from 100.

The more complex a secondary task the greater the effect on a concussed individual than a non-injured control subject, Chou says.

The earlier published study found slowed reaction time of 30 to 40 milliseconds among concussed athletes two months after injury.

“For many of us, that is just a blink of the eyes, but for athletes to be sure their bodily position is ready to perform a very skillful avoidance maneuver or prepare to safely take a collision, 30 milliseconds is a critical length of time for assuming that posture,” he says.

Control subjects were healthy individuals of the same sex, body size, age, and sport of the injured athletes. The research focused on frontal regions of the brain responsible for working, or short-term, memory and executive function.

Source: University of Oregon

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Neglected boys are more likely to be violent teens

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:43

Parental neglect during childhood—not physical abuse—is the strongest predictor of violent behavior during a boy’s teen years, according to a study of incarcerated male adolescents.

“One of the problems with studying neglect is that it is an act of omission, rather than one of commission. In other words, it is characterized as the absence of an act, rather than an actual act of mistreatment,” says William McGuigan, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State. “However, now we have better measures and larger databases to document neglect.”

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Examples of physical neglect include not taking a sick or injured child to the doctor or not providing proper clothing and food.

McGuigan and colleagues presented their research recently at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.

Their findings show that while physical abuse is a significant contributor to violent behavior, physical neglect alone is a stronger predictor of male adolescent violence than physical abuse, or even physical abuse and neglect combined.

“It sounds somewhat contrarian, but the physical abuse might at least show that parents are paying some type of attention to the child,” McGuigan says.

Understanding how neglect can influence violent behavior in adolescent males may lead to better education for caregivers and better care for at-risk youths.

Prone to violence

“We have to look more into neglect and become more aware of how it may cause some of these violent behaviors,” McGuigan says. “From that, we can build early preventative care programs than can help avoid these negative outcomes.”

The research could also create assessments that, for example, might help protect people who care for adolescents by identifying youths who are more prone to violence.

For the study, researchers analyzed data taken from a survey of 85 subjects, who are residents of a Pennsylvania detention center for delinquent males. In the survey, 25 of the participants, or 29.4 percent of the group, said that they experienced at least one incidence of childhood neglect. Acts of violence included fighting with students or parents, hitting teachers or instructors, and using a weapon to scare, rob, or injure another person.

Sexual abuse was not included in the survey. Only two subjects responded that they were sexually abused in the survey, which was not enough to provide conclusive findings, McGuigan says.

Source: Penn State

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A bad boss can make the whole team mean

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:00

Bosses who are abusive to one employee can actually cause conflict among the whole team, which hurts productivity, according to new research.

The study is one of the first attempts to examine the effect of bad bosses in employee teams. Teams are increasingly popular in the business world.

Lead investigator Crystal Farh says supervisors who belittle and ridicule workers not only negatively affect those workers’ attitudes and behaviors, but also cause team members to act in a similar hostile manner toward one another.

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“That’s the most disturbing finding,” Farh says, “because it’s not just about individual victims now, it’s about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not.”

Farh, assistant professor of management in Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, says the findings could likely be explained by social learning theory, in which people learn and then model behavior based on observing others, in this case the boss.

Previous research has shown that workers emulate supervisors’ positive behaviors, she says, so it only makes sense they would follow negative behaviors as well.

For the study, Farh and Zhijun Chen from the University of Western Australia studied 51 teams of employees from 10 firms in China. Average team size was about six workers and the teams performed a variety of functions including customer service, technical support, and research and development.

The study looked at nonphysical abuse such as verbal mistreatment and demeaning emails. Employees who directly experienced such abuse felt devalued and contributed less to the team.

At the same time, the entire team “descended into conflicts,” Farh says, which also reduced worker contributions.

“Teams characterized by relationship conflict,” Farh says, “are hostile toward other members, mistreat them, speak to them rudely, and experience negative emotions toward them.”

The study was replicated in a controlled laboratory setting in the United States, with nearly 300 participants.

The findings have implications for companies faced with rehabilitating a team of employees following abusive supervision.

In the past, companies may have simply targeted abused employees with efforts to restore their self-esteem. While that’s still important, Farh says, efforts should also be made to fix the team’s interpersonal relationships by re-establishing trust and harmony.

The findings appear online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: Michigan State

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Where you live may affect how you fare after heart failure

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 12:56

Living in a low-income neighborhood may raise the risk that heart patients will be readmitted to the hospital.

“The association between neighborhood SES (socioeconomic status) and outcomes of patients with heart disease has been under investigation for two decades,” says Behnood Bikdeli, a research scholar at Yale Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation.

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Neighborhood characteristics such as noise, air pollution, crime, and access to healthy foods and exercise facilities are tied to neighborhood socioeconomic status.

“The central question has been whether low neighborhood SES represents as a marker of higher risk, or is independently associated with higher risk of adverse outcomes.”

Bikdeli and colleagues studied more than 1,500 patients with heart failure and found that low neighborhood SES was linked to higher rates of hospital readmissions for all causes six months after initial hospital admission.

