Researchers Find Potential Biomarker for SIDS

May 25th, 2022

CradleAustralian researchers say they’ve identified one potential biomarker for sudden infant death syndrome, also known as SIDS.

Enzyme May Play a Part in SIDS

For their study, researchers measured levels of an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) in blood samples from 67 newborns that died of SIDS and other unknown causes between 2016 and 2020. They compared these levels with those in the blood of 655 babies in a control group and found that the children who died of SIDS had significantly lower BChE levels than living children or those who died of other causes.

SIDS usually happens when a child is sleeping. Experts have speculated that it’s associated with problems in the part of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and waking. BChE is an enzyme of the cholinergic systems, part of the autonomic system which controls functions like blood pressure and breathing. One of the study authors said the study shows that BChE is involved with this lack of arousal.

The study authors say more research is needed to determine whether BChE tests might be able to identify and prevent future SIDS cases.

The study was published in the journal “eBioMedicine.”

SIDS Prevention

There is no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS, but you can help your baby sleep more safely by following these tips:

  • Back to sleep: Put your baby to sleep on his or her back, rather than on the stomach or side, every time the baby goes to sleep their first year of life.
  • Don’t overheat your baby
  • Have the baby sleep in your room: Ideally, your baby should sleep in your room, but alone in a crib or bassinet for at least six months (up to a year if possible). Please remember that adult beds are not safe for infants.
  • Keep the crib as bare as possible: Use a firm mattress and avoid placing your baby on thick fluffy padding. Don’t leave pillows, fluffy toys or stuffed animals in the crib. These can interfere with breathing if your baby’s face presses against them.
  • Offer a pacifier: Sucking on a pacifier (without a strap or string) at naptime and bedtime might reduce the risk of SIDS.

About 3,400 babies die from SIDS in the United States each year. There is no immediate or obvious cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Bugs Making Health Headlines

May 18th, 2022

Bug SprayBugs seem to be making a splash in the world of health. Check out the below blog post to see how bugs are making headlines.

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Help End Disease

Genetically modified mosquitoes released in the United States appear to have passed an early test that suggests they might one day help reduce the population of insects that transmit infectious diseases.

As part of the test, scientists released nearly 5 million genetically engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes over the course of seven months in the Florida Keys.

Male mosquitoes don’t bite people, and these were also modified so they would transmit a gene to female offspring that causes them to die before they reproduce. In theory, this means the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes would die off over time, so they wouldn’t spread diseases anymore.

The goal of this project was to see if the genetically modified male mosquitoes could successfully mate with females in the wild, and to confirm whether their female offspring would die before they reproduce. On both counts, the experiment was a success.

The genetically engineered males successfully mated with females in the wild, Oxitec, the company that developed the engineered mosquitoes reported. Scientists collected more than 22,000 eggs laid by these females from traps set around the community. In the lab, researchers confirmed that the female offspring from these pairings inherited a lethal gene designed to cause their death before adulthood. The lethal gene was transmitted to female offspring across multiple generations, scientists also found.

Based on the results from the preliminary research, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved additional pilot projects. 

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can spread several serious infectious diseases to humans including dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and Chikungunya, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ants, New Tool for Cancer Detection?

A number of animals have very sensitive noses that can sniff out disease. Inspired by those studies, French scientists decide to explore whether smaller creatures that are known for their olfactory prowess could do the same: ants.

Cancer cells make volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—organic chemicals that smell and can serve as biomarkers for diagnosis.

To train ants to target VOCs, the researchers placed breast cancer cells and healthy cells in a petri dish—but the cancer cells included a sugary treat. Scientists associated a reward to the smell of cancer. It is a technique called classical conditioning. A natural stimulus (cancer smell) is associated with a second stimulus (food) that prompts a behavior. After doing this a few times, the ants learn that the first stimulus predicts the second, and they will seek out the odor hoping to find food.

Once the training was complete, the researchers presented the ant with the learned odor, and a new one—this time without a reward.  Sure enough, the ants spent more time investigating the learned odor than the new one.

Ants communicate primarily through scent, and this sophisticated “language” makes them very sensitive to odors. Ants also learn fast and required only three training trials.

While this is still far away from real-world clinical use, one attractive aspect of the research is that if it worked, it might be a cheaper alternative to normal lab practices for detecting cancer cells.

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Teenager Tuning You Out? Blame Their Brain

May 11th, 2022

Teenager rolling her eyes at her parents in the backgroundA new study finds brains shift in adolescence to tune out parents’ voices.

Brain Changes Cause Teens to Tune Out

Past research using brain imaging has revealed how important a mother’s voice is to younger children. The sound stimulates not only hearing related parts of the brain, but also circuits involved in emotions and “reward” in a way strange voices do not.

The new study shows that things start to change around the age of 13. At that point, the brain’s vocal preferences shift, tuning out Mom in favor of unfamiliar voices. These findings offer an actual “brain basis” for kids’ behavioral changes.

The findings build on a 2016 study showing that unlike strangers’ voices, the sound of mom’s voice “lights up” reward centers in a younger child’s brain. But according to the study authors, at a certain point kids need to expand their social world and get ready to become independent.

The new study included 46 kids, aged seven to 16, who underwent functional MRI scans. It allowed the researchers to view their brain activity while they listened to recordings of either their own mother’s voices or unfamiliar female voices.

The teenagers were clearly distinct from younger children. Their brain reward centers lit up more in response to unknown voices versus moms’—as did a brain region called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which places value on social information. It is likely that the brain is “programmed” to make this evolution.

