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Week Ending FRIDAY August 7, 2009---------------------------News Archive / Return to News Alerts

Kohl's

Convenience Increases Interest In IUD Contraceptive
Family planning clinics should consider offering same-day intrauterine device (IUD) insertion to women seeking emergency contraception and walk-in pregnancy testing, according to a new report

Doing this, the findings suggest, will increase interest in and use of IUDs.

The morning after pill is the best known form of emergency contraception, although copper-containing IUDs can also be highly effective. Although the IUDs can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sexual intercourse, it is recommended that they be inserted as soon as possible. The IUD can then be left in place to provide long-term birth control.

Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz at the University of Pittsburgh and associates, the authors of an article in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, note that copper IUDs offer highly effective emergency and maintenance contraception. However, many doctors require two separate appointments for inserting IUDs, including one for STD testing. [Dr. Schwarz is also an assistant investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute.]

The investigators believe that "more US women would use IUDs if it was easier to have them inserted."

To test that idea, they surveyed 412 girls and women ages 15 to 44 years who sought emergency contraception or pregnancy testing in 2008 at one of four family planning clinics in Pittsburgh. Most subjects were young, low-income, and African American - a population "at particularly high risk of unintended pregnancy."

The surveys contained questions regarding respondents' knowledge of and attitudes toward IUD contraception, as well as their interest in using an IUD.

Results showed that few patients were knowledgeable about IUDs, with the majority answering "don't know" to questions about effectiveness, side effects, costs, and only about a third were acquainted with someone who had ever used an IUD.

Sixteen percent expressed interest in having an IUD inserted that day for free.

"Efforts therefore should be made to expand education about and access to IUD insertions for women seeking either emergency contraception or pregnancy testing, with consideration given to the development and evaluation of same-day insertion services," Schwarz and associates conclude.

They estimate that in this patient population, five women would need to be treated with an IUD in order to prevent one unwanted pregnancy within the next year.


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Educate Yourself To Boost Achievement In Kids
With school days just around the corner, a University of Michigan researcher has some advice for parents who want to increase their children's academic success

"If you want your kids to do well in school, then the amount of education you get yourself is important," said Pamela Davis-Kean, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). "This may mean that parents need to go back to school.

"A growing number of large-scale, long-term studies now show that increasing parental education beyond high school is strongly linked to increasing language ability in children. Even after controlling for parental income, marital status and a host of other factors, we find that the impact of parental education remains significant."

Davis-Kean, who is also affiliated with the U-M Psychology Department, directs the ISR Center for the Analysis of Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood, funded by the National Science Foundation. She is co-editor of the July 2009 issue of the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal presenting research sponsored by the center that employs multiple perspectives to analyze the impact parents have on their children's educational attainment.

One of the studies in the special issue examines the long-term effects of parental education on children's success in school and work, beginning when children are eight years old and extending until they are age 48.

Another study examines how language skills and school readiness of three-year-olds are positively affected when mothers return to school.

"In every case, we've found that an increase in parental education has a positive impact on children's success in school," said Davis-Kean. "And this impact is particularly strong when parents start with a high school education or less.

"These findings may be reassuring to parents at a time when many are unemployed or worried about future job prospects. They clearly show that in terms of the effect on children's achievement, it's more important for parents to get a good education than to get a high-paying job. Of course, the more education you have, the more likely it is that you'll find a good job, so an increase in education often leads to an increase in income."

The reasons behind the power of parental education are not yet fully understood, but researchers think it's more than just providing a model that children want to imitate.

More education might mean that parents are more likely to read to their children, suggests Davis-Kean. Or it could be that parents who are in school need to be more organized in order to get everything done, so they tend to create a more structured home environment, with dinner and bedtime occurring at regular times, for example. This kind of predictable, structured environment has a positive impact on child development, many studies have shown.

Creating a more structured environment for children—as opposed to giving them lots of free time—has been getting something of a bad reputation lately, Davis-Kean notes. But she believes that for the vast majority of U.S. children, the value of free time has been exaggerated.

"There's this idealistic, nostalgic idea that free time gives children a chance to go out and play, and just experience nature," she said. "But in reality, in today's world where both parents are likely to be employed outside the home, what free time means for most kids is sitting in front of the TV, playing video games and generally being bored with no stimulation.

"What's really valuable for children is being engaged in activities that are supervised by adults. When kids are unsupervised, you see an increase in injuries. And summer down time also has negative influences on school achievement in the fall."

So parents who are going to school themselves should not worry about the effects of arranging more supervised activities for their children, according to Davis-Kean.

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Study Finds New Parents Overlook Many Child-Injury Risks
University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Psychology researchers report that new parents identified less than half of the safety hazards in a simulated home environment, and most perceived that their children were less vulnerable to injuries than other children

The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention. UAB doctoral student Joanna Gaines, M.A., is the lead author of the study, and UAB pediatric psychologist David Schwebel, Ph.D., is its co-author.

The study found that parents recognized only 47 percent of the safety hazards placed inside a home setting.


Parents, however, recognized more hazards than the professionals who worked with children daily. Health professionals recognized only 29 percent of the hazards; day-care workers recognized 37 percent.


"While there were no benchmarks to assess whether this is a good or bad rate of recognition, it is concerning if it approximates behavior in real homes," the authors said. "One would hope that parents might recognize all or almost all of the safety hazards present. If they don't recognize hazards, they cannot act for prevention, thus placing their children at risk of serious injury."

Surprisingly, when asked to identify hazards they considered dangerous for their own children, the parents identified only 40 percent of the hazards. The study's authors said that after the test, many of the parents made statements such as "My child isn't curious about the toilet," or "My child knows not to play with matches." The results suggest that parents tend to perceive their children as being somewhat invulnerable or smarter, safer or developmentally more advanced than other children, Gaines said.

Home Injuries
Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for toddlers in the United States, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). In fact, the NCIPC reports that more than 1,300 1- and 2-year-old American children died from accidental injuries in 2005.

The Study
Researchers tested 94 individuals, including 44 parents whose oldest child was 12-36 months, 30 day-care workers and 20 health-care professionals. A living room and a typical toddler's bedroom were created in the laboratory to simulate a home environment. For a third room, they used an existing bathroom with a working sink, shower and toilet. In each room, the researchers placed items that were safety hazards for young children such as prescription medication, shower cleaner, a pair of scissors, overloaded electrical outlets and marbles.

Each participant was asked to place stickers on all items in the three rooms that they believed would be a hazard to children ages 12-36 months. Researchers also asked the parents to complete a second task to identify hazards they believed would be dangerous for their own toddlers. The order the two tasks performed was alternated randomly.

