A small study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that a workplace mindfulness-based intervention reduced stress levels of employees exposed to a highly stressful occupational environment, according to a news release.
Members of a surgical ICU at the academic medical center were randomized to a stress-reduction intervention or a control group. The eight-week group intervention included mindfulness, gentle stretching, yoga, meditation and music therapy in the workplace. Psychological and biological markers of stress were measured one week before and one week after the intervention to see if these coping strategies would help reduce stress and burnout among participants.
Results of this study, published in the April 2015 issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed levels of the chemical salivary alpha amylase, were significantly decreased from the first to second assessments in the intervention group. The control group showed no changes. Chronic stress and stress reactivity have been found associated with increased levels of salivary alpha amylase, according to the release. Psychological components of stress and burnout were measured using well-established self-report questionnaires. “Our study shows that this type of mindfulness-based intervention in the workplace could decrease stress levels and the risk of burnout,” one of the study’s authors, Maryanna Klatt, PhD, associate clinical professor in the department of family medicine at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in the release. “What’s stressful about the work environment is never going to change. But what we were interested in changing was the nursing personnel’s reaction to those stresses.”
Klatt said salivary alpha amylase, which is a biomarker of the sympathetic nervous system activation, was reduced by 40% in the intervention group.
Klatt, who is a trained mindfulness and certified yoga instructor, developed and led the mindfulness-based intervention for 32 participants in the workplace setting. At baseline, participants scored the level of stress of their work at 7.15 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stressful. The levels of work stress did not change between the first and second set of assessments, but their reaction to the work stress did change, according to the release.
When stress is part of the work environment, it is often difficult to control and can negatively affect employees’ health and ability to function, lead author Anne-Marie Duchemin, PhD, research scientist and associate professor adjunct in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in the release. “People who are subjected to chronic stress often will exhibit symptoms of irritability, nervousness, feeling overwhelmed; have difficulty concentrating or remembering; or having changes in appetite, sleep, heart rate and blood pressure,” Duchemin said ih the release. “Although work-related stress often cannot be eliminated, effective coping strategies may help decrease its harmful effects.”
The study was funded in part by the OSU Harding Behavioral Health Stress, Trauma and Resilience Program, part of Ohio State’s Neurological Institute.
Wed, May 20, 2015 @ 02:25 PM
A small study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that a workplace mindfulness-based intervention reduced stress levels of employees exposed to a highly stressful occupational environment, according to a news release.
Fri, May 15, 2015 @ 12:02 PM
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
A new study that offers insights into early language development suggests babies prefer listening to other babies rather than adults as they get ready to produce their own speech sounds.
The study, led by McGill University in Canada and published in the journal Developmental Science, observed the reactions of infants aged from 4-6 months who were not yet attempting speech, as they listened to baby-like and adult-like sounds produced by a voice synthesizer.
They found when the vowel sounds the babies listened to sounded more baby-like (for instance, higher pitch), the infants paid attention longer than when the sounds had more adult-like vocal properties.
Previous studies have shown that children at this age are more attracted to vocal sounds with a higher voice pitch, the authors note in their paper.
The team says the finding is important because being attracted to infant speech sounds may be a key step in babies being able to find their own voice - it may help to kick-start the process of learning how to talk.
They say the discovery increases our understanding of the complex link between speech perception and speech production in young infants.
It may also lead to new ways to help hearing-impaired children who may be struggling to develop language skills, they note.
Baby-like sounds held infants' attention nearly 42% longer
For the study, the team used a voice synthesizer to create a set of vowel sounds that mimicked either the voice of a baby or the voice of a woman.
They then ran a series of experiments where they played the vowel sounds one at a time to the babies as they sat on their mother's lap and listened. They measured the length of time each vowel sound held the infants' attention.
The results showed that, on average, baby-like sounds held the infants' attention nearly 42% longer than the adult-like sounds.
The researchers note that this finding is unlikely to be a result of the babies having a particular preference for a familiar sound because they were not yet producing those sounds themselves - they were not yet part of their everyday experience.
Some of the infants showed their interest in other ways. For example, when they listened to the adult sounds, their faces remained fairly passive and neutral. In contrast, when they heard the baby-like sounds, they became more animated, moved their mouths and smiled.
