DiversityNursing Blog

Is Cancer Risk Mostly Affected By Genes, Lifestyle, Or Just Plain Bad Luck?

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Fri, Jan 02, 2015 @ 11:24 AM

Jenna Birch

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While cancer can strike anyone — young or old, unhealthy and healthy — we do have some idea of what can affect risk. Genetics often play a role, for instance, as do lifestyle habits. But according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University researchers, much of cancer risk may actually be due to mere chance.

Cancer develops when stem cells of a given tissue make random mistakes, mutating unchecked after one chemical letter of DNA is incorrectly swapped for another — the equivalent of a cell “oops.” It happens without warning, like the body’s roll of the die. 

For the new study, published in the journal Science, researchers wanted to see how much of overall cancer risk was due to these unpreventable random mutations, independent of other factors like heredity and lifestyle. 

“There is this question that is fundamental in cancer research: How much of cancer is due to environmental factors, and how much is due to inherited factors?” Cristian Tomasetti, PhD, a biomathematician and assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Yahoo Health. “To answer that question, however, the idea came that it would be important to determine first how much of cancer was simply due to ‘replicative chance.’"

To measure this, the researchers plotted the number of stem cell divisions in 31 types of tissues over the course of a lifetime against the lifetime risk of developing cancer in the given tissue. From this chart, the scientists were able to see the correlation between number of divisions and cancer risk — and from that correlation, researchers were able to determine the incidence of cancer in a given tissue due to replicative chance.

Ultimately, researchers found that roughly two-thirds of the cancer incidence was due to this replicative chance, or simply “bad luck.” (However, it’s worth noting researchers did not examine some cancers, such as breast and prostate cancers, because of lack of reliable stem-cell turnover information.)

But don’t assume you’re simply doomed to the hand fate deals you. After additional analysis, researchers found that of the 31 cancers examined, 22 could be explained by “bad luck” — but for the other nine, there was another factor aside from simple chance that likely contributed to the cancer.

This is presumably because environmental and hereditary factors play a role in development. “There are many cancers where primary prevention has huge positive effects, such as vaccines against infectious agents, quitting smoking or other altered lifestyles,” says Tomasetti. 

Incidentally, the cancers where risk could be lowered by primary preventive practices were ones you may expect — diseases like skin cancer, where limiting sun exposure can lower your risk, as well as lung cancer, where avoiding smoking is key. 

Tomasetti says we can still lower our odds of developing cancer in any and all cases, though, especially as preventative research moves forward. Their analysis just indicates that, for many types of cancers, primary prevention like healthy lifestyle habits may not work as well. “This however does not imply at all that there is not much we can do to prevent those cancers,” he says. “It just highlights the importance of secondary prevention, like early detection.”

Since so much of risk is based on random cell division, identifying a mutation before replication goes unchecked throughout the body is, and will continue to be, essential. “It is still fundamental to do what we can in terms of primary prevention to avoid getting cancer, but now we understand better what causes cancer and how relevant the ‘bad luck’ component is, because we have a measure of it,” Tomasetti explains. “This work tells us that randomness plays an important role in cancer, possibly much larger than previously thought. And therefore early detection becomes even more important.”

You can also look at this new research another way, though, according to Tomasetti. “On one side, it actually strengthens the importance at the individual level to avoid risky lifestyles,” he explains. “If my parents smoked all their lives and did not get lung cancer, it is probably not because of good genes in the family, but simply because they were very lucky. 

“I would be playing a very dangerous game by smoking,” Tomasetti says. See? Healthy habits do count.

Source: www.yahoo.com

Topics: physician, science, genes, hereditary, health, healthcare, nurse, research, doctors, medical, cancer, hospital, treatment, lifestyle

Global life expectancy has 'increased by 6 years since 1990'

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Dec 22, 2014 @ 01:15 PM

By David McNamee

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Between 1990 and 2013, global life expectancy increased by nearly 5.8 years in men and 6.6 years in women, according to a new analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 published in The Lancet.

"The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better," says lead author Dr. Christopher Murray, professor of Global Health at the University of Washington. 

"The huge increase in collective action and funding given to the major infectious diseases such as diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria has had a real impact," he says. 

"However, this study shows that some major chronic diseases have been largely neglected but are rising in importance, particularly drug disorders, liver cirrhosis, diabetes and chronic kidney disease."

The analysis suggests that life expectancies in high-income regions have been increased due to falling death rates from most cancers - which are down by 15% - and cardiovascular diseases - which are down by 22%.

In low-income countries, rapidly declining death rates for diarrhea, lower respiratory tract infections and neonatal disorders have boosted life expectancy.

Despite the increases in global life expectancy by nearly 5.8 years in men and 6.6 years in women, some causes of death have seen increased rates of death since 1990.

These increased causes of death include:

  • Liver cancer caused by hepatitis C (up by 125%)
  • Atrial fibrillation and flutter (serious disorders of heart rhythm; up by 100%)
  • Drug use disorders (up by 63%)
  • Chronic kidney disease (up by 37%)
  • Sickle cell disorders (up by 29%)
  • Diabetes (up by 9%)
  • Pancreatic cancer (up by 7%).

