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Feb 27
Ebola survivors face long-term health problems
Majority of the people who survive Ebola virus disease are at risk of long-term health problems, say researchers.

According to a new study, most Ebola survivors were found to be suffering from neurological issues six months after infection.

Researchers examined 82 Ebola survivors in Liberia and found that most of them continued to have severe neurological problems, including headaches, memory loss, depressed moods and muscle pain.

The study, by the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, however, found that patients were 'suicidal' or having 'hallucinations' in rare cases.

About two thirds of the survivors, which had an average age of 35, had body weakness, while half of the patients suffered headaches and memory loss. Two people were suicidal and one suffered hallucinations.

"While an end to the outbreak has been declared, these survivors are still struggling with long-term problems," said Lauren Bowen, the study's author.

"It is important for us to know how this virus may continue to affect the brain long term," Bowen added.

More than 28,600 people were infected with Ebola in West Africa during the outbreak, out of which 11,300 succumbed to the disease.

Researchers said they hope to find out more about possible continued long-term brain health problems for the more than 17,000 Ebola survivor.

The study will be presented to the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Vancouver in April.

Feb 26
High intensity exercise may be bad for your heart!
Just as too much of anything is bad, extreme strenuous workouts such as high intensity training could be bad for the heart, warns a new study.

According to researchers, high levels of intense exercise may be cardiotoxic and promote permanent structural changes in the heart.

The research, published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, is based on studies that looked into the relationship between exercise and heart problems.

There is already fairly compelling evidence supporting the association between long-term sports practice and increased prevalence of atrial fibrillation -- abnormal heart rhythm characterised by rapid and irregular beating.

"Much of the discussion regarding the relative risks and benefits of long-term endurance sports training is hijacked by definitive media-grabbing statements, which has fuelled an environment in which one may be criticized for even questioning the benefits of exercise," explained study author Andre La Gerche from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia.

"This paper discusses the often questionable, incomplete, and controversial science behind the emerging concern that high levels of intense exercise may be associated with some adverse health effects," La Gerche noted.

"The answers regarding the healthfulness of 'extreme' exercise are not complete and there are valid questions being raised," La Gerche said.

"Given that this is a concern that affects such a large proportion of society, it is something that deserves investment. The lack of large prospective studies of persons engaged in high-volume and high-intensity exercise represents the biggest deficiency in the literature to date, and, although such work presents a logistical and financial challenge, many questions will remain controversies until such data emege," La Gerche observed.

Researchers argue that before a definitive link between exercise and heart can be made, much more research needs to be carried out.

Feb 25
Shape-shifting nanoparticles to deliver drugs
Scientists have designed a set of shape-shifting nanoparticles attached to strands of DNA that can deliver drugs directly to cancer cells, while minimising side effects such as hair loss and skin damage.

Many cancer drugs target fast-growing cells. Injected into a patient, they swirl around in the bloodstream acting on fast-growing cells wherever they find them.

That includes tumours, but unfortunately also hair follicles, the lining of your digestive system, and your skin.

Professor Warren Chan from the University of Toronto has spent the last decade figuring out how to deliver chemotherapy drugs into tumours - and nowhere else.

No two tumours are identical. Early-stage breast cancer may react differently to a given treatment than pancreatic cancer, or even breast cancer at a more advanced stage, researchers said.

Which particles can get inside which tumours depends on multiple factors such as the particle's size, shape and surface chemistry.

Researchers studied how these factors dictate the delivery of small molecules and nanotechnologies to tumours, and have now designed a targeted molecular delivery system that uses modular nanoparticles whose shape, size and chemistry can be altered by the presence of specific DNA sequences.

"We're making shape-changing nanoparticles. They're a series of building blocks, kind of like a LEGO set," said Chan.

The component pieces can be built into many shapes, with binding sites exposed or hidden. They are designed to respond to biological molecules by changing shape, like a key fitting into a lock.