The following video shows how one of the infants - baby Camille, who is not yet babbling herself - reacts to the various sounds. Every time she looks away, the sound is replaced by another. Her reactions show which sounds she seems to like the most.
Babies need to 'find their own voice'
The researchers say maybe the babies recognized that the baby-like sounds were more like sounds they could make themselves - despite not having heard them before.
The findings may also explain the instinct some people have when they automatically speak to infants in baby-like, high-pitched tones, says senior author Linda Polka, a professor in McGill's School of Communication Disorders, who adds:
"As adults, we use language to communicate. But when a young infant starts to make speech sounds, it often has more to do with exploring than with communicating."
Prof. Polka says babies often try speaking when they are on their own, without eye contact or interaction with others. She explains:
"That's because to learn how to speak babies need to spend lots of time moving their mouths and vocal cords to understand the kind of sounds they can make themselves. They need, quite literally, to 'find their own voice.'"
Funds for the study came from the Natural Sciences Engineering and Research Council.
Meanwhile, parents and schools looking for ways to encourage children to eat more healthily may be interested in a study carried out among kindergarten through sixth-grade students at an inner-city school in Cincinnati, OH. There, researchers discovered that children found healthy food more appealing when linked to smiley faces and other small incentives. The low-cost intervention led to a 62% rise in vegetable purchases and a 20% rise in fruit purchases.
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 @ 11:51 AM
DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
A major study testing whether Americans would take their H.I.V. drugs every day if they were paid to do so has essentially failed, the scientists running it announced Tuesday at an AIDS conference here.
Paying patients in the Bronx and in Washington — where infection rates are high among poor blacks and Hispanics — up to $280 a year to take their pills daily improved overall adherence rates very little, the study’s authors said.
The hope was that the drugs would not only improve the health of the people taking them, but help slow the spread of H.I.V. infections. H.I.V. patients who take their medicine regularly are about 95 percent less likely to infect others than patients who do not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only a quarter of all 1.1 million Americans with H.I.V. are taking their drugs regularly enough to not be infectious.
Paying patients $25 to take H.I.V. tests, and then $100 to return for the results and meet a doctor, also failed, the study found.
“We did not see a significant effect of financial incentives,” said Dr. Wafaa M. El-Sadr, an AIDS expert at Columbia University and the lead investigator. But, she said, there is “promise for using such incentives in a targeted manner.”
Cash payments might still work for some patients and some poor-performing clinics, she said.
Other H.I.V.-prevention research released here Tuesday offered good news for gay men but disappointing results for African women.
Two studies — both of gay men, one in Britain and the other in France — confirmed earlier research showing that pills to prevent infection can be extremely effective if taken daily or before and after sex. Both were stopped early because they were working so well that it would have been unethical to let them continue with men in control groups who were not given the medicine.
But a large trial involving African women of a vaginal gel containing an antiviral drug failed — apparently because 87 percent of the women in the trial were unable to use the gel regularly.
The failure of the cash-incentives trial was a surprise and a disappointment to scientists and advocates. It had paid out $2.8 million to 9,000 patients in 39 clinics over three years, but the clinics where money was distributed did only 5 percent better than those that did not — a statistically insignificant difference.
Some small clinics and those where patients had been doing poorly at the start of the study did improve as much as 13 percent, however.
People in other countries have been successfully paid to stop smoking while pregnant and to get their children to school. In Africa, paying poor teenage girls to attend school lowered their H.I.V. rates; scientists concluded that it eased the pressure on them to succumb to “sugar daddies” — older men who gave them money for food, clothes and school fees in return for sex.
One study presented here at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections estimated that every prevented H.I.V. infection saved $230,000 to $338,000. Much of that cost is borne by taxpayers.
Mathematical modeling suggested that paying people up to $5,000 a year could be cost effective, Dr. El-Sadr said, but $280 was settled on after a long, difficult debate.
Paying more than $280 at some clinics was not an option, she said; achieving statistical relevance would have meant signing up even more clinics. The study had already involved almost every H.I.V. patient in the Bronx and Washington.
“I don’t think anyone has an answer to what amount would be sufficient without being excessive,” Dr. El-Sadr said.
One advocate suggested that more money could work — in the right setting.
