research

When Epidemics Turn Endemic

By Laurie Breen   In 2016 the Zika virus epidemic dominated medical news headlines, especially with the drama that played out when some health experts called for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to be cancelled. But by September WHO officials announced that there had been no confirmed Zika cases coming out of the Olympic games among visitors or athletes and on November 18th the WHO ended Zika’s designation as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”   However, when diseases are no longer drawing the urgent attention of the public or the media, the interest in funding research dies out too. In December, the WHO issued a Report to Donors that highlighted the need for continued funding to seek answers to remaining questions on the Zika outbreak and its ongoing effects.   Image: Source   In a JAMA Viewpoint article, Catharine I. Paules, MD and Anthony S. Fauci, MD, the Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), draw a comparison between Zika and to two other recent mosquito-borne epidemics that have become boring old endemic diseases – West Nile Virus and Chikungunya.   According to the authors, West Nile first appeared in 1999 with cases reported in New York. There was surge in diagnoses in 2002 as the virus spread throughout the United States, but as the rate of infection flattened out, public interest also...

Adult Asthma? – Why It’s Worthwhile to Re-Evaluate

By Laurie Breen Asthma is a chronic condition with no known cure that can be diagnosed at any age. In the United States alone there are over 25 million people with diagnosed asthma, and 7 million are children. Children with asthma typically have intermittent asthma attacks, but asthma symptoms in adults are usually persistent and require treatment with daily medication.   Image: Source   Children with chronic asthma have been shown to outgrow their condition about 75% of the time, but what about adults? A new study published in JAMA by authors Aaron, Vandemheen & FitzGerald suggests that potentially up to one-third of adults diagnosed with asthma don’t show symptoms a year later.   Image: Source   The study gathered over 700 participants who had been diagnosed with asthma at some point over the past five years and weaned them off their asthma medications. Then, for over 12 months, researchers followed up with a series of bronchial challenge tests to determine if the patients were still showing asthmatic reactions. By the end of 12 months, 613 participants had completed the study and researchers could rule out an asthma diagnosis in 203 of the participants – a recovery rate of 33%.   Image: Source   Another interesting finding during this study was that 2% of participants were found to have had a serious condition that had been misdiagnosed as asthma....

Medical Advancements To Look Forward To This Year #2: Precision Medicine

2. Precision Medicine On January 20, 2015 in his State of the Union address, President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative, which laid out an endeavor to improve health care for the better. As I sat there listening to his speech, I asked myself: “So what exactly is precision medicine?” Let’s try to understand it with an example.   A large majority of people in the medical community and the populated world recognize that the obesity epidemic is real. Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, human beings are on a much more accelerated track towards cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancers, and many other grave conditions. Conventional management of obesity focuses on losing weight by eating less and exercising more, simple as that. After all, that must be the one answer to solve this seemingly humongous global problem? Perhaps not.   Precision medicine advocates for a different approach. Rather than painting the whole world in such broad strokes, the initiative strives to integrate genetics, lifestyle, environmental factors, and any other such crucial contributors in order to develop a model that best predicts the reasons behind disease and consequently how best to tackle it. As we already know, most people who try to lose weight gain it back soon afterwards. So there must be a reason (or perhaps multiple) behind this conundrum that expands beyond the mere fact of calorie control....

Medical Researchers Raise the Red Flag on Gun Violence Research Funding

By Laurie Breen   In a JAMA Research Letter likely intended to draw political attention, authors David E. Stark and Nigam H. Shah compared data on gun violence with other leading causes of death and questioned whether adequate funding was being given to research on gun violence, considering the high rates of death from gun violence in the U.S.     Although research into gun violence is not directly banned, a congressional appropriations bill from 1996 stated that no funding allocated for injury prevention or control at the CDC “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Supporters argued that a gun is not a disease and therefore falls outside the realm of the CDC, ignoring the fact that the CDC already has an Injury Prevention & Control Center. The authors argue that this ban has had a knock-on effect for all funding of gun violence research, as government agencies and institutes seeking funding will steer clear of the subject, from fear of running afoul of the appropriations ban and risking the loss of funding.   Image: Source   The letter’s authors reviewed CDC mortality statistics from 2004 – 2014. They identified the top 30 causes of death and allocated each to a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) term. Then, for each MeSH term, the authors queried the number of Medline publications from 2004-2015 and also turned to the...

