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Researchers may have found molecular explanation for schizophrenia
Date: 2013-12-31 15:44:50

One of the most mysterious neurological ailments is schizophrenia. Only recognized as an official medical condition in the past few decades, the causes of this disease are relatively unknown. However, researchers at Tel Aviv University may have found a cause that could led to new treatments for schizophrenia.

Published in Nature's Molecular Psychiatry, the lab tests were led by Illana Gozes, Ph.D., at Tel-Aviv University. The team of researchers discovered that a process of cell-maintenance called autophagy was decreased in the brains of patients with schizophrenia.

"We discovered a new pathway that plays a part in schizophrenia. By identifying and targeting the proteins known to be involved in the pathway, we may be able to diagnose and treat the disease in new and more effective ways," said Gozes.

Her team identified that decreased levels of the protein beclin 1 were present in the hippocampus of schizophrenia patients. This region relates to the brain's learning and memorization abilities. The lack of beclin 1, which is an essential part of starting autophagy, indicated that designing drugs to boost the levels of the protein could be a new way to treat schizophrenia.

Their findings could advance the development of tests for diagnosing schizophrenia, as well as improve overall understanding and treatment of the disease.

Understanding autophagy... Full Story

'Good' and 'bad' cholesterol levels healthy for the brain
Date: 2013-12-31 12:05:47

Managing cholesterol levels can be a balancing act for some individuals as they work to prevent the risks associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease. However, a new study published in JAMA Neurology detailed the link of cholesterol levels with amyloid plaque buildup that can cause Alzheimer's disease.

Led by Bruce Reed, Ph.D., the lab tests were carried out at the University of California-Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center in Sacramento. The 74 participants in the study were 70 years of age or older and were recruited from support groups, senior facilities and stroke clinics around California. Of the participants, 38 had mild cognitive impairment, 33 had no impairment and three had mild dementia. In order to measure their amyloid levels, the researchers used a tracer that bonded to the plaques and were imaged by PET scans.

Their cholesterol tests showed that high levels of LDL (bad) and low levels of HDL (good) were associated with a bigger buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain. This marked the first time that cholesterol levels have been correlated to the buildup of amyloid.

"Our study shows that both higher levels of HDL - good - and lower levels of LDL - bad - cholesterol in the bloodstream are associated with lower levels of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain," explained Reed, associate director at the Alzheimer's Disease Center.

Although increased cholesterol has been tied with Alzheimer's disease before, the team's study specifically connected unhealthy patterns of cholesterol to deposits of amyloid in living human participants. The link similarly mirrors the relationship that irregular hypertension numbers has with the development of heart disease.

Not adhering to new guidelines... Full Story

HIV-positive patients treated with ART have increased life expectancy
Date: 2013-12-30 14:35:07

Following thorough examination of participants from the North American AIDS Cohort Collaboration on Research and Design, researchers have determined that HIV-positive patients treated with antiretroviral therapy have a higher life expectancy than ever before. Published in the journal PLOS ONE, their results estimated that a 20-year-old adult living with HIV may live into their early 70's, an age similar to that of the general population.

Led by Hasina Samji, a doctoral student at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the team from the Canadian university worked with the NA-ACCORD to determine the efficacy of ART on life expectancy for HIV-positive individuals. More than 23,000 patients, aged 20 or older, were examined based on mortality rates from the early 2000's. The scientists discovered that between 2000 and 2007, the average lifespan of an HIV-positive individual on ART jumped from 36.1 to 51.4 years. There was no gender bias, as both men and women had comparable expectancies throughout the study.

However, expectancy was considerably lower for individuals that began ART with low CD4 count, which are cells that accumulate to kick start the immune response to HIV, than those with a higher count. Additionally, a history of drug use via injections decreased life expectancy as well.

Using ART for HIV... Full Story

Concussions may be related to Alzheimer's disease
Date: 2013-12-27 11:24:53

According to a new study, a history of concussions involving momentary loss of consciousness might be linked to plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer's disease. Published in Neurology, a journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers conducted lab tests on brain scans of elderly participants in the Minnesota area.

The team of scientists, led by Michelle Mielke, Ph.D., examined brain scans of adults aged 70 or older in Olmsted County. In the group, 448 people had no signs of memory problems and 141 had minor cognitive problems. Additionally, the participants were asked if they had experienced any loss of consciousness or memory as a result of receiving trauma to the brain.