“In South Africa, $280 is a lot of money,” said Mitchell Warren, the executive director of AVAC, an organization that lobbies for AIDS prevention. “For that much, you’d definitely get some behavior change.”
The two studies among gay men looked at different ways to take pills. A 2010 American study, known as iPrEx, showed that taking Truvada — a combination of two antiretroviral drugs — worked if taken daily.
The British study, known as PROUD, used that dosing schedule, and men who took the pill daily were protected 86 percent of the time.
In the French trial, known as Ipergay, men were advised to take two pills in the two days before they anticipated having sex and two in the 24 hours afterward.
Those who took them correctly also got 86 percent protection.
“The problem,” Dr. Susan P. Buchbinder, director of H.I.V. prevention research for the San Francisco health department, said in a speech here commenting on the study, “is that studies have shown that men are very good at predicting when they will not have sex and not good at predicting when they will.”
The African study, known as FACTS 001, was a follow-up to the smaller trial from 2010, which showed that South African women who used a vaginal gel containing tenofovir, an antiviral drug, before and after sex were 39 percent better protected than women who did not.
But it also found that many women failed to use the gel because it was messy or inconvenient or because partners objected.
In this trial, there was virtually no effect.
One problem, said Dr. Helen Rees, the chief investigator, was that the women were very young — the median age was 23, and most lived with their parents or siblings.
“They had no privacy for sex,” she said. “They had to go outside to use the product.”
Mr. Warren, of AVAC, said: “The women wanted a product they could use. But this particular product didn’t fit into the realities of their daily lives.”
The development means that advocates are hoping even more that other interventions for women now in trials will work. They include long-lasting injections of antiretroviral drugs and vaginal rings that can be inserted once a month and leach the drugs slowly into the vaginal wall.
Another trial in Africa, the Partners Demonstration Project, conducted among couples in which one partner had H.I.V. and the other did not, found it was extremely effective to simultaneously offer treatment to the infected partner and preventive drugs to the uninfected one until the other’s drugs took full effect.
In the group getting the treatment, there were zero infections that could be traced to partners who were in the study.
Mon, Feb 23, 2015 @ 12:46 PM
Type "drunk," "hammered," or "trashed" into YouTube's search bar and some pretty unsavory videos are likely to turn up.
And that can't be good for teenagers and young adults, researchers say. User-generated YouTube videos portraying dangerous drinking get hundreds of millions of views online, according a study published Friday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Do you think dangerous drinking videos harm teens?
These videos often present wild bingeing in a humorous light, the study found, without showing any of the negative consequences, like potentially fatal alcohol poisoning and accidents caused by drunk driving.
The researchers didn't reveal which videos they looked at, to avoid singling out particular YouTube users.
Our own unscientific search turned up many videos under the words "drunk fails," with people who are publicly intoxicated or completely passed out, as well as sleazier stuff like Best Drunk Girls Compilation, Part 1.
There's been lots of research on paid-for alcohol advertisements and product placement on TV shows, in the movies and in music, says Dr. Brian Primack, an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and the study's lead author. "But we haven't really looked at YouTube before," he tells Shots.
Primack and his colleagues looked at a cross-section of 70 YouTube videos that showed unsafe drinking. Together those videos pulled in over 330 million views. Even though the videos weren't paid for by alcohol companies, nearly half of them referenced specific brands of alcohol.
The researchers weren't able analyze who is watching these videos, Primack says, because YouTube no longer makes that information publicly available. But Primack suspects that many viewers are underage, because of previous research he has done on YouTube demographics..
It's also not clear how watching these videos may influence young people's decisions on alcohol use.
This is just a preliminary study, Primack says, but the findings highlight the fact that the Internet is full of unhealthy messages about alcohol. Researchers should look more carefully at sites like YouTube and Tumblr, as well as apps like Instagram and Snapchat, he says.
"We already know that visuals are influential for teens and peer influence is important," Primack says. "Sites like YouTube combine both. You've got video paired with likes, comments and peer-to-peer dialogue."
We contacted YouTube, but a spokesperson declined to speak on the record. YouTube does have a policy against harmful or dangerous content and viewers can report inappropriate videos for review.
But these videos are still easy to find, Primack says, and there's no way to completely shield children from negative depictions of alcohol use, Still, he adds, "I don't think the right response is to freak out and block kids' Internet use."