The parents answered questions about their level of education, knowledge of CPR, attendance at parenting classes and the number of hours each week spent reading parenting magazines.

The study found that formal education was not related to hazard recognition, Gaines said. Parents with fewer years of education recognized safety hazards just as well as parents with more education. But the study also found that more hazards were identified by adults with more parent-related education, which suggests these classes and magazine articles focused on injury prevention may benefit child safety.

The parents, however, recognized more hazards than the professionals who worked with children daily, the study authors said. The health professionals recognized only 29 percent of the hazards, and the day-care workers recognized 37 percent. Some explanations may include the fact that parents spend more time with toddlers than day-care employees and parents have more invested in safeguarding their own children. In addition, parents have more experience watching children in a home environment than most child-care professionals.


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When Eating And Dieting, Follow Your Gut

Eating a small lunch doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be so hungry for dinner that you’ll eat more than usual, a new study suggests

Exercising after a small meal can reduce the sensation of hunger and potentially help lose weight, according to Katarina Borer, professor in the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and principal investigator on the study.

When the meal was small, people felt hungrier than when the meal was larger. But for the next meal, hunger ratings were equally high, the study showed.

Exercising makes you less hungry, but does not make you hungrier or eat more at the next meal.

“The stomach or gut knows when we are full, and that has to do with volume and energy contained in food,” she said. “Our body tracks the amount of food that goes into our mouth and the stomach. Our stomach is the smart guy who knows what’s going on and tells our brain.”

Borer withheld calories through diet, and also had people burn calories through exercise. The study showed that caloric deficit in the form of small meals causes hunger but the reverse is true when we expend calories through exercise after a large meal. But when she replaced those calories and nutrients intravenously, people still did not feel full after either a small meal or exercise, which suggests again that the volume of food actually passing through the mouth and gut triggers hunger or fullness.

Borer’s findings disclaim the widely held position that the hormone leptin acts as a satiety signal in controlling appetites, and that the hormone ghrelin signals hunger, Borer says.

Current thinking is that hormones and other sensors in the body somehow track our energy/caloric deficit or excess, and then ghrelin signals our bodies that we need to eat during an energy deficit and leptin directs that we should stop in response to caloric fill. Hormones leptin and ghrelin did track energy availability (deficit due to small meals and exercise and excess due to large meals and intravenous nutrients), but did not affect appetite, she said.

Borer’s findings certainly do not give license to eat a small volume of calorie-rich food like a pizza while dieting, she stressed. You’d feel hungry sooner than after consuming large volumes of healthy low-energy foods. The added benefit of low energy but nutrient-rich food is a possible weight loss and general good health, she says. Lots of vegetables and lean meat are wiser choices than pizza, she says, though equal volumes of both make us feel full.

“You need to satisfy your stomach but not add a lot of calories,” she said.


THURSDAY August 6, 2009---------------------------News Archive / Return to News Alerts

Kohl's

Challenging Conventional Wisdom: Advances in Development Reverse Fertility Declines
A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Università Bocconi in Milan have released a study that challenges one of the most established and accepted standards in the social sciences: Human fertility levels tend to decline as countries advance towards high levels of social and economic development.

The researchers question the conventional wisdom by documenting new findings, potentially relevant to discussions of economic and social policy, of a reversal of fertility declines in highly developed countries once they reach a certain level of wealth.

The study, “Advances in Development Reverse Fertility Declines," by Hans-Peter Kohler and Mikko Myrskylä of Penn's Populations Studies Center and Francesco C. Billari of the Università Bocconi, is published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Researchers looked at total fertility rate and the human development index, HDI, in 24 developed countries during a 30-year period. The data demonstrated that the well-established negative relationship between fertility and development has been reversing as the global population entered the 21st century. While social and economic development continues to promote fertility decline at low and medium levels of HDI, at advanced HDI levels further development can reverse the declining trend in fertility.

Now, HDI is positively associated with fertility among highly developed countries. This reversal of fertility decline as a result of continued economic and social development has the potential to slow the rates of population aging, thereby ameliorating the social and economic problems that have been associated with the emergence and persistence of very low fertility.


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Social Stress Linked to Harmful Fat Deposits, Heart Disease
A new study done by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine shows that social stress could be an important precursor to heart disease by causing the body to deposit more fat in the abdominal cavity, speeding the harmful buildup of plaque in blood vessels, a stepping stone to the number one cause of death in the world

The findings could be an important consideration in the way the United States and other Western countries try to stem the rapid rise of obesity, said Carol A. Shively, Ph.D., a professor of pathology and the study’s principal investigator.

The study appears as the cover story of the current issue of Obesity, the peer-reviewed journal of the Obesity Society.

“We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic,” Shively said. “Much of the excess fat in many people who are overweight is located in the abdomen, and that fat behaves differently than fat in other locations. If there’s too much, it can have far more harmful effects on health than fat located in other areas.”

She notes that obesity is directly related to lower socioeconomic status in Western societies, as is heart disease. So, the people who have fewer resources to buffer themselves from the stresses of life are more likely to experience such health problems, she said.

In this study of how the stress of low social status affects the development of heart disease, female monkeys were fed a Western-style diet containing fat and cholesterol. The monkeys were housed in groups so they would naturally establish a pecking order from dominant to subordinate. Subordinate monkeys are often the target of aggression and aren’t included in group grooming sessions as often as dominant monkeys.

Shively and colleagues Thomas C. Register, Ph.D., and Thomas B. Clarkson, D.V.M., all faculty of the Department of Pathology, Section on Comparative Medicine at the School of Medicine, found that these socially stressed subordinate monkeys developed more fat in the viscera, or abdominal cavity.

The researchers found that the stress of social subordination results in the release of stress hormones that promote the deposition of fat in the viscera. Visceral fat, in turn, promotes coronary artery atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels that leads to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the world today.

What is striking about that relationship, Shively said, is that women and female monkeys have a natural protection against heart disease – women typically develop heart disease, on average, 10 years later than men do. That protection seems to be lost when stress and visceral fat increase. Researchers found that the monkeys with high social stress and larger amounts of visceral fat also had ovaries that produced fewer protective hormones.

“Suppressed ovarian function is a very serious condition in a woman,” Shively said. “Women who are hormone-deficient will develop more atherosclerosis and be at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease and other diseases such as osteoporosis and cognitive impairment.”

Women whose bodies are not producing adequate amounts of hormones won’t necessarily know it, Shively said. The researchers found that low hormone production doesn’t always lead to fewer menstrual cycles. To diagnose serious health problems in obese women, doctors would have to investigate hormone levels.