HIV/AIDS has 'erased years of life expectancy' in sub-Saharan Africa

The report also points to one notable global region where life expectancy is not increasing. Deaths from HIV/AIDS have erased more than 5 years of life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa, say the authors. HIV/AIDS remains the greatest cause of premature death in 20 of the 48 sub-Saharan countries.

Since 1990, years of life worldwide lost due to HIV/AIDS is reported as having increased by 334%.

In Syria, war is the leading cause of premature death - the conflict caused an estimated 29,947 deaths in 2013, and up to 54,903 and 21,422 deaths in each of the preceding 2 years.

Countries that the authors consider to have made "exceptional gains in life expectancy" over the past 23 years include Nepal, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Niger, Maldives, Timor-Leste and Iran - where, for both sexes, life expectancy has increased by more than 12 years.

Life expectancy at birth in India increased from 57.3 years for men and 58.2 years for women in 1990 to 64.2 years and 68.5 years, respectively, in 2013. The authors say that India has made "remarkable progress" in reducing deaths, with the death rates for children dropping 1.3% per year for adults and 3.7% per year for children.

The report also welcomes dramatic drops in child deaths worldwide over the study period. In 1990, 7.6 million children aged 1-59 months died, but this death rate was down to 3.7 million by 2013.

Igor Rudan and Kit Yee Chan, from the Centre for Population Health Sciences and Global Health Academy at the University of Edinburgh Medical School in the UK, write in a linked comment:

"Estimates of the causes of the global burden of disease, disability, and death are important because they guide investment decisions that, in turn, save lives across the world.

Although WHO's team of experts have been doing fine technical work for many years, its monopoly in this field had removed incentives to invest more time and resources in continuous improvement [...] the competition between WHO and the GBD [Global Burden of Disease Study] has benefited the entire global health community, leading to converging estimates of the global causes of death that everyone can trust."

 

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: global, survival rates, life expectancy, lives, research, nurses, doctors, medical, cancer, medicine, diseases, death, treatment, hospitals, community

Majority Of People Ignore Cancer Warning Signs, Study Finds

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Dec 03, 2014 @ 11:54 AM

By Honor Whiteman

cancer definition

Cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In 2012, there were around 14 million new cases of cancer and around 8.2 million deaths from the disease. But despite such alarming numbers, a new study by researchers from the UK finds that most people ignore cancer warning signs, attributing them instead to symptoms of less serious illnesses.

Lead study author Dr. Katriina Whitaker, senior research fellow at University College London in the UK, analyzed the responses of 1,724 people aged 50 and over to a health questionnaire that was sent to them in April 2012.

The questionnaire asked participants whether they had experienced any of 17 symptoms, 10 of which are defined as cancer "alarm" symptoms by Cancer Research UK. These symptoms include unexplained cough, changes in mole appearance, unexplained bleeding, persistent change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, difficulty swallowing and unexplained lumps. 

Participants were not told which symptoms are cancer warning signs.

The respondents were also asked what they thought was the cause of any symptoms they experienced, whether they deemed the symptoms to be serious and whether they visited their doctor as a result of their symptoms.

Only 2% of respondents considered warning symptoms to be cancer-related

Results of study - published in the journal PLOS ONE - revealed that 53% of participants reported that they had experienced at least one cancer warning sign over the past 3 months.

The most common cancer warning symptoms reported were persistent cough and persistent change in bowel habits, while unexplained weight loss and problems swallowing were the least common.

However, the researchers were surprised to find that of the respondents who reported cancer warning symptoms, only 2% considered cancer to be a potential cause.

What is more, Dr. Whitaker says that of participants who reported the most obvious signs of cancer - such as unexplained lumps or changes in mole appearance - most did not consider them to be cancer-related.

"Even when people thought warning symptoms might be serious, cancer didn't tend to spring to mind," adds Dr. Whitaker. "This might be because people were frightened and reluctant to mention cancer, thought cancer wouldn't happen to them or believed other causes were more likely."

On a positive note, respondents did deem the cancer warning signs to be more serious than symptoms not linked to cancer - such as shortness of breath, fatigue and sore throat- and 59% of those who experienced cancer warning signs visited their doctor.

But the researchers say their findings show that the majority of people are dismissing potential warning signs of cancer, which could be putting their health at serious risk. Dr. Whitaker says:

"Most people with potential warning symptoms don't have cancer, but some will and others may have other diseases that would benefit from early attention. That's why it's important that these symptoms are checked out, especially if they don't go away. But people could delay seeing a doctor if they don't acknowledge cancer as a possible cause."

"Most cancers are picked up through people going to their general practitioner (GP) about symptoms, and this study indicates that opportunities for early diagnosis are being missed," adds Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK. "Its results could help us find new ways of encouraging people with worrying symptoms to consider cancer as a possible cause and to get them checked out straight away with a GP."

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: risk, signs, symptoms, nursing, health, healthcare, research, doctors, medical, cancer

Are we on the road to an HIV vaccine?