These shape-shifters are made of tiny chunks of metal with strands of DNA attached to them. Chan envisions that the nanoparticles will float around harmlessly in the blood stream, until a DNA strand binds to a sequence of DNA known to be a marker for cancer.

When this happens, the particle changes shape, then carries out its function - it can target the cancer cells, expose a drug molecule to the cancerous cell, or tag the cancerous cells with a signal molecule.

The research was published in the journals PNAS and Science.

Feb 24
Half the world's people to become myopic by 2050, says study
Nearly five billion people, that is about half the world's population, are poised to become myopic or short-sighted by the end of 2050, indicates a study.

Also called nearsightedness, myopia is a vision condition in which people can see clearly the objects that are close to eyes but objects far away appear to be blurred to the sight.

Acting like a silent epidemic, myopia is all set to become the leading cause of permanent blindness globally

With up to one billion people at an increased risk of blindness, myopia is all set to become the leading cause of permanent blindness globally.

Further, with the findings suggesting that the US will have 260 million myopes by 2050, up from the 90 million in 2000, and Canada will see 66 million high myopes by 2050, up from the 11 million in 2000, the vision loss from high myopia is expected to increase seven-fold from 2000 to 2050.

The rapid increase in the prevalence of myopia globally is attributed to "environmental factors, lifestyle changes resulting from a combination of decreased time outdoors and increased near work activities, among other factors", said the researchers.

Parents need to ensure that the children's eyes are regularly checked, improve time outdoors and moderate time on near based activities, including electronic devices.

Also, comprehensive eye care services is needed to check the rapid increase in high myopes, along with the development of treatments to control the progression of myopia and prevent people from becoming highly myopic, the researchers suggested in the study published in the journal Ophthalmology revealed.

"We also need to ensure our children receive a regular eye examination from an optometrist or ophthalmologist, preferably each year, so that preventative strategies can be employed if they are at risk," said Kovin Naidoo, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Feb 23
Period pain as bad as heart attack: But do we really care?
Almost every woman experiences menstrual cramps from time to time. Men don't get it, yet, doctors have ignore it thinking that pain is something to tolerate as normal.

But, now a new research has suggested that period pain can be as "bad as having a heart attack".

A recent article by Olivia Goldhill at Quartz reveals that the mechanisms behind menstrual cramps are poorly understood and for some unknown reasons, the topic remains under-researched, the Independent reported.

John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, said menstrual cramping can be as "bad as having a heart attack".

Guillebaud believes that the dismissive attitude toward menstrual cramps exists in both male and female physicians. He said that on the one hand, men don't suffer the pain and underestimate how much it is or can be in some women and on the other hand, some women doctors can be a bit unsympathetic because either they don't get it themselves or if they do get it they think, "Well I can live with it, so can my patient."

Dysmenorrhea, the scientific term for painful periods, has no definitive medical origin, with one of its causes being endometriosis, wherein tissue normally lining the uterus is found on the pelvis, fallopian tubes or ovaries.

Untreated endometriosis can cause infertility. Richard Legro from Penn State College of Medicine said that the "million dollar question" is why some women suffer more from period pain than others.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, period pain affects the lives of around one in five women.

Feb 22
Daily meditation can slow ageing too
For those who do meditation regularly, here is another good news. Researchers report that apart from reducing blood pressure and heart disease risk, Transcendental Meditation technique and lifestyle changes can slow cellular death too.

The new study examined what was happening at the level of DNA, showing that the Transcendental Meditation technique increases telomerase gene expression which may contribute to the cardiovascular and aging benefits.

Specifically, this was found to activate two genes that code for telomerase -- which adds molecules to the ends of chromosomes or telomeres -- protecting them from deteriorating.

"The finding that telomerase gene expression is increased with a reduction in blood pressure in a high-risk population suggests that this may be a mechanism by which stress reduction improves cardiovascular health," said Robert Schneider, from Iowa-based Maharishi University of Management (MUM).

Earlier research on the Transcendental Meditation technique found lower rates of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and early death.

For this trial, the participants included 48 men and women with high blood pressure who were recruited and studied at Howard University Medical Center.