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"Jumping genes" Create Diversity In Human Brain Cells
Rather than sticking to a single DNA script, human brain cells harbor astonishing genomic variability, according to scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The findings, to be published in the Aug. 5, 2009, advance online edition of Nature, could help explain brain development and individuality, as well as lead to a better understanding of neurological disease.

Fred Gage, Ph.D., professor in the Salk's Laboratory of Genetics and holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases, found that human brain cells contain an unexpected number of so-called mobile elements - extraordinary pieces of DNA that insert extra copies of themselves throughout the genome using a "copy and paste" mechanism.


"Jumping genes" could go a long way towards explaining brain development and individuality. This is a potential mechanism to create the neural diversity that makes each person unique."


The only other human cells known to remodel their genome are the cells of the immune system. There the genes coding for antibodies are shuffled to create A variety of antibodies capable of recognizing an infinite number of antigens.

Gage had already shown that mobile pieces of DNA known as LINE-1 elements (short for Long interspersed element 1) randomly add extra copies to the genome of mouse brain cells.

"It is known that these mobile elements are important in lower organisms, such as plants and yeast, but in mammals they are generally considered to be remnants of our past," says Gage. "Yet they are extremely abundant. Approximately 50% of the total human genome is made up of remnants of mobile elements. If this were true junk, we would be getting rid of it."

Initially, the Salk researchers simply tried to identify jumping events in human brain cells grown in a dish, as they had with mice. They succeeded, but Gage and postdoctoral researcher and first author Nicole Coufal, Ph.D., wanted to know whether this phenomenon occurred in people as well.

When Coufal measured matched samples (brain versus other body tissues) from numerous individuals, she found that some brain samples had as many as 100 extra copies per cell. "This was proof that these elements really are jumping in neurons," explains Coufal. It also means that not all cells are created equal.

Mobile elements may actually drive evolution, creating more diversity than would occur through normal cell division (which makes an exact copy of the genome, except for the occasional error). "It's a different way of looking at diversity," says Gage. "The brain lives for 80 years with the environment coming at us unpredictably, and this provides an added element of adaptability. It makes sense that there would be this added level of complexity."

Trying to explain why only brain cells harbor truly "mobile" elements, Coufal looked at the LINE-1 promoter, which is the switch that turns elements on and off, and discovered that in the brain, the switch is generally on, where in other tissues it is permanently locked in the "off" position.

Knowing that LINE-1 elements are jumping around in the brain opens up a new way to look at neurological disorders. Explains Coufal, "Dysregulated jumping could be contributing to the problems seen in these conditions."


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Texas Physicians Do Not Always Recommend HPV Vaccine

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the human papillomavirus vaccination for all 11- and 12-year-old girls, but results of a recent survey showed that more than half of Texas physicians do not follow these recommendations

The survey was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Two years after the FDA approved the vaccine, the study suggests that additional efforts are needed to encourage physicians to follow these national recommendations," said Jessica Kahn, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The quadrivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been mired in controversy since it was approved in 2006. Texas placed itself at the center of that controversy early on with a mandate for universal vaccination from the governor's office, followed by a swift rebuke of that mandate from the legislature.

Kahn said she was approached by the Texas Medical Association to assist them in conducting this survey as part of their efforts to assess educational needs related to HPV vaccination among Texas physicians. Kahn and colleagues surveyed 1,122 physicians.

Of the respondents, 48.5 percent said they always recommend the HPV vaccine to girls, 68.4 percent said they were likely to recommend the vaccine to boys and 41.7 percent agreed with mandated vaccination.

When the researchers assessed the predictors of vaccine recommendation, they found that those in an academic vs. non-academic practice were more than twice as likely to recommend the vaccine. Those who considered professional organizations or professional conferences an important source of information were almost twice as likely to recommend the vaccine than those who did not consider these sources valuable.

"Most physicians are aware of the vaccine and what it prevents, but they may lack knowledge about issues of safety and how to address parental concerns. That may be making them reluctant to deliver the vaccine," said Kahn.

Although the study population was limited to Texas, Kahn said she believes that the views expressed by these physicians could be representative of physicians across the country. Nationally, vaccine rates for 11- to 12-year-old girls are between 6 percent and 25 percent.

"Physicians train all across the country using more or less the same curriculum, so as a group they tend to be fairly homogenous in their beliefs," said Kahn.

Sally Vernon, Ph.D., director of the Division of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences in the University of Texas School of Public Health, said this study points to the need to further educate physicians about the HPV vaccine.

"Physicians are the gatekeepers for this vaccine and the studies have shown that one of the most important predictors of health behavior is what your physician recommends," said Vernon, who is also an editorial board member of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.


WEDNESDAY August 5, 2009---------------------------News Archive / Return to News Alerts

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Are Kids Today Truly More Autonomous?
Children now enjoy more freedom at home, but are more restricted outside the home

Children have certainly mastered the art of selecting, negotiating and even refusing the chores their parents assign to them. This growth in personal autonomy at home over the last few decades could be the result of shrinking opportunities to participate in activities outside the home, without Mom and Dad looking over their shoulder, according to Dr. Markella Rutherford from Wellesley College in the US. Her analysis1 of back issues of the popular US magazine, Parents, maps how the portrayal of parental authority and children’s autonomy has changed over the last century. Her findings are published online in Springer’s journal Qualitative Sociology.

Parents are faced with a difficult task when they try to balance authority with children’s autonomy: they are trying to be the right kind of parents, while at the same time trying to form the right kind of kids. And there are many sources of information and social support that parents turn to in order to achieve this balance, including family, friends, doctors, teachers, other parents and the media.

Dr. Rutherford looked at how the increasing importance of individualism and personal autonomy in American culture appears in childrearing advice. She analyzed a total of 300 advice columns and relevant editorials from 34 randomly chosen issues of Parents magazine, published between 1929 and 2006, to see how parental authority and children’s autonomy have been portrayed over the last century.

The study demonstrated that while the magazine articles showed greater autonomy for children in some areas, they also depicted children as having become more constrained in others. Instead of an overall increased autonomy, she found evidence of a historical trade-off: while children appear to have gained autonomy in private spaces in their homes, they have lost much of their public autonomy outside the home.

The articles in Parents showed that children were increasingly autonomous when it came to their self-expression, particularly in relation to daily activity chores, personal appearance and defiance of parents. In contrast to this increased autonomy that child-centered parenting has given children, the 20th century has seen, in other ways, children’s autonomy curtailed, through increasingly restricted freedom of movement and substantially delayed acceptance of responsibilities. Children now have fewer opportunities to conduct themselves in public spaces free from adult supervision than they did in the early and mid-twentieth century.