Teenagers turning away is a good thing to the extent that it’s a sign of healthy maturation, the researchers found.

The children in the trials were raised by their biological mothers, had IQs of at least 80, and were not diagnosed with any neurological, psychiatric or learning disorders.

The researchers reported similar results across all genders. And while they did not include male voices in the trials—comparing only the study subjects’ mothers’ voices with those of two women unfamiliar to the children, it was anticipated the results apply to the father’s voice.

The study was published in the “Journal of Neuroscience. “

Communicating With Your Teen

Navigating communication with your teenager can feel like walking through a minefield. Here are some tips:

  1. Listen: Kids tend to be more open with their parents if they don’t feel pressured to share information. It can be more effective to sit back and listen.
  2. Validate their feelings: It is often a parents’ tendency to try to solve problems for kids, or downplay their disappointment. Instead, show that you empathize and understand.
  3. Show trust: Teens want to be taken seriously, especially by their parents. Look for ways to show you trust your teen. Letting kids know you have faith in them will boost their confidence and make them more likely to rise to the occasion.
  4. Don’t be a dictator: You get to set rules but be ready to explain them. While pushing boundaries is natural for teenagers, hearing your thoughtful explanation will make the rule seem more reasonable.
  5. Give praise: Parents tend to praise children more when they are younger, but adolescents need the self-esteem boost just as much.
  6. Control your emotions: It’s easy for your temper to flare when your teen is being rude, but don’t respond in kind. Remember that you’re the adult and he or she is less able to control his or her emotions or think logically when he or she is upset.
  7. Do things together: Talking isn’t the only way to communicate and during these years it’s great if you can spend time doing things you both enjoy.
  8. Share regular meals: Sitting down for a meal together as a family is a great way to stay close. Dinner conversations give every member of the family a chance to check in and talk casually. Kids who feel comfortable talking to parents about every day things are likely to be more open when harder things come up too.

It’s normal for kids to go through some changes as they mature, but pay attention if you notices changes to mood, behavior, energy level, or appetite.

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Study Finds Brain Cells of Alzheimer’s Patients Have More Genetic Mutations

May 4th, 2022

BrainGenetic mutations build up faster in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s disease patients than other people, new research reveals.

New Study

DNA errors called somatic mutations can occur in brain cells as people age. The authors of the study compared somatic mutations in hippocampal and prefrontal cortex neurons of people with advanced Alzheimer’s and people with no neurological conditions.

The Alzheimer’s disease patients had a large number of mutations—likely due to increased DNA oxidation.

The results suggest that Alzheimer’s neurons experience genomic damage that causes immense stress on cells and creates dysfunction among them. According to the study authors these findings may explain why many brain cells die during Alzheimer’s disease.

The study provides more insight into the molecular and cellular events involved in the development of Alzheimer’s.

In the future, the researchers are eager to learn more about how the mutations work and to discover new treatments that target them.   

The findings were recently published in the journal “Nature.”

Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

Memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging. Some warning signs of Alzheimer’s are:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life: Forgetting events, repeating yourself or relying more on aids to help you remember.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems: Having trouble paying bills or cooking recipes you have used for years.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure: Having problems with cooking, driving places, using a cell phone, or shopping.
  4. Confusion with time or place: Having trouble understanding an event that is happening later, or losing track of dates.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations: Having more difficulty with balance or judging distance, tripping over things at home, or spilling or dropping things more often.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing: Having trouble following or joining a conversation or struggling to find a word you are looking for.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment: Being a victim of a scam, not managing money well, paying less attention to hygiene, or having trouble taking care of a pet.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  10. Changes in mood or personality: Getting easily upset in common situations or being fearful or suspicious.  

It seems likely that damage to the brain starts a decade or more before memory and other cognitive problems appear. During this preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease people seem to be symptom free, but toxic changes are taking place in the brain.

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USPSTF Updates Anxiety Screening Recommendations

April 27th, 2022

Upset teenager sitting with her back against the wallChildren as young as eight years old should be screened for anxiety, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends.

New Draft Guidance

Written by the USPSTF, the guidance suggests children and adolescents between ages eight and 18 be screened for anxiety. It also doubles down on a prior recommendation to screen for major depressive disorder and suicide among children 12 to 18.

The new draft guidance comes amid rising rates of anxiety and depression among kids and teens in the United States.

The USPSTF said there are now high enough rates of anxiety and plenty of screening tools and treatments to recommend regular screening of anxiety.

Before COVID-19, the most recent comprehensive national survey found that eight percent of children had a current anxiety disorder.

Mental illness intensified during the pandemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this month found 37 percent of youth have experienced poor mental health since March 2020.

Anxiety can wreck havoc on daily life by leading kids to avoid school, interpersonal activities, or certain other situations. The task force did not offer recommendations on how frequently children should be screened, but suggested it may be beneficial for some at-risk children to have repeated screenings over time.

Signs of Anxiety in Children

Anxiety in children tends to manifest as negative behaviors that you may have glimpsed briefly in the past, but are becoming noticeable, consistent and intense.  Some signs of anxiety in children are:

  • Agitation
  • Avoidance
  • Crying
  • Difficulty settling down for bed
  • Difficulties with transitions within school and between school and an activity
  • Having high expectations for schoolwork, homework and sports performance
  • Inattention, poor focus
  • Meltdowns before school
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Restlessness
  • Somatic symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
  • Tantrums

Anxiety can increase the risk of poor coping mechanisms such as substance use or development of other forms of mental illness commonly associated with anxiety, such as panic attacks or depression.

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