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Dec 31
Enzyme discovery may provide jet lag cure
The enzyme that manufactures melatonin - hormone which regulates the body's internal clock - originated 500 million years ago, according to a new study which may hold clues to treating jet lag and 'winter blues'.

The research by an international team of scientists led by National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that this crucial enzyme likely began its role in timekeeping when vertebrates diverged from their non-vertebrate ancestors.

An understanding of the enzyme's function before and after the divergence may contribute to an understanding of such melatonin-related conditions as seasonal affective disorder, jet lag, and disorders involving vision.

The findings provide strong support for the theory that the time-keeping enzyme originated to remove toxic compounds from the eye and then gradually morphed into the master switch for controlling the body's 24-hour cyclic changes in function.

The researchers isolated a second, non-vertebrate form of the enzyme from sharks and other contemporary animals thought to resemble the prototypical early vertebrates that lived 500 million years ago.

The study was conducted by senior author David C Klein and colleagues at NIH, and at institutions in France, Norway, and Japan.

Melatonin is a key hormone that regulates the body's day and night cycle.

Klein explained that it is manufactured in the brain's pineal gland and is found in small amounts in the retina of the

Melatonin is produced from the hormone serotonin, the end result of a multi-step sequence of chemical reactions. The next-to-last step in the assembly process consists of attaching a small molecule the acetyl group to the nearly finished melatonin molecule.

This step is performed by an enzyme called arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase, or AANAT.

Because melatonin accumulated at night, the ancestors of today's vertebrates became dependent on melatonin as a signal of darkness, researchers said.

As the need for greater quantities of melatonin grew, the pineal gland developed as a structure separate from the eyes, to keep serotonin and other toxic substances needed to make melatonin away from sensitive eye tissue.

The first evidence of how the vertebrate form of the enzyme originated came when study co-author Steven L Coon, discovered genes for the non-vertebrate and vertebrate forms of AANAT in genomic sequences from the elephant shark, considered to be a living representative of early vertebrates.

This finding indicated that the vertebrate form of AANAT may have resulted after a phenomenon known as gene duplication which is thought to be a major factor influencing evolutionary change, Klein said.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Dec 31
Peer pressure may influence food choices
Obesity may be a "socially transmitted disease," suggests a new study which found that social norms influence our food choices.

Researchers conducted a systematic review of several experimental studies, each of which examined whether or not providing information about other peoples' eating habits influences food intake or choices.

After examining the data, investigators found consistent evidence that social norms influence food choices.

This meta-analysis found that if participants were given information indicating that others were making low-calorie or high-calorie food choices, it significantly increased the likelihood that participants made similar choices.

Also, data indicate that social norms influence the quantity of food eaten.

Additionally, the review indicated that suggesting that others eat large portions increased food intake by the participants. There was also a strong association between eating and social identity.

"It appears that in some contexts, conforming to informational eating norms may be a way of reinforcing identity to a social group, which is in line with social identity theory," said lead investigator Eric Robinson, from the University of Liverpool in UK.

"By this social identity account, if a person's sense of self is strongly guided by their identity as a member of their local community and that community is perceived to eat healthily, then that person would be hypothesised to eat healthily in order to maintain a consistent sense of social identity," said Robinson.

The need to solidify our place in our social group is just one way investigators found social norms influence our food choices.

The analysis also revealed that the social mechanisms that influence what we decide to consume are present even when we eat alone or are at work, whether or not we are aware of it.

"Norms influence behaviour by altering the extent to which an individual perceives the behaviour in question to be beneficial to them. Human behaviour can be guided by a perceived group norm, even when people have little or no motivation to please other people," said Robinson.

"Given that in some studies the participants did not believe that their behaviour was influenced by the informational eating norms, it seems that participants may not have been consciously considering the norm information when making food choices," said Robinson.

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Dec 30
Way to treat rare Kawasaki disease found
There is good news for those seeking a cure to the Kawasaki Disease (KD) - a rare childhood affliction that involves inflammation of the blood vessels.

A team of scientists at Sanford Children's Health Research Centre in South Dakota, US, has discovered a molecule called 'THRIL' that helps regulate the immune response in children suffering from KD.

"THRIL could be a novel biomarker for immune activation and a potential target for inflammatory diseases like KD, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease," said Tariq Rana, senior author and professor at Sanford Children's Health Research Centre.

According to the study, findings if which appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new molecule is formed when certain white blood cells - macrophages - are stimulated in response to pathogens.

The team of scientists measured 'THRIL' levels in KD samples at different stages and found that levels were at their lowest during the acute stage of the disease when TNF-alpha - a potent cytokine that promotes inflammation - levels are at their highest.

"For some time, we have known that non-coding regions of RNA play important roles in regulating the immune response to microbial pathogens," added Rana.

"When we realised that THRIL functioned to control the TNF-alpha gene, we wanted to see if it mirrors the progression in inflammatory diseases," he added.