Dr. Rutherford concludes: “Today’s parents face demands that require near-constant surveillance of their children. Allowing children more autonomy to express themselves and their disagreements at home may well be a response to the loss of more substantial forms of children’s autonomy to move through and participate in their communities on their own.”


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How Rare Childhood Blood Disorder Avoids Immune System
As the assassins of the immune system, natural killer cells hunt down renegade cells that have been corrupted by viruses and broken genes. Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute international research scholar André Veillette and his colleagues have learned how a molecular switch helps to prevent cancers by signaling natural killer cells to attack abnormal blood cells.

The findings, published on August 2, 2009 in Nature Immunology, may also lead to better understanding of a rare genetic disorder called X-linked lymphoproliferative disease (XLP), which causes the immune system to go into overdrive. Children who have the genetic defect that causes XLP face a greater risk of severe complications from viral infections.

For example, healthy children who become infected with Epstein-Barr virus may develop mononucleosis, an illness that usually lasts several weeks. But Epstein-Barr infection can prove fatal in children with XLP. Their immune cells pile up and clog the lymph nodes, spleen, and liver. In the 1970s, clinicians noted that the blood cancer lymphoma was also very common in boys with XLP. “If you don’t treat these children, they die,” said Veillette, who is based at the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal (IRCM) and the University of Montreal.

In the late 1990s, researchers found that XLP resulted from mutations in a gene that makes a small protein called SAP, one of a family of molecules that is abundant in many immune cells, including natural killer cells.

“When people found the SAP mutations in these patients, they realized that the mutations led to a lack of SAP, which in turn caused defects in many types of immune cells, such as T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells,” Veillette says. “It's likely that the combination of all these immune defects causes the symptoms of the disease.”

Veillette decided to study natural killer cells because they carry an array of odd antennae, or receptors, that sense whether other cells are normal or abnormal. When those antennae sense an abnormal cell—like those with defects that cause many types of cancers, including blood cancers—natural killer cells attack by dumping a flood of chemicals that perforate and destroy their target. “They’re very good at doing this. They’re on a hair trigger, and they do it very quickly,” Veillette says.

About five years ago, Veillette took a close look at SLAM receptors, one of the many types of receptors on the surface of natural killer cells. Other researchers had discovered that these

molecules interact with SAP (which stands for SLAM-Associated Protein), but no one understood what role SAP played in commanding the immune system’s assassins to attack.

To find out, Veillette genetically engineered mice that could not produce the SAP family of molecules, including SAP and two closely related molecules, EAT-2 and ERT. These triple knock-out mice developed normally and appeared to possess healthy immune cells. However, when Veillette put natural killer cells from the mice into Petri dishes, he discovered something odd. The natural killer cells could destroy some types of cancer cells, but they were unable to target and attack cancerous blood cells. Further experiments in live mice confirmed that the natural killer cells lacking the SAP-related molecules were unable to kill lymphoma cells.

“These cells exhibit a very specific defect,” Veillette says. “They are unable to eliminate abnormal hematopoietic (blood-forming) cells. But they can kill other bad cells like colon carcinoma cells and melanoma cells.”

“This finding was unexpected,” he continues. “We knew there would be a defect, but we didn’t realize it would be specific to the blood system.”

The new research fills a critical gap in understanding how the SLAM receptors work. SLAM receptors are found on the surface of most blood cells, including natural killer cells. SLAM receptors on the surface of a natural killer cell will recognize SLAM receptors on the surface of, for example, a cancerous blood cell — but only if other receptors on the natural killer cells that signal the cell is abnormal are also active. This combination tells the natural killer cells to attack.

When this “kill” signal is triggered, the SLAM receptors on the target cell stick into the surface of the natural killer cell, which activates the SAP proteins inside the natural killer cell. “The SAP proteins allow the SLAM receptors to work,” Veillette says. “When you don't have SAP, as in our mice, the activating capacity of the SLAM receptors completely disappears.” His team is still working out the details of what SAP does inside the cells.

Veillette and his colleagues also found that the absence of SAP-related molecules actually flips the signal sent by the SLAM receptors. Instead of triggering a “kill” response, the receptors send a “don’t kill” signal. And the researchers found that mice that cannot produce SAP readily accumulate cancerous blood cells in their body—as happens in children with XLP—because the animals’ immune system can no longer destroy mutated white blood cells.

Veillette says his findings help explain the uncontrolled immune reaction that occurs during viral infections in children with XLP. Normally, if SAP were present, the immune system would clear the spent white blood cells that rush to the lymph nodes, the spleen, and other sites of infection. But without SAP, white blood cells pile up, causing serious inflammation.

The standard treatment for XLP is bone marrow transplantation, and that’s unlikely to change, Veillette says. However, he thinks future research on SAP-related molecules could point toward better therapies for other viral infections or autoimmune diseases. To that end, Veillette is now developing mouse models to further examine the role of SAP during these conditions.

"SAP has really been a mystery,” Veillette says. “It's nice to begin to understand the impact of this little molecule that has puzzled a lot of people."

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Lead-Based Paint Remains a Global Public Health Threat
Although lead content in paint has been restricted in the United States since 1978, University of Cincinnati (UC) environmental health researchers say in major countries from three continents there is still widespread failure to acknowledge its danger and companies continue to sell consumer paints that contain dangerous levels of lead

In a new study, Scott Clark, PhD, and his team have found that approximately 73 percent of consumer paint brands tested from 12 countries representing 46 percent of the world’s population exceeded current U.S. standard of 600 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paint. In addition, 69 percent of the brands had at least one sample exceeding 10,000 ppm. With the majority of American consumer goods being produced overseas, Clark says that lead paint exposure remains a serious global health threat.

“A global ban on lead-based paint is drastically needed to protect the more than three billion people who may be exposed in the countries allowing distribution of lead-containing paints as well as Americans unintentionally exposed through consumer products exported to the United States,” says Clark, a professor of environmental health at UC and principal investigator of the study.

The UC team reports their findings in the journal Environmental Research online ahead of publication on Aug. 4, 2009. The report comes on the tail of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s enforcement of heightened restrictions on lead in American consumer paints, which will take effect Aug. 9, 2009, and will lower the allowable lead limit from 600 parts per million (ppm) to 90 ppm..