Instead, parents and educators should push kids to think critically about the messages they're exposed to on the Internet, says Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health at Boston University who wasn't involved in the study.
"By actually understanding and talking about it, kids become resistant to these messages," Siegel says. "They'll be able to see that these portrayals online aren't realistic."
Public health agencies could also make better use of platforms like YouTube to put out their own messages, Siegel says.
Mon, Feb 16, 2015 @ 11:21 AM
Up to a third of teens in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep each night, and the loss of shut-eye negatively impacts their grades, mental well-being and physical health. Biologically, adolescents need fewer hours of slumber than kids — but there’s a bigger reason for teens’ sleep loss, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics.
Katherine Keyes, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, looked at survey data from more than 270,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students at 130 public and private schools across the country, gathered between 1991 and 2010. Each student was asked two questions about his or her sleep habits: how often they slept for at least seven hours a night, and how often they slept less than they should.
She found that over the 20-year study period, adolescents got less and less sleep. Part of that had to do with the fact that biologically, teens sleep less the older they get, but Keyes and her team also teased apart a period effect — meaning there were forces affecting all the students, at every age, that contributed to their sleeping fewer hours. This led to a marked drop in the average number of adolescents reporting at least seven hours of sleep nightly between 1991–1995 and 1996–2000.
That surprised Keyes, who expected to find sharper declines in sleep in more recent years with the proliferation of cell phones, tablets and social media. “I thought we would see decreases in sleep in more recent years, because so much has been written about teens being at risk with technologies that adversely affect the sleep health of this population,” she says. “But that’s not what we found.”
Instead, the rises in the mid-1990s corresponded with another widespread trend affecting most teens — the growth of childhood obesity. Obesity has been tied to health disturbances including sleep changes like sleep apnea, and “the decreases in sleep particularly in the 1990s across all ages corresponds to a time period when we also saw increases in pediatric obesity across all ages,” says Keyes. Since then, the sleep patterns haven’t worsened, but they haven’t improved either, which is concerning given the impact that long-term sleep disturbances can have on overall health.
Keyes also uncovered another worrying trend. Students in lower-income families and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities were more likely to report getting fewer than seven hours of sleep regularly than white teens in higher-income households. But they also said they were getting enough sleep, revealing a failure of public-health messages to adequately inform all adolescent groups about how much sleep they need: about nine hours a night.
“When we first started looking at that data, I kept saying it had to be wrong,” says Keyes. “We were seeing completely opposite patterns. So our results show that health literacy around sleep are not only critical but that those messages are not adapted universally, especially not among higher-risk groups.”
Mon, Feb 16, 2015 @ 11:12 AM
While debate about recreational marijuana use continues, researchers are investigating the effectiveness of cannabis for treating pain, spasticity, and a host of other medical problems. In a symposium organized by the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) as part of the 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting held this week in San Jose, California, experts from North America and the U.K. share their perspectives on the therapeutic potential of medical cannabis and explore the emerging science behind it.
"We need to advance our understanding of the role of cannabinoids in health and disease through research and education for patients, physicians and policy-makers," says Dr. Mark Ware, director of clinical research at the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at the MUHC, in Canada.
As a pain specialist Dr. Ware regularly sees patients with severe chronic pain at his clinic in Montreal, and for some of them, marijuana appears to be a credible option. "I don't think that every physician should prescribe medical cannabis, or that every patient can benefit but it's time to enhance our scientific knowledge base and have informed discussions with patients."
Increasing numbers of jurisdictions worldwide are allowing access to herbal cannabis, and a range of policy initiatives are emerging to regulate its production, distribution, and authorization. It is widely believed that there is little evidence to support the consideration of cannabis as a therapeutic agent. However, several medicines based on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, have been approved as pharmaceutical drugs.
Leading British cannabis researcher Professor Roger Pertwee, who co-discovered the presence of tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) in cannabis in the 70's, recently published with collaborators some findings of potential therapeutic relevance in the British Journal of Pharmacology. "We observed that THCV, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, produces anti-schizophrenic effects in a preclinical model of schizophrenia," says Pertwee, professor of Neuropharmacology at Aberdeen University. "This finding has revealed a new potential therapeutic use for this compound."