KD usually occurs in children between ages 1-5, and its cause is still unknown. It is extremely important that an accurate diagnosis be made at the earliest to prevent fatality. However, symptoms of the disease only manifest after about five days of its onset. By that time, the damage to the coronary vessel might have already been done.

Symptoms of the disease include red eyes, red lips, and redness on the palm of their hands and soles of their feet - all signs of inflamed blood vessels.

Kawasaki syndrome was first described by Tomisaku Kawasaki in Japan in 1967. Various reports published in international journals showed that the prevalence of the disease had been on the rise in almost all countries.

Dec 30
Activity levels may decrease after retirement: Study
People may not be as active as they once were after they retire, according to a new UK study.

Men and women living in eastern England reported a significant decline in physical activity after they stopped working, researchers found. The size of that drop varied based on the person's gender and former job.

"It is quite interesting to see the overall net decrease in physical activity," Stephen Kritchevsky said. He is the director of the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

"What I'd be wondering and concerned about is that the people - when they retire - may not adjust their energy intake to balance their reduction in expenditure," Kritchevsky, who was not involved with the new study, said.

That could lead to weight gain and related health problems, he added.

Recent research has found older people tend to spend most of their time sitting. But in other studies, retirement was tied to an increase in recreational activity.

For their analysis, Inka Barnett and fellow researchers from the University of Cambridge analyzed data from a study of 3,334 people ages 45 to 79. Participants all lived in Norfolk, UK, and filled out questionnaires about their physical activity at multiple time points.

When people first entered the study between 1997 and 2000, they were all employed. By the time researchers checked in with them again between 2002 and 2006, 785 had retired.

Barnett's team examined changes in participants' physical activity between the start of the study and 2006 to 2007.

Physical activity was measured in metabolic equivalents or METs, which reflect the amount of energy consumed by the body. For example, one MET is equal to the amount of energy it takes to sit still for one hour. Mowing the lawn equals about five METs per hour and running equals about 13 METs per hour.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found being retired was tied to a drop in the amount of energy people exerted working or getting places. But it was linked to an increase in the amount of energy used to do housework and other recreational activities.

Dec 28
20 mins of extra walking every day cuts cardiovascular disease risk by a tenth
A new study has revealed that walking just 20 minutes extra every day could cuts the risk of cardiovascular episodes such as heart attacks by eight per cent.

According to experts, increasing daily exercise by just 2,000 steps may be good for older people who may struggle to exercise regularly and is recommended for the overweight and those with a family history of diabetes, the Daily express reported.

Study's lead author Dr Thomas Yates, of Leicester University, said their results provide novel evidence that changing physical activity levels through simply increasing the number of steps taken can substantially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study looked at 9,306 adults from 40 countries with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), a precursor to diabetes.

It found an extra 2,000 steps a day over one year - 20 minutes of moderate walking daily - cuts the risk of cardiovascular -episodes such as heart attacks by eight per cent.

The study is published in journal The Lancet.

Dec 28
Acupuncture effective for pain management post tonsillectomy surgery
A researchers has revealed that medical acupuncture is effective in reducing pain after tonsillectomy surgery and can be used as an alternative to codeine.
Dr. James Ochi, a San Diego pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon conducted a study using acupuncture instead of codeine for pain relief for his tonsillectomy patients.
"I`ve been using medical acupuncture for years to help my patients suffer less pain after surgery. Now that it is unsafe to use codeine for these kids, I wanted to see if acupuncture without the use of narcotics was helpful for my patients," Dr. Ochi said. " Acupuncture in general has been shown to be effective in reducing pain, is safe and can be done quickly at minimal cost."
In this novel study, 31 patients ranging from 2 to 17 years old received acupuncture after tonsillectomy. Prior to acupuncture treatment, patients or their parents reported a mean pain level of 5.52 out of 10.
After about 15 minutes of acupuncture the pain level dropped to 1.92, a statistically significant difference. Furthermore, parents on average estimated the duration of benefit from the acupuncture to last about 2 and a half days. No adverse effects were reported as a result of the drug-free treatments.
The study is published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology.

Dec 27
New hand-held device to catch early signs of eye disease
MIT researchers have developed a new hand-held device that scans a patient's entire retina in seconds to detect a host of retinal diseases including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed the new instrument which is the first to combine cutting-edge technologies such as ultrahigh-speed 3-D imaging, a tiny micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) mirror for scanning, and a technique to correct for unintentional movement by the patient.

These innovations, researchers said, would allow collection of comprehensive data with just one measurement.

Normally, to diagnose retinal diseases, an ophthalmologist must examine the patient in his or her office, typically with table-top instruments.

The MIT group, in collaboration with the University of Erlangen and Praevium/Thorlabs, has developed a portable instrument that can be taken outside a specialist's office.

The instrument uses a technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT), which the MIT group and collaborators helped pioneer in the early 1990s.

The technology sends beams of infrared light into the eye and onto the retina. Echoes of this light return to the instrument, which uses interferometry to measures changes in the time delay and magnitude of the returning light echoes, revealing the cross sectional tissue structure of the retina - similar to radar or ultrasound imaging.