“This revised standard for lead in consumer paint is grossly overdue,” adds Clark. “The previous limit of 600 ppm for lead in new pant was established more than 30 years ago when the blood-lead level of concern was much higher than at present. Modern research has shown that children are affected at very low exposure levels and that there is no safe level of exposure.”

For the current study, Clark analyzed a total of 373 new household enamel paint samples of various colors and brands from 12 countries in Africa, Asia and South America—with a minimum of 10 samples from most countries included in analysis. His goal was to determine the amount of lead and how it compares to U.S. standards. His team also analyzed the consumer cost of leaded and unleaded paint.

Each paint sample was applied in a single layer to a wood block, left to dry and then removed and analyzed in UC laboratories for lead content. Researchers determined that 73 percent of the paint companies’ products tested had lead concentrations exceeding current U.S. standards.

In September 2006, Clark’s team published what is believed to be the first scientific report to show that unregulated Asian countries produced and sold new consumer paints that greatly exceeded U.S. lead safety levels. In that study, 75 percent of the consumer paint samples tested from countries without controls— including India, Malaysia and China—had levels exceeding U.S. regulations.

“Although lead poisoning of children is widely recognized as a major public health problem, too little attention is being given to correcting the problem in many parts of the world,” says Clark. “Meanwhile, thousands of children continue to be poisoned by the metal, setting them up for life-threatening problems later in life.

“Our studies have shown that when comparing the prices of the same size can of paint produced by several companies within India with a wide range of lead concentrations, there is no significant consumer price difference between leaded and unleaded consumer paint,” says Clark.

Their research showed that one large multi-national company produced low lead paint in each of the countries where it was sampled and another company was found to have stopped using lead in paints in one country during the course of our study.

“These two observations document the fact that the technology is available so that manufacturers do not need to use lead to produce high-quality paint,” adds Clark. “There is no legitimate reason paint manufacturers—particularly the large, multinational companies we analyzed with more depth in the current study—should knowingly distribute a product that has long been known to be dangerous to people.”

Clark says calls for a global ban on the use of lead in paints - such as the one in made in his 2006 paper - appear to be having some impact. In May of 2009, a United Nations - sponsored international forum passed a resolution to establish a global partnership to achieve such a goal.


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Scientists Discover Bladder Cancer Stem Cell
Researchers at Stanford’s School of Medicine have identified the first human bladder cancer stem cell and revealed how it works to escape the body’s natural defenses.

“This is first time we’ve found this ‘don’t eat me signal’ in a stem cell of a solid cancer,” said Irving Weissman, MD, the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research at the medical school. “We’re now moving as fast as we can to look at other tumors to see if this is a universal strategy of all or most cancer stem cells.” If so, the signal may be a valuable therapeutic target for many types of cancers.

Weissman, who directs Stanford’s Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute, is also a member of Stanford’sCancer Center. He is the senior author of the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Aug. 3. His laboratory recently published two studies in the journal Cellshowing that human leukemia stem cells use the same protective molecular signature on their surface to evade cells called macrophages that engulf and destroy sick or cancerous cells.

Like queen bees, cancer stem cells are constantly replenishing their “hive” of tumor cells. Therapies that kill off the workers might reduce the size of the tumor and the symptoms of the disease, but will ultimately be unsuccessful unless they also eliminate the stem cells working behind the scenes.

Support for the current research came from a gift from Jim and Carolyn Pride. In 2002, the couple attended a talk by Weissman in which he discussed the then-emerging idea of cancer stem cells. Jim Pride, who had been diagnosed with bladder cancer, approached Weissman after the talk and offered to sponsor a post-doctoral fellow — Keith Syson Chan, PhD — to investigate whether there was a bladder cancer stem cell.

“The whole concept of cancer stem cells is that they are often resistant to current therapies,” said Chan, who is the first author of the work, “and, at least in the case of bladder cancer, they drive the progression of the disease.” Identifying and following these cells may be one way to monitor tumor status, the researchers feel, and targeting the cells for destruction may be a good way to eradicate the cancer. Although Pride lost his life to the disease in 2004, his gift launched the experiments necessary to obtain NIH funding for the project.

There are two main types of bladder cancer: one that invades the muscle around the bladder and metastasizes to other organs, and another that remains confined to the bladder lining. Unlike the more-treatable non-invasive cancer — which comprises about 70 percent of bladder cancers — the invasive form is largely incurable. Although about 15 percent of non-invasive cancers eventually become invasive, there is no current diagnostic method that can predict which will progress.

Chan used breast cancer stem cell markers to identify a subpopulation of human bladder cancer cells with stem cell qualities: The cells formed tumors when transplanted into mice with compromised immune systems. He then looked to see which genes were more highly expressed in these cells than in other bladder cancer cells from the same tumor. He found that most, but not all, non-invasive bladder cancers expressed lower levels of these genes than did invasive cancers. Further research showed that the anomalous non-invasive cancers with higher levels of gene expression behaved more aggressively: About 80 percent recurred within 25 months of initial diagnosis, whereas only about 20 percent of the low-expressing tumors did so.

“The fact that we were able to pull out the subpopulation of these cancers that will become invasive is an important step in identifying those that will be more dangerous,” said Chan. “It may be possible to follow the progress of the tumor by analyzing the expression levels of these genes.”

Chan found particularly interesting one gene, which encodes a cell-surface molecule called CD47. He knew from previous research in Weissman’s lab that CD47 works to prevent leukemia cells from being engulfed by macrophages by binding to a molecule on the surface of the macrophage. Blocking this interaction with an antibody specific for CD47 allows the macrophages to swallow the leukemia cells. When he tried a similar experiment with the bladder cancer stem cells in a test tube, the same thing happened — human macrophages began to destroy the cancer cells.

“Leukemia is totally different from the kind of epithelial cancer we see in the bladder,” said Chan, “so it was very exciting to see that these two kinds of cancer stem cells use a similar mechanism to escape the macrophages. It’s also very interesting to find that macrophages seem to be playing such a major role in cancer progression.”

The researchers are now investigating whether CD47 is expressed at high levels on other cancer stem cells and pondering ways to help circulating macrophages better infiltrate solid tumors — always with an eye towards therapy.

“Jim knew our research results would be too late for him,” said Weissman, who visited Pride in the hospital before he died, “but he hoped that they would help others.”


TUESDAY August 4, 2009---------------------------News Archive / Return to News Alerts

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Millions of US Children Low in Vitamin D
Seven out of ten U.S. children have low levels of vitamin D, raising their risk of bone and heart disease, according to a study of over 6,000 children by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University

The striking findings suggest that vitamin D deficiency could place millions of children at risk for high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. The study is published today in the online version of Pediatrics.