The researchers found that out of the 448 participants with no cognitive issues, 17 percent stated that they had experienced a brain injury. On the other hand, of the 141 people with a history of memory difficulties, 18 percent reported they had experienced a concussion or another form of head trauma.

Additional research into the participants' brain scans showed that the individuals with thinking impairments and a history of concussions had levels of Alzheimer's-associated plaque buildup 18 percent higher than those without a history of brain trauma. However, the team found no changes in brain scan measurements of the participants without memory issues.

"Interestingly, in people with a history of concussion, a difference in the amount of brain plaques was found only in those with memory and thinking problems, not in those who were cognitively normal," Mielke said.

Although their research is compelling, Mielke felt that the lack of a link between the plaque buildup and participants without thinking problems means more research needs to be done, as the relationship is complex and requires in-depth analysis.

The dangers of concussions... Full Story

Pre-op antibiotics can protect against surgical infections
Date: 2013-12-23 13:51:49

Even though surgeons exercise thorough caution to prevent infections that can result from surgery, sometimes their development is unavoidable. However, lab tests conducted at the Rambam Medical Center in Israel revealed the benefit of taking antibiotics before procedures in order to reduce the chance of SSIs, or surgical site infections.

Published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, a journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the study's researchers examined the effects of preoperative antibiotic prophylaxis in heart surgery patients. Their results discovered that taking antibiotics two hours before a procedure greatly decreased the risk of SSIs. Out of the 2,637 patients in the study, only around 8 percent developed an infection when given the drugs during the specified time frame, compared to the almost 14 percent of patients who developed an SSI when administered antibiotics outside of the two-hour window.

"Antimicrobial prophylaxis can reduce the risk of SSIs following many operations, however, that efficacy diminishes or disappears if antibiotics are given either too early or after incision. Despite the general acceptance of this concept in guidelines, wide variations in preoperative antibiotic administration practices have been reported," explained lead author Renato Finkelstein, M.D.

The team carried out a 10-year cohort study with the overall goal of making their new two-hour guideline a wide-reaching rule for all surgeons. They investigated the efficacy of preoperative antibiotics being used up to two hours before the first incision was made. Any antibiotics administered at a different time ranged from either three hours before or after surgery. By the near end of the experiment, the team also discovered that their idea of optimal protection had been adopted by nearly all the participants.

Preventing SSIs... Full Story

Modest weight loss may reduce health risks in middle-aged women
Date: 2013-12-19 12:00:41

According to a report released by the American Heart Association, overweight or obese middle-aged women who lost modest amounts of weight over a two-year span reduced their cholesterol levels and improved the outlook on their health. Lab tests helped determine a decrease in glucose and insulin numbers, possibly leading to a positive impact on the risk of developing diabetes or heart disease.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study examined a group of 417 women at an average age of 44 who weighed around 200 pounds at the beginning of testing. The participants who experienced a 10 percent or greater loss of their body weight also reduced their total cholesterol and inflammation markers. Women who benefited most from the modest weight loss had the highest risk levels before the study began.

"It is challenging to lose weight, but if women commit to losing 10 percent of their body weight and sustain that over time, it can have a large impact on overall risk factors associated with heart disease and diabetes," said Cynthia Thomson, Ph.D., co-author and director of the University of Arizona Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention & Health Promotion in Tucson.

There are numerous factors that might affect weight gain in women who are middle-aged, including repeated pregnancies and sedentary jobs and lifestyles. According to Thomson, a large percentage of American women feel they weigh much more at middle-age than they did in their younger years.

"The good news is that when you lose weight long-term, you just don't move to a smaller dress size, you are actually moving these risk factors markedly and likely reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes," concluded Thomson.

Working with health care providers... Full Story

New guidelines for blood pressure could mean less pill taking
Date: 2013-12-18 18:22:22

More than 10 years ago, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute published guidelines regarding blood pressure treatment targets and recommendations for drug prescriptions. After initially stating it would not be updating new guidelines, the NIH has released an updated report and it could change how hypertension is treated across the board.

The previous guideline stated that all adults should aim to have a systolic blood pressure below 140 millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg. Individuals with diabetes had an even lower target number, sitting at less than 130 mm Hg. Although the NIH still recommends those numbers for adults under the age of 60, it states that those 60 years of age and older should strive for an easier target of 150 mm Hg or lower. Despite these changes, the definition of hypertension still remains the same.