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Dec 01, 2014 @ 01:16 PM

By Meera Senthilingam

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"It only takes one virus to get through for a person to be infected," explained Dr. John Mascola. This is true of any viral infection, but in this instance, Mascola is referring to HIV and his ongoing efforts to develop a vaccine against the virus. "It's been so difficult to make an HIV/AIDS vaccine."

Those were the words of many working in HIV vaccine development until the results of a 2009 trial in Thailand surprised everyone. "The field is energized," said Mascola, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, describing the change in atmosphere in the vaccine community.

The trial included over 16,000 volunteers and was the largest clinical trial ever conducted for a vaccine against HIV. It was also the first to show any protection at all against infection.

Two previously developed vaccines, known as ALVAC-HIV and AIDSVAX, were used in combination, with the first priming an immune response against HIV and the second used as a booster once the immunity waned. The duo reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 31.2% -- a modest reduction, but it was a start.

To date, only four vaccines have made it as far as testing for efficacy to identify their levels of protection against HIV. Only this one showed any protection.

"That trial was pivotal," Mascola said. "Prior to that, it wasn't known whether a vaccine could be possible."

In recent years, there have been parallel findings of an equally pivotal nature in the field of HIV prevention, including the discovery that people regularly taking their antiretroviral treatment reduce their chances of spreading HIV by 96% and that men who are circumcised reduce their risk of becoming infected heterosexually by approximately 60%.

Both improved access to antiretrovirals and campaigns to increase male circumcision in high-risk populations have taken place since the discoveries, and although numbers of new infections are falling, they're not falling fast enough.

In 2013, there were 35 million people estimated to be living with HIV globally. There were still 2.1 million new infections in 2013, and for every person who began treatment for HIV last year, 1.3 people were newly infected with the lifelong virus, according to UNAIDS. A vaccine remains essential to control the epidemic.

A complex beast

Scientists like Mascola have dedicated their careers to finding a vaccine, and their road has been tough due to the inherently complicated nature of the virus, its aptitude for mutating and changing constantly to evade immune attack, and its ability attack the very immune cells that should block it.

There are nine subtypes of HIV circulating in different populations around the world, according to the World Health Organization, and once inside the body, the virus can change continuously.

"Within an individual, you have millions of variants," explained Dr. Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer for the International AIDS Vaccine Alliance.

HIV invades the body by attaching to, and killing, CD4 cells in the immune system. These cells are needed to send signals for other cells to generate antibodies against viruses such as HIV, and destroying those enables HIV to cause chronic lifelong infections in those affected.

Measles, polio, tetanus, whooping cough -- to name a few -- all have vaccines readily available to protect from their potentially fatal infections. But their biology is seemingly simple in comparison with HIV.

"For the older ones, you identify the virus, either inactivate it or weaken it, and inject it," Koff said. "You trick the body into thinking it is infected with the actual virus, and when you're exposed, you mount a robust immune response."

This is the premise of all vaccines, but the changeability of HIV means the target is constantly changing. A new route is needed, and the true biology of the virus needs to be understood. "In the case of HIV, the old empirical approach isn't going to work," Koff said.

Scientists have identified conserved regions of the virus that don't change as readily, making them prime targets for attack by antibodies. When the success of the Thai trial was studied deep down at the molecular level, the protection seemed to come down to attacking some of these conserved regions. Now it's time to step it up.

In January, the mild success in Thailand will be applied in South Africa, where over 19% of the adult population is living with HIV. The country is second only to bordering Swaziland for having the highest rates of HIV in the world.

"The Thai vaccine was made for strains (of HIV) circulating in Thailand," said Dr. Larry Corey, principal investigator for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is leading the next trial in South Africa. The strain, or subtype, in this case was subtype B. "For South Africa, we've formed a strain with common features to (that) circulating in the population." This region of the world has subtype C.

An additional component, known as an adjuvant, is being added to the mix to stimulate a stronger and hopefully longer-lasting level of immunity. "We know durability in the Thai trial waned," Corey said. If safety trials go well in 2015, larger trials for the protective effect will take place the following year. An ideal vaccine would provide lifelong protection, or at least for a decade, as with the yellow fever vaccine.

A broad attack

The excitement now reinvigorating researchers stems not only from a modestly successful trial but from recent successes in the lab and even from HIV patients themselves.

Some people with HIV naturally produce antibodies that are effective in attacking the HIV virus in many of its forms. Given the great variability of HIV, any means of attacking these conserved parts of the virus will be treasured and the new found gold comes in the form of these antibodies -- known as "broadly neutralizing antibodies." Scientists including Koff set out to identify these antibodies and discover whether they bind to the outer coat of the virus.

The outer envelope, or protein coat, of HIV is what the virus uses to attach to, and enter, cells inside the body. These same coat proteins are what vaccine developers would like our antibodies to attack, in order to prevent the virus from entering our cells. "Broadly neutralizing antibodies" could hold the key because, as their name suggests, they have a broad remit and can attack many subtypes of HIV. "We will have found the Achilles heel of HIV," Koff said.