Bikdeli says this is not surprising because prior studies have shown similar findings, but this recent study focused on information about individual demographics, clinical characteristics, co-morbidities, medications, and individual SES.

Neighborhood-level factors

“We demonstrated that the impact of neighborhood of residence persisted even after stepwise adjustments for all individual-level factors,” says Bikdeli. “In a broader sense, our study highlights that a wide array of factors that may impact disease outcomes.

“Although there may be some interrelation between individual and neighborhood characteristics, we believe that individual factors and neighborhood-level factors can independently impact the outcomes of patients with chronic conditions such as heart failure.”

Bikdeli says a crucial next step in the research is to test whether changing the modifiable neighborhood characteristics would help improve patient outcomes.

“In order to prevent readmission, we may need to focus on neighborhood factors, as well as individual patient factors,” he says.

The study was published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Source: Yale University

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Scan baby’s fingerprints to track immunizations

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 12:19

More than 2 million children die each year because they don’t receive their vaccinations on time. Researchers are developing a new system that scans a child’s fingerprints to track when vaccinations are due, which means parents will no longer need to keep paper documents.

In developing countries, keeping track of a baby’s vaccine schedule on paper is largely ineffective, says Anil Jain, professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University.

“Paper documents are easily lost or destroyed,” he says. “Our initial study has shown that fingerprints of infants and toddlers have great potential to accurately record immunizations. You can lose a paper document, but not your fingerprints.”

Mothers and babies wait for booster immunizations and vaccinations in a health facility in Benin, Africa. (Credit: Sunpreet Arora)

For a new study, Jain and colleagues traveled to rural health facilities in Benin, West Africa, to test the new system. They used an optical fingerprint reader to scan the thumbs and index fingers of babies and toddlers. From this scanned data, a schedule will be created and become a part of the vaccine registry system.

Once the electronic registry is in place, health care workers simply re-scan the child’s fingers to view the vaccination schedule. They know who has been vaccinated, for what diseases, and when additional booster shots are needed.

No lost information

The new electronic registry system will help overcome the lack and loss of information, which is the primary problem in the vaccine delivery system in developing countries, Jain says.

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Collecting fingerprints from fidgety infants isn’t easy. Another challenge is their small fingerprint patterns have low contrast between ridges and valleys.

“The process can still be improved but we have shown its feasibility,” Jain says. “We will continue to work on refining the fingerprint matching software and finding the best reader to capture fingerprints of young children, which will be of immense global value. We also plan to conduct a longitudinal study to ensure that fingerprints of babies can be successfully matched over time.”

There will be other benefits in addition to tracking vaccinations, says Mark Thomas, executive director of VaxTrac, a nonprofit organization supporting Jain’s research.

“Solving the puzzle of fingerprinting young children will have far-reaching implications beyond health care, including the development of civil registries, government benefits’ tracking, and education recordkeeping.”

Kai Cao postdoctoral researcher, and Sunpreet Arora, doctoral student are coauthors of the study. The findings will be presented at the International Joint Conference on Biometrics on Oct. 2.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the project.

Source: Michigan State University

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Bacterial nanowires aren’t ‘hair’ after all

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 08:51

Videos of morphing bacteria reveal that the strange hair-like features of so-called “electric bacteria” aren’t quite what they at first appeared to be.

The nanowires are actually extensions of the bacteria’s outer membrane equipped with proteins that transfer electrons called “cytochromes.”

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Scientists had long suspected that bacterial nanowires were pili—Latin for “hair”. The hair-like features are common on other bacteria, allowing them to adhere to surfaces and even connect to one another.

Given the similarity of shape, it was easy to believe that nanowires were pili. But Moh El-Naggar, assistant professor at the University of Southern California, says he was always careful to avoid saying that he knew for sure that’s what they were.

“The pili idea was the strongest hypothesis, but we were always cautious because the exact composition and structure were very elusive. Then we solved the experimental challenges and the hard data took us in a completely different direction. I have never been happier about being wrong.

“In many ways, it turned out to be an even cleverer way for bacteria to power themselves,” says El-Naggar, corresponding author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The first clue came from tracking the genes of the bacteria. During the formation of nanowires, scientists noted an increase in the expression of electron transport genes, but no corresponding increase in the expression of pilin genes.

Challenged by this evidence of what nanowires weren’t, the team next needed to figure out what they actually were. El-Naggar credits graduate student Sahand Pirbadian with devising an ingenious yet simple strategy to make the discovery.

Show your nanowires

By depriving the bacteria of oxygen, the researchers were able to force the bacteria to stretch out their nanowires on command, allowing the process to be observed in real time. And by staining the bacterial membrane, periplasm, cytoplasm, and specific proteins, researchers were able to take video of the nanowires reaching out—confirming that they were based on membrane and not pili at all.

The process isn’t as simple as it sounds. Generating videos of the nanowires stretching out required new methods to simultaneously label multiple features, keep a camera focused on the wriggling bacteria and combine the optical techniques with atomic force microscopy to gain higher resolution.

“It took us about a year just to develop the experimental set-up and figure out the right conditions for the bacteria to produce nanowires,” Pirbadian says. “We had to go back and re-examine some older experiments and rethink what we knew about the organism.