Vitamin D deficiency was thought to be relatively rare in the U.S. However, recent studies have documented this growing problem in adults. With cases of rickets (a bone disease in infants caused by low vitamin D levels) on the rise, it became clear that many children were also not getting enough of this essential vitamin, which is needed for healthy bone growth, among other biological processes.

"Several small studies had found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in specific populations of children, but no one had examined this issue nationwide," says study leader Michal L. Melamed, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and of epidemiology & population health at Einstein. Dr. Melamed has published extensively on the importance of vitamin D.

To learn more about the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency (defined as less than 15 ng/mL of blood) and vitamin D insufficiency (15 to 29 ng/mL), the researchers analyzed data on more than 6,000 children, ages one to 21, collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2004.

The researchers found that 9 percent of the study sample, equivalent to 7.6 million children across the U.S., was vitamin D deficient, while another 61 percent, or 50.8 million, was vitamin D insufficient. Low vitamin D levels were especially common in children who were older, female, African-American, Mexican-American, obese, drank milk less than once a week, or spent more than four hours a day watching TV, playing videogames, or using computers.

The researchers also found that low levels of vitamin D deficiency were associated with higher parathyroid hormone levels, a marker of bone health, higher systolic blood pressure, and lower serum calcium and HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which are key risk factors for heart disease.

"We expected the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency would be high, but the magnitude of the problem nationwide was shocking," says lead author Juhi Kumar, M.D., M.P.H., a fellow in pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, The University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Kumar will become an assistant professor of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in August, 2009.

"We know from earlier NHANES data that vitamin D levels have declined over the last 20 years," says Dr. Melamed. "Kids have more sedentary lifestyles today and are not spending as much time outdoors. The widespread use of sunscreens, which block UV-B rays, has only compounded the problem." The body uses UV-B sunlight to convert a form of cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D.

Dr. Melamed recommends that children should consume more foods rich in vitamin D, such as milk and fish. "But it's very hard to get enough vitamin D from dietary sources alone," she says.

Vitamin D supplementation can help. In the study, children who took vitamin D supplements (400 IU/day) were less likely to be deficient in the vitamin. However, only four percent of the study population actually used supplements. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently updated its vitamin D guidelines, now recommends that infants, children, and teens should take 400 IU per day in supplement form.

Supplements are especially important for those living in the country's northern regions where the sun may be too weak to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Supplements are also critical for infants who are breast-fed, say the researchers. Breast milk contains relatively little vitamin D, while formula is fortified with the vitamin.

The authors recommend that pediatricians should routinely screen high-risk children for vitamin D deficiency, and that parents should ensure that their kids get adequate amounts of the vitamin through a combination of diet, supplements, and exposure to sunlight.

"The message for pediatricians is that vitamin D deficiency is a real problem with consequences not only for bone health but also potentially for long-term cardiovascular health. Pediatricians should be screening children for vitamin D levels, especially in the high-risk populations," says Dr. Kumar. A study co-led by Dr. Melamed and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in August 2008 reported that individuals with low levels of vitamin D may have an increased risk of death from all causes.

As for parents, says Dr. Melamed, "It would good for them to turn off the TV and send their kids outside. Just 15 to 20 minutes a day should be enough. And unless they burn easily, don't put sunscreen on them until they've been out in the sun for 10 minutes, so they get the good stuff but not sun damage."


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For Struggling Single Moms, 3-Generation Households Are Better Than 2
Presence of just 1 grandparent reduces likelihood of child poverty by 80 percent

Living in a three-generation household can significantly enhance the economic well-being of children, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Their findings, to appear in the November 2009 Journal of Family Issues and now available online, indicate children living in single-mother families that also include a grandparent are substantially less likely to be living below or near the poverty line compared to children living in mother-only homes.

"The implications of this research are particularly salient as we are facing an unprecedented economic crisis in the United States " said Lindsey A. Baker of the USC Davis School of Gerontology, co-author of the study. "Multigenerational co-residence will likely be a strategy used by many to deal with financial hardship caused by the loss of a job, house or retirement savings.

In the United States, more than six million children under the age of 18 live with at least one grandparent. Of these children, 2.5 million are part of a single-mother family that includes the child's mother as well as one or more grandparents.

Using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation from 2001, the researchers found that the presence of just one grandparent makes the odds of living below the poverty line 80% lower than for children living without a grandparent, and children living with two grandparents are at an even greater advantage.

In the United States, the average income of a family with two grandparents is more than double the income of a single-mother household with no grandparents ($63,635 compared to $27, 619), the researchers found.

In addition, the study also reveals that the largest single source of income in single-mother, three-generation homes is the contributions of grandparents, including cash transfers and Social Security income, Baker said.

"The pooling of resources has long been identified as a benefit of household extension," said lead author Jan E. Mutchler of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. "The easing of financial difficulties has been highlighted as an important goal motivating the formation of multigenerational households. Grandparents are often the first families members called upon when families are troubled or in need.

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Scientists Develop 'Gas Gauge' to Prevent Pregnancy Loss
To combat the many fetal deaths that occur annually because the placenta is too small, researchers at Yale School of Medicine have developed a method to measure the volume of the placenta, which provides nourishment to the fetus

Limits in current technology keep doctors from being able to monitor the growth of the placenta, which, like the gas tank of a car, is the source of fuel for the fetus. The placenta can be so small that the fetus literally runs out of food and oxygen and dies, according to lead author Harvey J. Kliman, M.D., a research scientist in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. He and his colleagues published the results of their findings in the August 3 issue of the American Journal of Perinatology.

Fetal death, or intrauterine fetal demise (IUFD), affects 30,000 women each year in the United States. Until now, there has been no easy way to determine how much “gas” is left in the placenta’s tank.

Kliman decided to study this issue after noting that many late-term pregnancy losses were associated with very small placentas. He theorized that in much the same way that an obstetrician uses ultrasounds to follow the growth of the fetus, or a pediatrician weighs and measures children to ensure they are growing normally, the growth of the fetus’ placenta could be monitored.

When Kliman asked perinatologists (maternal fetal medicine specialists) why they did not look at the placenta when performing routine ultrasounds, the answer was always the same: The placenta is a curved structure and is too difficult to measure. If they had to measure the placental volume they would need a very expensive machine, specialized training and more time.

With the help of his father, Merwin Kliman, a mathematician and electrical engineer, Kliman developed an equation that used the maximal width, height and thickness of the placenta. Kliman and his team at Yale then validated the method by comparing the volume predicted by the Estimated Placenta Volume (EPV) equation taken just before delivery to the actual weight of the placenta at the time of delivery.