Out of 1,800 people infected with HIV, Koff and his team found that 10% formed any of these antibodies and just 1% had extremely broad and potent antibodies against HIV. "We called them the elite neutralizers," he said of the latter group. The problem, however, is that these antibodies form too late, when people are already infected. In fact, they usually only form a while after infection. The goal for vaccine teams is to get the body making these ahead of infection.

"We want the antibodies in advance of exposure to HIV," explained Koff. The way to do this goes back to basics: tricking the body into thinking it is infected.

"We can start to make vaccines that are very close mimics of the virus itself," Mascola said.

Teams at his research center have gained detailed insight into the structure of HIV in recent years, particularly the outer coat, where all the action takes place. Synthesizing just the outer coat of a virus in the lab and injecting this into humans as a vaccine could "cause enough of an immune response against a range of types of HIV," Mascola said.

The vaccine would not contain the virus itself, or any of its genetic material, meaning those receiving it have no risk of contracting HIV. But for now, this new area remains just that: new. "We need results in humans," Mascola said.

Rounds of development, safety testing and then formal testing in high-risk populations are needed, but if it goes well, "in 10 years, there could be a first-generation vaccine." If improved protection is seen in South Africa, a first-generation vaccine could be with us sooner.

Making an Impact

When creating vaccines, the desired level of protection is usually 80% to 90%. But the high burden of HIV and potentially beneficial impact of lower levels of protection warrant licensing at a lower percentage.

"Over 50% is worth licensing from a public health perspective," Koff said, meaning that despite less shielding from any contact with the HIV virus, even a partially effective vaccine would save many lives over time.

The next generations will incorporate further advancements, such as inducing neutralizing antibodies, to try to increase protection up to the 80% or 90% desired.

"That's the history of vaccine research; you develop it over time," Corey said. He has worked in the field for over 25 years and has felt the struggle. "I didn't think it would be this long or this hard ... but it's been interesting," he ponders.

But there is light at the end of tunnel. Just.

"There has been no virus controlled without a vaccine," he concluded when explaining why, despite antiretrovirals, circumcision and increased awareness, the need for a one-off intervention like a vaccine remains strong.

"Most people that transmit it don't even know they have it," he said. "To get that epidemic, to say you've controlled it, requires vaccination."

Source: www.cnn.com

Topics: virus, AIDS, public, health, healthcare, research, nurses, doctors, vaccine, medicine, testing, infection, HIV, cure

The origin of Lou Gehrig's disease may have just been discovered

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Nov 26, 2014 @ 11:56 AM

By Marie Ellis

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - also known as Lou Gehrig's disease - is a condition that gradually attacks nerve cells that control our voluntary movement, leading to paralysis and death. In the US, a reported 30,000 individuals are living with the disease, but now, scientists have identified a fault in protein formation, which could be the origin of this condition.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have published their study on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nobody knows for sure why ALS occurs, and there is currently no cure.

The researchers of this latest study, led by Su-Chun Zhang, senior author and neuroscientist at UW-Madison, say previously, a genetic mutation was discovered in a small group of patients with ALS, prompting scientists to transfer that gene to animals for drug treatment testing. 

However, this approach has not yet worked. As such, Zhang and his team decided to study diseased human cells - called motor neurons - in lab dishes. These motor neurons are what direct muscles to contract, and Zhang explains this is where failures occur in ALS.

Discovery centers on faulty proteins inside motor neurons

Zhang was the first scientist to ever grow motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells around 10 years ago, and he has recently been transforming skin cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are then transformed into motor neurons.

He explains that the iPS cells can be used as models for disease since they have many of the same characteristics as their donor cells.

"With iPS, you can take a cell from any patient, and grow up motor neurons that have ALS," Zhang explains. "That offers a new way to look at the basic disease pathology."

For their latest study, the researchers have focused on proteins that erect a transport structure - called a neurofilament - inside the motor neurons.

They say the neurofilament moves chemicals and cellular parts - including neurotransmitters - to far sides of the nerve cell. 

Zhang explains that the motor neurons, for example, that control foot muscles are around 3 ft long, so they need to be moved a whole yard from the cell body to the spot where they can signal the muscles.

As such, one of the first signs of ALS in a patient who lacks this connection is paralysis of the feet and legs.

'Findings have implications for other neurodegenerative disorders'

Before now, scientists have understood that with ALS, so-called tangles - misshapen protein - along the nerve's paths block the route along the nerve fibers, which eventually results in the nerve fiber malfunctioning and dying.

The team's recent discovery, however, has to do with the source of these tangles, which lies in a shortage of one of three proteins in the neurofilament.

Zhang explains that the neurofilament plays both a structural and a functional role:

"Like the studs, joists and rafters of a house, the neurofilament is the backbone of the cell, but it's constantly changing. These proteins need to be shipped from the cell body, where they are produced, to the most distant part, and then be shipped back for recycling.

If the proteins cannot form correctly and be transported easily, they form tangles that cause a cascade of problems."