Neuropsychiatrist and Director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of California, San Diego Dr. Igor Grant is interested in the short and long-term neuropsychiatric effects of marijuana use. The CMCR has overseen some of the most extensive research on the therapeutic effects of medical marijuana in the U.S. "Despite a commonly held view that cannabis use results in brain damage, meta analyses of extensive neurocognitive studies fail to demonstrate meaningful cognitive declines among recreational users," says Dr. Grant. "Bain imaging has produced variable results, with the best designed studies showing null findings."
Dr. Grant adds that while it is plausible to hypothesize that cannabis exposure in children and adolescents could impair brain development or predispose to mental illness, data from properly designed prospective studies is lacking.
Mon, Feb 09, 2015 @ 01:05 PM
Written by James McIntosh
While many would rather not think about when someone might die, knowing how much longer a seriously ill person has left to live can be very useful for managing how they spend their final days. Researchers have now revealed eight signs in patients with advanced cancer associated with death within 3 days.
Diagnosis of an impending death can help clinicians, patients and their friends and family to make important decisions. Doctors can spare time and resources by stopping daily bloodwork and medication that will not make a short-term difference. Families will know if they still have time to visit their relatives.
"This study shows that simple bedside observations can potentially help us to recognize if a patient has entered the final days of life," says study author Dr. David Hui.
"Upon further confirmation of the usefulness of these 'tell-tale' signs, we will be able to help doctors, nurses, and families to better recognize the dying process, and in turn, to provide better care for the patients in the final days of life."
The study, published in Cancer, follows on from the Investigating the Process of Dying Study - a longitudinal observational study that documented the clinical signs of patients admitted to an acute palliative care unit (APCU). During the study, the researchers identified five signs that were highly predictive of an impending death within 3 days.
For the new study, the researchers again observed the physical changes in cancer patients admitted to two APCUs - at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, and the Barretos Cancer Hospital in Brazil.
Eight highly-specific physical signs were identified
A total of 357 cancer patients participated in the study. The researchers observed them and documented 52 physical signs every 12 hours following their admission to the APCUs. The patients were observed until they died or were discharged from the hospitals, with 57% dying during the study.
The researchers found eight highly-specific physical signs identifiable at the bedside that strongly suggested that a patient would die within the following 3 days if they were present. The signs identified were:
- Decreased response to verbal stimuli
- Decreased response to visual stimuli
- Drooping of "smile lines"
- Grunting of vocal cords
- Hyperextension of neck
- Inability to close eyelids
- Non-reactive pupils
- Upper gastrointestinal bleeding.
With the exception of upper gastrointestinal bleeding, all of these signs are related to deterioration in neurocognitive and neuromuscular function.
Neurological decline strongly associated with death
"The high specificity suggests that few patients who did not die within 3 days were observed to have these signs," the authors write. "These signs were commonly observed in the last 3 days of life with a frequency in patients between 38% and 78%. Our findings highlight that the progressive decline in neurological function is associated with the dying process."
As the study is limited by only examining cancer patients admitted to APCUs, it is not known whether these findings will apply to patients with different types of illness. The findings are currently being evaluated in other clinical settings such as inpatient hospices.
On account of the relatively small number of patients observed for this study, the authors also suggest that their findings should be regarded as preliminary until validated by further research.
In the meantime, the authors of the study are working to develop a diagnostic tool to assist clinical decision-making and educational materials for both health care professionals and patients' families.
"Upon further validation, the presence of these telltale signs would suggest that patients [...] are actively dying," they conclude. "Taken together with the five physical signs identified earlier, these objective bedside signs may assist clinicians, family members, and researchers in recognizing when the patient has entered the final days of life."
Wed, Feb 04, 2015 @ 02:08 PM
Eve, an artificially-intelligent 'robot scientist' could make drug discovery faster and much cheaper, say researchers writing in the Royal Society journal Interface. The team has demonstrated the success of the approach as Eve discovered that a compound shown to have anti-cancer properties might also be used in the fight against malaria.
Robot scientists are a natural extension of the trend of increased involvement of automation in science. They can automatically develop and test hypotheses to explain observations, run experiments using laboratory robotics, interpret the results to amend their hypotheses, and then repeat the cycle, automating high-throughput hypothesis-led research. Robot scientists are also well suited to recording scientific knowledge: as the experiments are conceived and executed automatically by computer, it is possible to completely capture and digitally curate all aspects of the scientific process.