“In this study, we showed that the equation predicted the actual placental weight with an accuracy of up to 89 percent,” said Kliman. “The method works best during the second and early third trimesters, just when routine ultrasound screening is done on many women in the U.S.”

In addition to validating the equation, the team is also collecting EPV data from centers around the world to create the normative curves that doctors can use to determine if the placenta is normal, too small or even too big. “I hope that the EPV test becomes routine for pregnant women,” said Kliman.


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Unlocking The Key To Human Fertility
Scientists at Leeds and Bradford have discovered a unique ‘DNA signature’ in human sperm, which may act as a key that unlocks an egg’s fertility and triggers new life

Drs David Miller and David Iles from the University of Leeds, in collaboration with Dr Martin Brinkworth at the University of Bradford, have found that sperm writes a DNA signature that can only be recognised by an egg from the same species. This enables fertilisation and may even explain how a species develops its own unique genetic identity.

Dr Iles says, “What we have discovered is a previously unrecognised DNA packaging ‘signature’ in mammalian sperm that may be essential for successful fertilisation of the egg and development of the embryo. We think it may also be ancient in origin.”

Without the right ‘key’, successful fertilisation either cannot occur, or if it does, development will not proceed normally. Notably, disturbances in human sperm DNA packaging are known to cause male infertility and pregnancy failures.

This ‘lock and key’ mechanism has other profound implications. Not only does it explain why some otherwise healthy men produce sperm that is sterile, but it also explains how different species evolve and retain their own identity.

Says Dr Miller, “Up until now, Doctors have struggled to understand idiopathic male infertility. Our latest research offers a plausible explanation for why some sperm malfunction or fail to function correctly.”

If the DNA carried by a sperm cell was unwound and stretched out, it would actually measure more than a metre in length. In order to fit all this DNA into the microscopic space within the head of the sperm cell, the DNA needs to be very tightly coiled, or packaged. The Leeds study showed that in human and mouse sperm, not all of the DNA is packaged in the same way. Whilst most of the paternal DNA is compressed in an extremely compact fashion, some is packaged less tightly.

“There is a definite pattern to the way DNA is packaged in sperm cells and we can see that this pattern is the same in unrelated fertile men. It is different in the sperm of infertile men. This implies that there is a significance to the packaging of DNA that has a direct relevance to male fertility,” says Dr Iles.

Detailed analyses of the DNA in the ‘open’, less tightly packaged conformation, showed this DNA carries much of the information critical for activating genes essential for directing the development of the embryo. Further investigations showed the same conformation to exist in the sperm of several unrelated human donors and remarkably, highly similar packaging patterns to exist in the sperm of mice.

DNA regions in the ‘open’ conformation may therefore be more vulnerable to damaging toxins, such as those in cigarette smoke and certain anti-cancer drugs, than those that are tightly packaged. As Dr Brinkworth says, “this might mean that anything capable of causing genetic damage to sperm could have particular significance for the development of the embryo”.

The findings also help explain why inter-species breeding is so rarely successful.
Where the locks and keys of two species do not match, however similar their DNA is, no viable offspring can be born. Occasionally, for example, with horses and donkeys, offspring are produced - but because the sperm and egg signatures are incompatible, their development as embryos is abnormal and any offspring are almost always infertile.

The research team believes that the same mechanism must also have played a role during human evolution. In the ancient history of mankind, Neanderthals co-existed with modern humans over many thousands of years. Sexual encounters between these two closely related species cannot be ruled out, yet there is no evidence in our DNA of a legacy from such couplings. It is possible that if offspring were produced, they either did not survive long or if they did, they were unable to breed.


MONDAY August 3, 2009---------------------------News Archive / Return to News Alerts

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Poor Sleep In Children May Have Prenatal Origins
A study in the Aug.1 issue of the journal SLEEP found that alcohol consumption during pregnancy and small body size at birth predict poorer sleep and higher risk of sleep disturbances in 8-year-old children born at term

Findings are clinically significant, as poor sleep and sleep disturbances in children are associated with obesity, depressive symptoms, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and poor neurobehavioral functioning.

Results indicate that children exposed prenatally to alcohol were 2.5 times more likely to have a short sleep duration of 7.7 hours or less and 3.6 times more likely to have a low sleep efficiency of 77.2 percent or less across all nights, independent of body size at birth and current maternal alcohol use. Smaller body size at birth also was associated with poorer sleep and with a higher risk for clinically significant sleep disturbances among children born at term.

More specifically, lower weight and shorter length at birth were associated with lower sleep efficiency, and a lower ponderal index (an indicator of fetal growth status) was associated with the presence of sleep disturbances. In addition, children with short sleep duration were more likely to have been born via Caesarean section than were children sleeping longer (23.1 percent versus 8.4 percent respectively).

According to principal investigator Katri Räikkönen, PhD, in the department of psychology at the University of Helsinki, Finland, even low levels of weekly prenatal exposure to alcohol have adverse effects on sleep quantity and quality during childhood.

"The results were in accordance with the fetal origins of health and disease hypothesis and the many studies that have shown that adverse fetal environment may have lifelong influences on health and behavior," said Räikkönen. "However, this is among the few studies that have reported associations between birth variables and sleep quality and quantity among an otherwise healthy population of children."

The epidemiologic cohort study obtained data from 289 children born at term (from 37 to 42 weeks of gestation) between March and November 1998. Sleep duration and sleep efficiency (actual sleep time divided by the time in bed) were measured objectively by actigraphy at 8 years of age for an average of 7.1 days. Parents completed the Sleep Disturbance Scale for Children to report sleep problems and sleep disorder symptoms such as bedtime resistance and sleep disordered breathing.

Results show that the odds for low sleep efficiency increased by 70 percent for every standard deviation decrease in weight at birth and by more than 200 percent for every decrease in length. For every standard deviation decrease in ponderal index at birth, the risk of parent-reported sleep disorders increased by 40 percent. Associations were not confounded by sex, gestational length, prenatal and perinatal complications, body mass index (BMI) at eight years of age, asthma, allergies or parental socioeconomic status.

The authors report that small body size at birth may function as a crude marker of disturbances in the fetal environment, and it is associated with prematurity, intrauterine growth retardation, prenatal alcohol exposure and poorer sleep quality in children and young adults. Results demonstrate that among children born healthy and at full-term, a linear relationship exists between smaller body size at birth and poorer sleep quality eight years from birth.