 

He says their discovery is that the origin of ALS is "misregulation of one step in the production of the neurofilament."

Additionally, he notes that similar tangles crop up with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases: "We got really excited at the idea that when you study ALS, you may be looking at the root of many neurodegenerative disorders."

Zhang and his team also observed that this misregulation happens very early, which is why it is highly likely that what they found is the origin ALS.

"Nobody knew this before, but we think if you can target this early step in pathology, you can potentially rescue the nerve cell," he says.

And as if this discovery is not exciting enough, the team also found a way to rescue the neural cells in the lab dishes, and when they "edited" the gene that orchestrates formation of the blundered protein, they found that the cells suddenly looked normal.

They report that they are currently testing a wide range of potential drugs, which brings hope to the domain of ALS research.

The CDC have a National ALS Registry, where patients with the condition can complete brief risk-factor surveys to help scientists defeat ALS.

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: studies, Lou Gehrig's disease, health, healthcare, research, health care, CDC, medical, medicine, ALS

Brain Abnormality Spotted in Many SIDS Babies

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Nov 26, 2014 @ 11:52 AM

By Steven Reinberg

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A brain abnormality may be responsible for more than 40 percent of deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a new study suggests.

The abnormality is in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that influences breathing, heart rate and body temperature. This abnormality may disrupt the brain's control of breathing and heart rate during sleep or during brief waking that happens during the night, the researchers report.

"This abnormality could put infants at risk for SIDS," said lead researcher Dr. Hannah Kinney, a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Kinney can't say for sure that this abnormality is a cause of SIDS. "We don't know at this stage. This is the first observation of this abnormality," she said. "It's just an observation at this point."

Before this brain abnormality can be called a cause of SIDS, Kinney said, they have to find out what causes this abnormality and determine if it alone can cause SIDS.

For the study, Kinney's team examined sections of the hippocampus from 153 infants who died suddenly and unexpectedly between 1991 and 2012. The deaths were classified as unexplained -- which includes SIDS -- or from a known cause, such as infection, accident, murder or lack of oxygen.

Kinney's group found that 41.2 percent of infants who died for an unexplained reason compared with 7.7 percent of those whose death was explainable had an abnormality in the part of the hippocampus known as the dentate gyrus. 

Among the 86 infants whose death was classified as SIDS, 43 percent had this abnormality, the researchers added.

This change in the dentate gyrus suggests there was a problem in development at some point late in the life of the fetus or in the months after birth, Kinney said.

Kinney added that this abnormality has only been seen under the microscope after death, so a child cannot be tested for the abnormality.

"There are no signs or symptoms that predict SIDS or warn families that this problem is there or that SIDS is going to occur," she said.

The report was published online Nov. 24 in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

"Until we understand more about this abnormality, parents should follow the safe sleep recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics," Kinney said.

The recommendation is to place an infant alone in a crib on the back without toys or pillows as bolsters. "The same messages we have always had are still applicable," she said.

SIDS is the leading cause of death of infants younger than 1 year of age in the United States, the researchers said.

Dr. Sayed Naqvi, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital, noted that this brain abnormality has been found in epilepsy, but this is the first time it has been linked to SIDS.

"This needs to be confirmed and more research done to say this is a cause of SIDS," he said. 

Marian Willinger, a special assistant for SIDS at U.S. National Institute of Health's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement, "The new finding adds to a growing body of evidence that brain abnormalities may underlie many cases of SIDS." 

"The hope is that research efforts in this area eventually will provide the means to identify vulnerable infants so that we'll be able to reduce their risk for SIDS," she added.

Source: www.medicinenet.com

Topics: infants, SIDS, health, healthcare, brain, research, health care, medical, babies

Google[x] Reveals Nano Pill To Seek Out Cancerous Cells

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Oct 29, 2014 @ 03:11 PM

By Sarah Buhr

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Detecting cancer could be as easy as popping a pill in the near future. Google’s head of life sciences, Andrew Conrad, took to the stage at the Wall Street Journal Digital conference to reveal that the tech giant’s secretive Google[x] lab has been working on a wearable device that couples with nanotechnology to detect disease within the body.

“We’re passionate about switching from reactive to proactive and we’re trying to provide the tools that make that feasible,” explained Conrad. This is a third project in a series of health initiatives for Google[x]. The team has already developed a smart contact lens that detects glucose levels for diabetics and utensils that help manage hand tremors in Parkinson’s patients.

The plan is to test whether tiny particles coated “magnetized” with antibodies can catch disease in its nascent stages. The tiny particles are essentially programmed to spread throughout the body via pill and then latch on to the abnormal cells. The wearable device then “calls” the nanoparticles back to ask them what’s going on with the body and to find out if the person who swallowed the pill has cancer or other diseases.

“Think of it as sort of like a mini self-driving car,” Conrad simplified with a clear reference to Google[x]‘s vehicular project. “We can make it park where we want it to.” Conrad went on with the car theme, saying the body is more important than a car and comparing our present healthcare system as something that basically only tries to change our oil after we’ve broken down. “We wouldn’t do that with a car,” he added.