In 2009, Adam, a robot scientist developed by researchers at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Cambridge, became the first machine to independently discover new scientific knowledge. The same team has now developed Eve, based at the University of Manchester, whose purpose is to speed up the drug discovery process and make it more economical. In the study published today, they describe how the robot can help identify promising new drug candidates for malaria and neglected tropical diseases such as African sleeping sickness and Chagas' disease.
"Neglected tropical diseases are a scourge of humanity, infecting hundreds of millions of people, and killing millions of people every year," says Professor Steve Oliver from the Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. "We know what causes these diseases and that we can, in theory, attack the parasites that cause them using small molecule drugs. But the cost and speed of drug discovery and the economic return make them unattractive to the pharmaceutical industry.
"Eve exploits its artificial intelligence to learn from early successes in her screens and select compounds that have a high probability of being active against the chosen drug target. A smart screening system, based on genetically engineered yeast, is used. This allows Eve to exclude compounds that are toxic to cells and select those that block the action of the parasite protein while leaving any equivalent human protein unscathed. This reduces the costs, uncertainty, and time involved in drug screening, and has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide."
Eve is designed to automate early-stage drug design. First, she systematically tests each member from a large set of compounds in the standard brute-force way of conventional mass screening. The compounds are screened against assays (tests) designed to be automatically engineered, and can be generated much faster and more cheaply than the bespoke assays that are currently standard. This enables more types of assay to be applied, more efficient use of screening facilities to be made, and thereby increases the probability of a discovery within a given budget.
Eve's robotic system is capable of screening over 10,000 compounds per day. However, while simple to automate, mass screening is still relatively slow and wasteful of resources as every compound in the library is tested. It is also unintelligent, as it makes no use of what is learnt during screening.
To improve this process, Eve selects at random a subset of the library to find compounds that pass the first assay; any 'hits' are re-tested multiple times to reduce the probability of false positives. Taking this set of confirmed hits, Eve uses statistics and machine learning to predict new structures that might score better against the assays. Although she currently does not have the ability to synthesise such compounds, future versions of the robot could potentially incorporate this feature.
Professor Ross King, from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester, says: "Every industry now benefits from automation and science is no exception. Bringing in machine learning to make this process intelligent -- rather than just a 'brute force' approach -- could greatly speed up scientific progress and potentially reap huge rewards."
To test the viability of the approach, the researchers developed assays targeting key molecules from parasites responsible for diseases such as malaria, Chagas' disease and schistosomiasis and tested against these a library of approximately 1,500 clinically approved compounds. Through this, Eve showed that a compound that has previously been investigated as an anti-cancer drug inhibits a key molecule known as DHFR in the malaria parasite. Drugs that inhibit this molecule are currently routinely used to protect against malaria, and are given to over a million children; however, the emergence of strains of parasites resistant to existing drugs means that the search for new drugs is becoming increasingly more urgent.
"Despite extensive efforts, no one has been able to find a new antimalarial that targets DHFR and is able to pass clinical trials," adds Professor King. "Eve's discovery could be even more significant than just demonstrating a new approach to drug discovery."
The research was supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council and the European Commission.
Mon, Jan 26, 2015 @ 12:12 PM
By David McNamee
It has been a dramatic plot device within countless movies and soap operas, but now a new study from Northwestern Medicine and Hines VA Hospital, both in Illinois, has attempted to answer the question: can the voices of family members and loved ones really wake coma patients from unconsciousness?
A coma is defined as an unconscious condition in which the patient is unable to open their eyes. When a patient begins to recover from a coma, they progress first to a minimally conscious or "vegetative state," though these states can last anywhere from a few weeks to several years.
Lead author Theresa Pape was inspired to conduct the new study - the results of which are published in the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair - while working as a speech therapist for coma patients with traumatic brain injuries. Pape observed that patients appeared to respond better to family members than to strangers.
From this, Pape began to wonder if patients' ability to recover might be increased if therapists were able to stimulate and exercise people's brains while they were unconscious.