Tabletop OCT imagers have become a standard of care in ophthalmology, and current generation hand-held scanners are used for imaging infants and monitoring retinal surgery.

The researchers were able to shrink what has been typically a large instrument into a portable size by using a MEMS mirror to scan the OCT imaging beam.

They tested two designs, one of which is similar to a hand-held video camera with a flat-screen display. In their tests, the researchers found that their device can acquire images comparable in quality to conventional table-top OCT instruments used by ophthalmologists.

To deal with the motion instability of a hand-held device, the instrument takes multiple 3-D images at high speeds, scanning a particular volume of the eye many times but with different scanning directions.

By using multiple 3-D images of the same part of the retina, it is possible to correct for distortions due to motion of the operator's hand or the subject's own eye.

According to study author James Fujimoto of MIT, the next step is to evaluate the technology in a clinical setting.

But the device is still relatively expensive, he added, and before this technology finds its way into doctors' offices or in the field, manufacturers will have to find a way to support or lower its cost.

The study appears in the journal Biomedical Optics Express, published by The Optical Society (OSA).

Dec 27
India to set up National Cancer Institute
India will set up a National Cancer Institute, with the union cabinet Thursday approving the proposal for the "landmark step" in the area of research in the disease which has emerged a major public health concern with 11 lakh new cases diagnosed every year.

The 710-bed institute will come up up in the Jhajjar (Haryana) campus of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

To be located in Badhsa village in Jhajjar, the NCI is estimated to be completed in 45 months at a cost Rs.2,035 crore.

An official release said the decision to set up the NCI was "a landmark step in the arena of cancer research in the country" and will lessen the deficit of tertiary cancer care in the northern region.

"Cancer is emerging as a major public health concern in India, where every year 11 lakh new cases are diagnosed, with a mortality rate of 5.5 lakh per year," the release said.

It said there has been a lack of cancer treatment facilities in India, compared to WHO standards, which require one radiotherapy machine per million population. India, at present, has 0.41 machines per million population.

"The setting up of this institute will herald a new chapter in the government initiative against cancer," the release said, adding the institute will operate on the lines of US' NCI and the German Cancer Research Centre, as a nodal centre for indigenous research.

The institute will plan, conduct and coordinate research on cancers which are more specific to India such as those related to tobacco use and those afflicting organs like the uterus, cervix, gall bladder and liver.

"The focus will be on understanding, analyzing the cause and genesis of the above cancers. This will further translate the knowledge gained to develop feasible strategies to improve cancer care services by improvement in detection, diagnosis, treatment and quality of life of patients," the release said.

The proposed institute will have clinical division, research divisions, and disease management groups (DMGs), which will go into the details of all issues pertaining to management of various cancers.

The NCI will have 710 beds with facilities such as surgical oncology, radiation oncology, medical oncology, anesthesia, palliative care and nuclear medicine etc.

It will have a tissue repository, which will be the first of its kind in India.

The HSCC (India) Ltd., a public sector enterprise under the administrative control of the health and family welfare ministry, has been appointed as project consultant by AIIMS.

Dec 26
New treatment brings hope for malaria patients
In view of increasing cases of malaria treatment failures reported across the globe, scientists have now identified a way to stop malaria parasites from multiplying, raising hope for a new malaria treatment.

A team of scientists led by Ed Tate, of the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College, London, have shown that blocking the activity of an enzyme called NMT in plasmodium falciparum, the most common malaria parasite, prevents mice from showing malaria symptoms and also extends their lifespan.

NMT is involved in a wide range of essential processes in the parasite cell, including the production of proteins that enable malaria to be transmitted between humans and mosquitoes, and proteins that enable malaria to cause long-term infection, said the study.

"Finding an enzyme that can be targeted effectively in malaria can be a big challenge. Here, we've shown not only why NMT is essential for a wide range of important processes in the parasite, but also that we can design molecules that stop it from working during infection," Tate said.

"It has so many functions that we think blocking it could be effective at preventing long-term disease and transmission, in addition to treating acute malaria," he added.

The scientists expect the treatment to work not just on plasmodium falciparum but on other malaria parasites as well.

However, although the researchers have tested a handful of molecules that block the activity of NMT in the parasite living inside human red blood cells, and in mice, the treatment is not yet refined enough to be tested in humans.

"We need to do some more work in the lab to find the best candidate molecule to take into clinical trials, but hopefully we'll be ready to do that within a few years," Tate said.

The findings of the study appeared in the latest edition of the journal Nature Chemistry.

Dec 26
New method to keep track of heart risks
A recent study shows how to calculate the risk of heart diseases.

The Framingham Heart Study was started in 1948 to learn more about heart diseases and strokes and determine the common risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

The long-term study has determined key risk factors that can increase a person's chance of experiencing heart disease or a heart attack over their lifetime, which will help people in adopting lifestyle changes and treatments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women and nearly 800,000 Americans experiencing a heart attack every year.

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