Bikanta’s tiny diamonds luminesce cells in the body.

Similar to Y Combinator-backed Bikanta, the cells can also fluoresce with certain materials within the nanoparticles, helping cancer cells to show up on an MRI scan much earlier than has been possible before.

This has all sorts of implications in medicine. According to a separately released statement from Google today, “Maybe there could be a test for the enzymes given off by arterial plaques that are about to rupture and cause a heart attack or stroke. Perhaps someone could develop a diagnostic for post-surgery or post-chemo cancer patients – that’s a lot of anxious people right there (note: we’d leave this ‘product development’ work to companies we’d license the tech to; they’d develop specific diagnostics and test them for efficacy and safety in clinical trials.”

We essentially wouldn’t need to go into the doctor and give urine and blood samples anymore. According to Conrad, we’d simply swallow a pill and monitor for disease on a daily basis. We’d also be able to upload that data into the cloud and send it to our doctor. “So your doctor could say well for 312 days of this year everything looks good but these past couple of months we’re detecting disease,” Conrad said.

Privacy and security, particularly in health care is essential. Google came under fire in the last couple of years for handing over information to the U.S. government. Conrad was quick to mention that a partner, not Google would be handling individual data. “It’d be like saying GE is in control of your x-ray. We are the creators of the tech and they are the disseminators,” Conrad clarified.

The U.S. government has an active interest in this space, as well. It’s invested over $20 billion in nanotechnology research since 2013.

This project is in the exploratory phases but Conrad was hopeful that we’d be seeing this technology in the hands of every doctor within the next decade. He also mentioned that his team has explored ways of not just detecting abnormal cells but also delivering medicine at the same time. “That’s certainly been discussed,” he said, but cautioned that this was something that needed to be carefully developed so that the nanoparticles had a chance to show what was happening in the body before destroying the cells.

So far 100 Google employees with expertise in astrophysics, chemistry and electrical engineering have taken part in the nanoparticle project. “We’re trying to stave off death by preventing disease. Our foe is unnecessary death,” Conrad added.

Source: www.msn.com

Topics: technology, health, healthcare, research, Google, disease, medical, cancer, nano pill, cancerous cells

Will Overpopulation Lead To Public Health Catastrophe?

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Oct 29, 2014 @ 02:39 PM

By David McNamee

four babies on a blanket

A new report finds that by 2100, there will be more people alive on the planet than has ever previously been predicted. We investigate what the consequences these extra bodies may have for maintaining public health.

The potentially catastrophic consequences of an exponentially growing global population is a favorite subject for writers of dystopian fiction.

The most recent example, Utopia - a forthcoming David Fincher-directed series for HBO - won critical acclaim in its original incarnation on UK television for its depiction of a conspiracy-laden modern world where the real threat to public health is not Ebola or other headline-friendly communicable viruses, but overpopulation.

Fears over the ever-expanding number of human bodies on our planet are not new and have been debated by researchers and policy makers for decades, if not centuries. However, recent research by University of Washington demographer Prof. Adrian Raftery - using modern statistical modeling and the latest data on population, fertility and mortality - has found that previous projections on population growth may have been conservative.

"Our new projections are probabilistic, and we find that there will probably be between 9.6 and 12.3 billion people in 2100," Prof. Raftery told Medical News Today. "This projection is based on a statistical model that uses all available past data on fertility and mortality from all countries in a systematic way, unlike previous projections that were based on expert assumptions."

Prof. Raftery's figure places up to an additional 5 billion people more on the Earth by 2100 than have been previously calculated.

A key finding of the study is that the fertility rate in Africa is declining much more slowly than has been previously estimated, which Prof. Raftery tells us "has major long-term implications for population."

Fertility rates declining more slowly in Africa than previously reported

A 2003 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that, in sub-Saharan Africa, both fertility and mortality rates were high, with the proportion of people aged over 65 expected to remain small, increasing from an estimated 2.9% in 2000 to 3.7% in 2030.

The CDC report notes that fertility rates declined in developing countries during the preceding 30 years, following a 20th century trend among developed countries. The pattern established by developed countries - and presumed to follow in developing countries - was that countries shift from high fertility and high mortality rates to low fertility and delayed mortality.

This transition starts with declining infant and childhood mortality as a result of improved public health measures. Improvements in infant and childhood mortality contribute to longer life expectancy and a younger population.

This trend of adults living longer, healthier lives is typically followed by a decline in fertility rates. The CDC report suggested that by 2030, there would be similar proportions of younger and older people in developing countries, by that point mirroring the age distribution in developed countries circa 1990.

Prof. Raftery's research, however, notes that in Nigeria - Africa's most populous country - each woman has an average of six children, and in the last 5 years, the child mortality rate has fallen from 136 per 1,000 live births to 117. This works out as a population increase of 20 people per square mile over the same timespan.

How will population growth affect developing countries?

But what does this mean for countries where the public health system is already stretched to breaking point - as has been demonstrated by the recent Ebola epidemic?