One significant difference between the NIH guidelines and the cardiovascular guidelines released by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association last month is in risk assessment. According to Eric Peterson, M.D., in an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the NIH's hypertension guidelines for assessing patient risk will result in less treatment for the elderly, while the ACC/AHA guidelines will lead to increased treatment in those individuals.

It is important to note that although the recommendations in the new guidelines are based on evidence from extensive research, they should not be used to replace clinical judgment from a medical professional.

Treating high blood pressure... Full Story

Pennsylvania researchers reduce toxicity levels in ALS
Date: 2013-12-16 14:20:16

Better known by its common name, Lou Gehrig's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a fatal disease that destroys muscle strength and eventually leads to full-body paralysis. A new study conducted in animal models by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has found a way to reduce the toxicity of ALS that slows deteriorated neurons and can possibly be attributed to cells in mammals.

Published in the journal Nature Genetics, the study's research team has possibly uncovered a new strategy for ALS treatment by working with a fruit fly model of the disease. Led by senior author Nancy Bonini, Ph.D., the scientists have made progress in understanding the way that ALS moves and attacks the nerve cells. In a lab test, the flies were genetically altered to express the human version of a gene that binds to RNA and has been found to be abnormal in patients diagnosed with ALS. In recent years, there has been a large increase in the understanding of ALS at the genetic level, which is why the team was examining this specific gene.

"There's been an explosion over the last five-plus years in the identification of genes that contribute to genetically inherited ALS," explained Bonini.

The flies that expressed symptoms that could be correlated to ALS in humans were injected with a compound that was meant to restore physical mobility and increase muscle strength, reversing the effects of degeneration. After injection, the scientists found that the flies were able to fly higher and climb faster, giving hope that the same progress could eventually arise in human models.

The results show advancement in the treatment strategy for ALS going forward, as well as the benefits of using simple animal models to shed light on human neurological diseases.

Important facts on ALS... Full Story

Is physical activity more effective than prescription medication?
Date: 2013-12-12 17:05:56

A new study showed that exercise can be as effective as prescription medication at treating some of the leading causes of death in the United States. The results, published in the British Medical Journal, question whether our country's health care system is too focused on medication as treatment and not promoting physical activity enough.

The comparative study was conducted by Huseyin Naci, London School of Economics and Political Science graduate student, and John Ioannidis, M.D., director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine. They wanted to research how well exercise and prescription drugs reduced deaths among people who had been previously diagnosed with one of four different medical conditions: diabetes, stroke, chronic heart failure or heart disease.

Very few researchers have compared the effectiveness of medication and exercise, yet comparative effectiveness studies are important parts of pharmaceutical research. Naci and Ioannidis compiled data from 305 medical experiments that revolved around one of the four conditions they were researching. What they discovered was that out of all the studies, only 57 examined exercise as a method of treatment.

Using these numbers, the two researchers cross-referenced results from cases where participants were either prescribed medication, put on strict exercise regimens, or both. Typically, a prescribed exercise routine would include aerobic activity and some form of weight-training. The results of their cross-referencing were revelatory: exercise consistently showed similar results to medication when it came to treating life-threatening conditions.

Exercise as beneficial as medicine... Full Story

Reduce obesity and blood pressure to prevent heart-related ailments
Date: 2013-12-04 11:34:49

An international research team consisting of members from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass., has found that taking regular cholesterol tests to monitor and control blood pressure may cut the risk of heart-related diseases in half. Published in The Lancet, the report details the threat of heart disease and stroke from high blood pressure in obese individuals.

According to the American Heart Association, obesity generates a high risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other coronary afflictions. An estimated 60 to 70 percent of the U.S. population is overweight, leading to heart disease and stroke being the foremost causes of death in the country. High blood pressure, additionally, can result in both of these ailments.

The findings gathered from the study show that high blood pressure posed the greatest risk of the three conditions, responsible for increases of 65 percent in the risk of stroke and 31 percent in heart disease.

"Our results show that the harmful effects of overweight and obesity on heart disease and stroke partly occur by increasing blood pressure, serum cholesterol and blood glucose. Therefore, if we control these risk factors, for example through better diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, we can prevent some of the harmful effects of overweight and obesity," affirmed Goodarz Danaei, Sc.D., assistant professor of global health at HSPH and senior author of the study.

Reducing risk of heart disease and stroke... Full Story

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