As part of the randomized, placebo-controlled study, 15 patients with traumatic closed head injuries who were in a minimally conscious state were enrolled to Familiar Auditory Sensory Training (FAST). The 12 men and three women had an average age of 35 and had been in a vegetative state for an average of 70 days before the FAST treatment began.
At the start of the study, Pape and her colleagues used bells and whistles to test how responsive the patients were to sensory information. They also assessed whether the patients were able to follow directions to open their eyes or if they could visually track someone walking across the room.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was also used to get a baseline impression of how blood oxygen levels in the patients' brains changed while listening to both familiar and unfamiliar voices tell different stories.
The therapists then asked the patients' families to look at photo albums to identify and piece together at least eight important stories concerning events that the patient and their family took part in together.
"It could be a family wedding or a special road trip together, such as going to visit colleges," Pape explains. "It had to be something they'd remember, and we needed to bring the stories to life with sensations, temperature and movement. Families would describe the air rushing past the patient as he rode in the Corvette with the top down or the cold air on his face as he skied down a mountain slope."
Patients were more responsive to unfamiliar voices after 6 weeks of therapy
The stories were rehearsed and recorded by the families and then played to the coma patients for 6 weeks. Following this listening period, the MRI tests were repeated, with blood oxygen levels being taken while the patients listened to their stories being told by familiar and unfamiliar voices.
The MRI recorded a change in oxygen levels when the unfamiliar voice was telling the story, but there was no change from baseline levels for the familiar voice.
Pape says that these findings demonstrate a greater ability to process and understand speech among the patients, as they are more responsive to the unfamiliar voice telling the story: "At baseline they didn't pay attention to that non-familiar voice. But now they are processing what that person is saying.''
At this point in the treatment, the researchers also found that the patients were less responsive to the sound of a small bell ringing than they had been at the start of the study. The team believes that this indicates the patients were now better able to discriminate between different types of audio information and decide what is most important to listen to.
"Mom's voice telling them familiar stories over and over helped their brains pay attention to important information rather than the bell," Pape says. "They were able to filter out what was relevant and what wasn't."
The first 2 weeks were found to be the most important period for treatment and demonstrated the biggest gains. The remaining 4 weeks of treatment saw smaller, more incremental gains.
"This gives families hope and something they can control," Pape says of the treatment, recommending that families work with a therapist to help construct stories that augment the other therapies the patient may be undergoing.
Now, the team is analyzing the study data to investigate whether the FAST treatment strengthened axons - the fibers that make up the brain's "wiring" and transmit signals between neurons.
Wed, Jan 07, 2015 @ 01:26 PM
By Carolyn Gregoire
Having a family pet can be beneficial for child development in a number of ways, including keeping kids active and promoting empathy, self-esteem and a sense of responsibility. But dogs may be particularly beneficial for kids with autism, acting as a "social lubricant" that helps them build assertiveness and confidence in their interactions with others, according to new research from the University of Missouri.
The researchers surveyed 70 families with autistic children between the ages of eight and 18, all of whom were patients at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Nearly 70 percent of the participating families had dogs, half had cats, and some owned other pets including fish, rodents, rabbits, reptiles and birds.
The study's lead author Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the University of Missouri, observed that autistic children are were likely to engage socially in social situations where pets were present. While previous research has focused specially on the ways that dogs benefit the development of autistic children, Carlisle found that pets of any type were beneficial for the childrens' social skills.
"When I compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills," Carlisle said in a statement. "More significantly, however, the data revealed that children with any kind of pet in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people's questions. These kinds of social skills typically are difficult for kids with autism, but this study showed children's assertiveness was greater if they lived with a pet."
Carlisle observed the strongest attachments between the children and small dogs, although parents also reported strong attachments between their children and other pets, such as cats and rabbits.
“Dogs are good for some kids with autism but might not be the best option for every child,” Carlisle said. “Kids with autism are highly individual and unique, so some other animals may provide just as much benefit as dogs. Though parents may assume having dogs are best to help their children, my data show greater social skills for children with autism who live in homes with any type of pet.”
Carlisle's research joins a body of work demonstrating the benefits of animal interaction among autistic children. A 2013 review of studies found that specially trained dogs, horses and other animals can facilitate increased social interaction and improved communication among autistic children, as well as decreased stress and problem behavior.