"Rapid population growth is likely to increase the burden on the public health service proportionally," answered Prof. Raftery.

"There are already big public health needs and challenges in high-fertility countries, and rapid population growth will make it even harder to meet them." However, if the fertility rate declines faster, Prof. Raftery suggests that high-fertility countries can reap "a demographic dividend."

He explained:

"This is a period of about a generation during which the number of dependents (children and old people) is small. This frees up resources for public health, education, infrastructure and environmental protection, and can make it easier for the economy to grow. This can happen even while the population is still increasing."

Does this suggest that an increasing population is not quite as much of a threat, but that it is more specifically the accelerations and decelerations in fertility rates that provide warning signs to future public health crises?

"Following a long run of an increasing human population growth rate, over the past half century the rate has been halved from about 2% to about 1%," Darryl Holman, professor of biological anthropology at the University of Washington, explained to MNT.

"The turnaround is quite remarkable," he said. "But as long as the growth rate remains positive, our species will eventually reach numbers and densities where technological solutions cannot ameliorate resource scarcity."

High population density leads to a much higher rate of contact between humans, which means that communicable diseases - ranging from the common cold to Dengue fever - can be much more easily transmitted.

And more people means greater efforts are needed to control waste management and provide clean water. If these needs cannot be adequately met, then diarrheal diseases become much more common, resulting in what Prof. Holman described to the University of Washington's news website The Daily UW as a "huge, huge, huge difference in mortality rates."

Taking a more general view, "the anticipated increase in the number of older persons will have dramatic consequences for public health, the health care financing and delivery systems, informal caregiving, and pension systems," wrote the authors of the CDC's 2003 report.

Overpopulation and the environment

"Can we assume that life on earth as we know it can continue no matter what the environmental conditions?," asked the authors of a 2001 Johns Hopkins School of Public Health report on the health consequences of population growth.

The Johns Hopkins report quoted figures demonstrating that unclean water and poor sanitation kill over 12 million people every year, while air pollution kills 3 million. In 64 of 105 developing countries, population has grown faster than food supplies.

By 2025, the report claimed, humankind could be using over 90% of all available freshwater, leaving just 10% for the world's plants and animals.

Prof. Holman summarizes the writings of experts Joel Cohen, E.O. Wilson, Paul Ehrlich and Ronald Lee, who have argued that the consequences of long-term environmental degradation - "specifically rising sea levels, disruption of agriculture and the increased frequency of extreme weather events resulting from anthropogenic climate change, exacerbated by resource scarcity" - create social problems that lead to social unrest.

With more people living together than ever before, it seems inevitable that this compounded social unrest would lead to increased warfare and fighting for resources.

According to the Johns Hopkins researchers, about half of the world's population currently occupies a coastal strip 200 kilometers wide - which means that 50% of us are squeezed together on just 10% of the world's land surface.

The projected flooding of these coastal regions as a result of global warming and rising sea levels could displace millions of people, result in widespread droughts and disrupt agriculture.

The Johns Hopkins team identified two main courses of action to divert these potential disasters.

Firstly - sustainable development. The report authors argued this should include:

  • More efficient use of energy
  • Managing cities better
  • Phasing out subsidies that encourage waste
  • Managing water resources and protecting freshwater sources
  • Harvesting forest products rather than destroying forests
  • Preserving arable land and increasing food production
  • Managing coastal zones and ocean fisheries
  • Protecting biodiversity hotspots.

The second vital area of action is the stabilization of population through good-quality family planning, which "would buy time to protect natural resources."

How to reduce fertility in a morally acceptable way?

Commenting on Prof. Raftery's finding that we may be welcoming an additional 5 billion individuals onto the planet by 2100 than had previously been estimated - a potential global population of 12.3 billion people - Prof. Holman admits that "it is difficult to know what the public health effects will be."

He explains:

"By then, we may see severe petroleum and fresh water resource shortages, climate changes that affect agriculture patterns that, in turn, affect food supplies. Reducing fertility in socially and morally acceptable ways seems like one public health strategy to avoid - or at least postpone - testing some of these limits."

In Utopia, a sinister governmental organization proposes to sterilize a large percentage of the population by rolling out a secretly modified vaccine in response to a manufactured flu pandemic. Obviously, that is not a socially or morally acceptable strategy for reducing fertility - but what is?

Experts consider boosting the education of girls in developing countries to be a prime solution.

As well as acquiring more control over their reproductive life, an educated female workforce should have more opportunities of employment and of earning a living wage. Studies report that the children of educated women also have better chances of survival and will become educated themselves. This pattern continuing across generations is associated with a decline in fertility rates.

A 2011 article by the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), analyzing data from the United Nations (UN), states that "countries in which more children are enrolled in school - even at the primary level - tend to have strikingly lower fertility rates."

In particular:

"Female education is especially important. Research consistently shows that women who are empowered through education tend to have fewer children and have them later. If and when they do become mothers, they tend to be healthier and raise healthier children, who then also stay in school longer. They earn more money with which to support their families, and contribute more to their communities' economic growth. Indeed, educating girls can transform whole communities."