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Blood Stem Cells Reprogrammed To Become Vision Cells
University of Florida researchers were able to program bone marrow stem cells to repair damaged retinas in mice, suggesting a potential treatment for one of the most common causes of vision loss in older people

The success in repairing a damaged layer of retinal cells in mice implies that blood stem cells taken from bone marrow can be programmed to restore a variety of cells and tissues, including ones involved in cardiovascular disorders such as atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease.

"To our knowledge, this is the first report using targeted gene manipulation to specifically program an adult stem cell to become a new cell type," said Maria B. Grant, M.D., a professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at UF's College of Medicine. "Although we used genes, we also suggest you can do the same thing with drugs -- but ultimately you would not give the drugs to the patient, you would give the drugs to their cells. Take the cells out, activate certain chemical pathways, and put the cells back into the patient."

In a paper slated to appear in the September issue of the journal Molecular Therapy, scientists describe how they used a virus carrying a gene that gently pushed cultured adult stem cells from mice toward a fate as retinal cells. Only after the stem cells were reintroduced into the mice did they completely transform into the desired type of vision cells, apparently taking environmental cues from the damaged retinas.

After studying the cell-transformation process, scientists were able to bypass the gene manipulation step entirely and instead use chemical compounds that mirrored environmental conditions in the body, thus pointing the stem cells toward their ultimate identities as vision cells.

"First we were able to show you can overexpress a protein unique to a retinal cell type and trick the stem cell into thinking it is that kind of cell," said Grant, who collaborated with Edward Scott, Ph.D., the director of the Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at UF's McKnight Brain Institute. "As we proceeded, we found we could activate the stem cells by mimicking the body's natural signaling channels with chemicals. This implies a whole new field of stem cell research that uses drug manipulation rather than genetic manipulation to send these immature cells along new pathways."

Scientists chose to build retinal pigment epithelial cells, which form the outer barrier of the retina. In addition to being very specialized and easy to identify, RPE cells are faulty in many retinal diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, which affects nearly 2 million people in the United States, and some forms of blindness related to diabetes.

"This work applies to 85 percent of patients who have age-related macular degeneration," Grant said. "There are no therapies for this devastating disease."

The work was supported by the National Eye Institute. Researchers removed blood stem cells from the bone marrow of mice, modified the cells in cultures, and injected them back into the animals' circulatory systems. From there, the stem cells were able to home in on the eye injury and become retinal cells.

At 28 days after receiving the modified stem cells, mice that had previously demonstrated no retinal function were no different than normal mice in electrical measures of their response to light.

Four questions about foods with added sugars were asked. The responses were used in conjunction with scoring algorithms to calculate number of teaspoons of added sugars consumed daily. This method provided values for average intakes of added sugars similar to those found from more detailed methods.

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Academic Disinterest Common In US Teens But Not Chinese
In the United States, adolescence is a time when many teens become less interested in
academics


A new longitudinal study has found that this disengagement is greater for American
teens than for Chinese teens.


The study, by psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, appears in the July/August 2009 issue of Child Development, a journal. It may help explain why Chinese children consistently outperform Americans in academic areas such as math.

The researchers followed more than 800 Americans and Chinese from 7th to 8th grade. The students completed questionnaires four times over two years, reporting on how much they valued achievement and how they viewed mastery (specifically, whether they liked to do difficult work in a particular subject). They also reported on their use of constructive learning strategies and how much time they spent on schoolwork outside of school. The youths’ grades also were collected.

American youths reported being less motivated academically as they made their way through 7th and 8th grades. Over time, they placed less value on achievement, grew less concerned with mastery, used fewer constructive learning strategies, and spent less time studying. In contrast, Chinese youths’ reports suggested that the value they placed on achievement, their use of constructive learning strategies, and the time they spent studying stayed stable.

“This may be because in China, a higher priority is placed on learning because it is seen as a key to future success and is considered a moral undertaking,” explains Qian Wang, assistant professor of psychology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the study’s lead author.

The study also found that both American and Chinese students became less concerned in middle school with mastering schoolwork. “This decline in both countries may reflect a poor fit between children’s developing psychological needs and school settings,” adds Wang.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.


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Race/Ethnicity/Income/Education Affect Daily Sugar Intake
The intake of added sugars in the United States is excessive, estimated by the US Department of Agriculture in 1999-2002 as 17% of calories a day

Consuming foods with added sugars displaces nutrient-dense foods in the diet. Reducing or limiting intake of added sugars is an important objective in providing overall dietary guidance.

In a study of nearly 30,000 Americans published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers report that race/ethnicity, family income and educational status are independently associated with intake of added sugars. Groups with low income and education are particularly vulnerable to eating diets with high added sugars.

There are differences within race/ethnicity groups that suggest that interventions aimed at reducing the intake of added sugars should be tailored to each group. Using data from adults (≥18 years) participating in the 2005 US National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Cancer Control Supplement, investigators from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Bethesda, MD, and Information Management Services, Inc., Silver Spring, MD, analyzed responses to questions about added sugars. Both NCI and NHLBI are part of the National Institutes of Health.

In men and women, intakes of added sugars were inversely related to both education and family income. There were significant differences across race/ethnicity groups with Asian-Americans having the lowest intake of added sugars and Hispanics with the next lowest intake according to racial/ethnic categories.

Black men had the highest intake among men, although white and American Indian/Alaskan Native men were also high. Black women and American Indian/Alaskan Native women had the highest intake among women.

Writing in the article, Frances E. Thompson, MPH, PhD, and colleagues state, "A major strength of the 2005 NHIS is its large and diverse sample, allowing examination of the independent effects of factors related to added sugars intake in a multivariate setting - the first such analysis with US national data. In addition, it was possible to examine factors within subpopulations defined by race/ethnicity.

The five subpopulations analyzed differ from each other in many respects, several of which are related to added sugars intake. Thus, the ability to disentangle independent effects allows for a fuller understanding of differences across race/ethnicity."

The NHIS is conducted annually by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine a variety of self-reported health behaviors and conditions. Periodically, a Cancer Control Module (CCM) is included to obtain information pertinent to cancer researchers.

The 2005 CCM consisted of questions about diet, physical activity, tobacco use, sun exposure, cancer screening, genetic testing and family history of cancer. A limited number of questions about diet were included to allow characterization of the diets of subgroups of the population in terms of cup equivalents of fruits and vegetables, teaspoons of added sugar, grams of fiber, dairy servings, and calcium intake.

Four questions about foods with added sugars were asked. The responses were used in conjunction with scoring algorithms to calculate number of teaspoons of added sugars consumed daily. This method provided values for average intakes of added sugars similar to those found from more detailed methods.















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