U.S. Rate of Birth Defects from Women with Zika

By Laurie Breen   In early 2016, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the creation of the National Zika Pregnancy Registry to track and collect information in the United States and its territories on women who tested positive for possible Zika virus. By June of that year the CDC was reporting 265 pregnant women were being monitored in U.S. States and 216 in U.S. territories.   Image: Source   As these pregnancies progress, researchers are carefully monitoring the birthing outcomes for these women to identify the rate of birth defects. Reports from other countries have varied, showing risk rates from 1% up to 13%. Published in JAMA, Honein, Dawson & Peterson reviewed 442 completed pregnancies who had lab results showing possible Zika infection, and found that 6% of the fetuses and infants had birth defects potentially related to Zika infection, with similar overall results when comparing symptomatic and asymptomatic women. The most common birth defect was microcephaly with brain abnormalities, and a few had various brain abnormalities without microcephaly.   Image: Source   However, there were no reported birth defects among infants or fetuses whose only exposure to Zika virus occurred in the 2nd or 3rd Trimester, but when women presented symptoms and were infected in the first trimester, the risk of birth defects rose to 11%.   The researchers concluded that this evidence strongly...

Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Science

By Laurie Breen   We’re now in the first week of the New Year, so how are those resolutions coming along? These life hacks, based in behavioral research, can help you reach and maintain your goals to succeed in 2017.     Plan Ahead Avoid unhealthy, impulsive decisions by planning ahead whenever possible. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that if consumers ordered their groceries 5 or more days in advance, they tended to spend less and order more healthy foods. Similar effects were found among students who were asked to order their lunches a week in advance versus ordering them at the time of consumption.   Read More: “A behavioral decision theory perspective on hedonic and utilitarian choice”   Image: Source   Keep Good Company The influence of peers on the behavior of individuals has been well documented, but it’s important to find peers who are going to help you succeed – not enable you to fail. Researchers Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton looked at co-workers who were given treadmill desks, and found that if employees were given access to the usage statistics of their co-workers, they tended to perform only as well as their least successful co-worker.   Similar results were found in a study that looked at savings habits – when employees were given information as to how much their peers were putting away...

Alternative Combination Treatments For Combatting Cancer Cells

By Janet Taylor   Illustration demonstrating the anti-cancer effect of the drug combination. Credit: Evi Bieler, NanoImaging Lab, University of Basel   Metformin is a commonly prescribed drug for type two diabetes. It reduces serum glucose levels by inhibiting hepatic gluconeogenesis, decreasing absorption of glucose from the GI tract and increasing peripheral utilization of glucose by both adipose tissue and skeletal muscle. Its anticancer properties stem from its combination of systemic and cellular effects.   Systemically, lower serum glucose levels means that glucose availability to cancer cells is decreased. At the cellular level, it disrupts oxidative phosphorylation and thereby inhibits mitochondrial respiration. This is important because the cancer cells are already lacking necessary glucose for energy production and a decrease in cellular respiration leaves the cells with decreased ATP levels necessary for DNA translation and cell growth. While this drug has many benefits, in order to exert these effects, the dose must be very high.   The goal of current research was to find drugs that could work synergistically with metformin to kill cells without the lethal effects that each drug used alone would cause. When searching for a second compound, only those that are cytotoxic when combined with metformin were studied. The antihypertensive syrosingopine was found to be synthetically lethal with metformin. Syrosingopine acts by inhibiting the degradation of sugars and depleting cells of catecholamine stores. Syrosingopine was...