The relationship between education, fertility and national poverty is a direct one. As the EPI authors add: "When mortality rates decline quickly but fertility rates fail to follow, countries can find it harder to reduce poverty."

The UN's 2012 Revision of the world population prospects report suggested if we make rapid reductions in family size, then it may still be possible to constrain the global population to 8 billion by 2045.

No projections are set in stone - all are contingent on what extent fertility rates will sway over the next century. And, as Prof. Holman pointed out to us, the nature of the threat posed by overpopulation has "been vigorously debated for over 200 years" with experts still not in complete accord.

For instance, in the 1980s, said Prof. Holman, the economist Julian Simon and ecologist Paul Ehrlich went on tour together, with a series of debates about the consequences of population growth.

"Ehrlich argued that continued population growth would lead to disaster for humans. Simon argued that population growth provided more people to invent new solutions to the problems confronting humans," said Prof. Holman, adding:

"Given the trends to this point, Simon has been 'more right.' One simple measure of this is mortality rates, which have decreased for most human groups. The flaw in Simon's argument may well be that we have never hit the limits of our finite earth. Positive population growth guarantees that we will, someday, hit some hard limits."

"So that," Prof. Holman concluded, "is the long term."

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: health, healthcare, research, disease, health care, CDC, public health, over population, future, population, people, Earth, data

Share Your Experience for Transitional Care Research (NAHN)

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Fri, Sep 26, 2014 @ 11:44 AM

webCropped NAHN logo RGB resized 600

With the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and guided by a national advisory committee, a multidisciplinary team based at the University of Pennsylvania seeks to learn from clinicians or clinical leaders who are primarily responsible for transitional care services in health systems and communities throughout the United States.  Specifically, the team is conducting a research study designed to better understand how transitional care services are being delivered in diverse organizations.  Participation in this research survey is voluntary.

If you are a clinician or clinical leader responsible for transitional care service delivery in your organization, I encourage you to learn more about this study.  To access the survey and more information on the study, please visit:

Transitional Care Survey

NAHN is happy to assist Dr. Mary Naylor and the University of Pennsylvania in this 2 year project.  Dr. Mary Naylor will be providing NAHN with feedback on the survey results. If you know of others who have such responsibility within your association or work environment, please forward this email to them.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.

Source: http://www.nahnnet.org/

Topics: work, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NAHN, survey, transitional care, hispanic, healthcare, research, nurses, medicine

Are wearable activity monitors equivalent to professional health advice?

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Sep 22, 2014 @ 01:31 PM

By David McNamee

woman exercising with smartphone resized 600

Wearable tech is all the rage right now, with Google Glass and now the Apple Watch being gadget fiends' latest must-have items. Electronic activity monitors may be the most popular example of health-monitoring wearable technology. A new analysis from researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston - published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research - compared 13 of these devices.

"Despite their rising popularity, little is known about how these monitors differ from one another, what options they provide in their applications and how these options may impact their effectiveness," says Elizabeth Lyons, senior author of the new study and assistant professor at the Institute for Translational Sciences at the university.

"The feedback provided by these devices can be as, if not more, comprehensive than that provided by health care professionals," she adds.

Lyons and her colleagues assessed 13 wearable activity monitors available on the consumer market. The team wanted to see how the devices may promote healthy and fit behaviors and determine how closely they match successful interventions.

The researchers also compared the functionality of the devices and their apps with clinical recommendations from health care professionals.

In their analysis, the researchers write that most of the goal-setting, self-monitoring and feedback tools in the apps bundled with the devices were consistent with the recommendations health care professionals make for their patients when promoting increase in physical activity.

Despite this, the analysis also finds that some proven successful strategies for increasing physical activity were absent from the monitors. These included:

  • Action planning
  • Instruction on how to do the behavior
  • Commitment and problem solving.

Interestingly, though, the authors suggest that the apps with the most features may not be as useful as apps with fewer - but more effective - tools.

The researchers also consider that how successful any monitor is largely depends on matching individual preferences and needs to the functionality of the device. For instance, someone who gets most of their exercise from swimming will benefit the most from having a waterproof monitor.

Applications for activity monitors beyond aiding weight loss?

The report also contains suggestions on applications for these monitors outside of their typical role as weight loss aids.

For instance, the researchers suggest the wearable activity monitors could be useful for patients who have been released from the hospital. These patients could use the monitors to measure their recovery and quality of life.

Also, health care professionals could use data from the monitors to identify at-risk patients for secondary prevention and rehabilitation purposes.

Lyons says:

"This content analysis provides preliminary information as to what these devices are capable of, laying a foundation for clinical, public health and rehabilitation applications. Future studies are needed to further investigate new types of electronic activity monitors and to test their feasibility, acceptability and ultimately their public health impact."

The study only looked at devices compatible with personal computers and iOS mobile devices, and the researchers admit it is possible "the experiences of Android users may differ from our experiences."

Source: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: advice, gadgets, wearable, monitors, apps, technology, health, healthcare, research

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