“Once we were able to induce nanowire growth, we started analyzing their composition and structure, which took another year of work. But it was well worth the effort because the outcome was very surprising—but in hindsight made a lot of sense.”

Understanding the way these electric bacteria work has applications well beyond the lab. Such creatures have the potential to address some of the big questions about the nature of life itself, including what types of lifeforms we might find in extreme environments, such as space.

In addition, this research has the potential to inform the creation of living, microbial circuits—forming the foundation of hybrid biological-synthetic electronic devices.

Scientists from USC collaborated on the research with colleagues from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The US Department of Energy and Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded the research at USC, which was made possible by facilities at the USC Centers of Excellence in NanoBioPhysics and Electron Microsopy and Microanalysis.

Source: USC

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This could explain why older adults can’t stay sleep

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 08:41

A loss of neurons in a part of the brain that serves as an on/off switch for sleep may explain why so many older adults suffer from insomnia.

“In many older people with insomnia and other patterns of sleep disruption, the underlying cause is unknown,” says Andrew Lim, assistant professor of neurology at University of Toronto. “We provide evidence that loss of neurons in a particular region of the brain that controls sleep may be an important contributor to insomnia in many older individuals.”

(Credit: Miguel Pires da Rosa/Flickr)

The new findings demonstrate for the first time that a group of inhibitory neurons are substantially diminished among the elderly and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

“On average, a person in his 70s has about one hour less sleep per night than a person in his 20s,” says Clifford B. Saper, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of the study published in the journal Brain.

“Sleep loss and sleep fragmentation is associated with a number of health issues, including cognitive dysfunction, increased blood pressure, and vascular disease, and a tendency to develop type 2 diabetes. It now appears that loss of these neurons may be contributing to these various disorders as people age.”

Profound insomnia

In 1996, the Saper lab first discovered that the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus, a key cell group of inhibitory neurons, was functioning as a “sleep switch” in rats, turning off the brain’s arousal systems to enable animals to fall asleep.

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“Our experiments in animals showed that loss of these neurons produced profound insomnia, with animals sleeping only about 50 percent as much as normal and their remaining sleep being fragmented and disrupted,” he says.

A group of cells in the human brain, the intermediate nucleus, is located in a similar location and has the same inhibitory neurotransmitter, galanin, as the vetrolateral preoptic nucleus in rats.

Researchers hypothesized that if the intermediate nucleus was important for human sleep and was homologous to the animal’s ventrolateral preoptic nucleus, then it may also similarly regulate humans’ sleep-wake cycles.

Movement monitor

In order to test this hypothesis, the investigators analyzed data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a community-based study of aging and dementia which began in 1997 and has been following a group of almost 1,000 people who entered the study as healthy 65-year-olds and are followed until their deaths, at which point their brains are donated for research.

“Since 2005, most of the subjects in the Memory and Aging Project have been undergoing actigraphic recording every two years. This consists of their wearing a small wristwatch-type device on their non-dominant arm for seven to 10 days,” says Lim, a former member of the Saper lab.

The actigraphy device, which is waterproof, is worn 24 hours a day and monitors all movements, large and small, divided into 15-second intervals. “Our previous work had determined that actigraphic readings indicating absence of movement for five minutes or longer correlated with sleep intervals,” Lim says.

The authors examined the brains of 45 study subjects (median age at death, 89.2), identifying ventrolateral preoptic neurons by staining the brains for the neurotransmitter galanin.  They then correlated the actigraphic rest-activity behavior of the 45 individuals in the year prior to their deaths with the number of remaining ventrolateral preoptic neurons at autopsy.

Fragmented sleep

“We found that in the older patients who did not have Alzheimer’s disease, the number of ventrolateral preoptic neurons correlated inversely with the amount of sleep fragmentation,” Saper says. “The fewer the neurons, the more fragmented the sleep became.”

The subjects with the largest amount of neurons (greater than 6,000) spent 50 percent or more of the sleep time in prolonged periods of non-movement while subjects with the fewest ventrolateral preoptic neurons (less than 3,000) spent less than 40 percent of their nights in extended periods of sleep.

The results further showed that among Alzheimer’s patients, most sleep impairment seemed to be related to the number of ventrolateral preoptic neurons that had been lost.

“These findings may one day lead to novel treatments for insomnia and other patterns of sleep disruption in old age, thereby improving quality of life,” says Lim.

“And given recent evidence that sleep disruption may predispose to or potentiate the development of Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps even prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Source: University of Toronto

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Clear material on windows harvests solar energy

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 08:10

A new type of “transparent” solar concentrator can be used on windows or mobile devices to harvest solar energy without obscuring the view.

Past efforts to create similar materials have been disappointing, with inefficient energy production or highly colored materials.

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“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” says Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”

The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he says.

The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic, where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt says.

Tall buildings with lots of windows

One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications. The technology is featured in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a nonintrusive way,” Lunt says. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

Lunt says more work is needed in order to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but noted they aim to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.

Source: Michigan State University

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