Half were assigned to a group that learned the Transcendental Meditation technique and received a basic health education course.

The other half were assigned to a group that focused on achieving significant lifestyle modifications such as weight reduction, reducing salt intake, engaging in regular physical activity and moderating alcohol.

After 16 weeks, both groups showed significant increases in telomerase gene expression and reductions in blood pressure.

"These findings are very encouraging for prevention. They show that both the Transcendental Meditation technique and active lifestyle modification can contribute to heart health," said Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at MUM.

"The result is valuable new information, relevant both to cardiovascular disease and to the molecular mechanisms involved in Transcendental Meditation," noted John Fagan, professor of molecular biology in a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Feb 20
High emotional intelligence may make young women manipulative
If you feel your girlfriend often manipulates her way to win the situation, partly blame evolution for such behaviour and seek proper guidance. According to a recent study, young women with high emotional intelligence (EI) are more likely to use manipulative behaviours, resulting in a greater engagement in delinquency.

"I would hypothesise that it's partly due to evolution. In some circumstances, young women may have come to see social survival as more important than social niceties so manipulation may have been an adaptive behaviour which has continued through to the present day," explained lead researcher Alison Bacon from University of Plymouth in Britain.

The research team wanted to assess why young women with high levels of EI are more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour than young men.

For this, 125 young women participated and completed three key measures of EI -- Machiavellianism, the managing emotions of others scale (MEOS) and self-reported delinquent behaviour.

The participants in the study answered standard questions on how they adapt their behaviour depending on, or to affect, the emotions of others.

High EI women also presented higher levels of Machiavellian tactics and delinquency -- both in literal delinquent behaviours and in relationships such as social exclusion or coercion.

"The study was conducted on a group of students and is not suggesting for a second that all young women with high emotional intelligence have these behavioural tendencies," the authors noted in a paper published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology.

The results, however, suggest that high EI may enable manipulative relational behaviours in some women which, in turn, support delinquency aimed at fulfilment of social or material goals, Bacon noted.

Feb 19
How this gene variant influences what we eat
Hate the taste of broccoli? Do you perceive honey as too sweet? According to a new study, a common gene variant should be blamed for our food choices.

The McGill-led research team has recently discovered that for girls who are carriers of a particular gene variant (DRD4 VNTR with 7 repeats), the crucial element that influences a child's fat intake is not the gene variant itself.

Instead, it is the interplay between the gene and girls' early socio-economic environment that may determine whether they have increased fat intake OR healthier than average eating compared to their peers from the same class background. The DRD4 repeat 7 is found in approximately 20 per cent of the population and is known to be associated with obesity, especially in women.

Lead researcher Laurette Dube said that they found that among girls raised in poorer families, those with DRD4 repeat 7 had a higher fat intake than other girls from the same socio-economic background, but they also found that girls with exactly the same gene variant who came from wealthier families, compared to these with the same economic conditions, had a lower fat intake.

Dube noted that this suggests that it's not the gene acting by itself, but rather how the gene makes an individual more sensitive to environmental conditions that determines "for better or worse" a child's preference for fat and consequent obesity as the years pass by.

Interestingly, the researchers found this effect to be true only in the girls that they tested. They speculate that this may be because, from an evolutionary standpoint, it may have been more important for girls to be able to gain weight easily to adapt to adverse conditions in order to reproduce.

Another possibility they advance is that at age four, it may simply be too early to see these effects in boys since boys and girls gain weight at different stages at this age, and may also have different behavioural responses to hunger and feelings of satiety.

These results underscore the importance of moving beyond a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to childhood obesity prevention, said Dube, adding "we need to move towards targeted approaches that focus on populations that are particularly vulnerable to both genetic and environmental factors: those who are biologically more vulnerable under adverse environments are those likely to be more responsive to improvements in their conditions."

The study appears in JAMA Pediatrics.

Feb 18
Whooping cough vaccine offers short-term protection
A new study has found that the effectiveness of routine Tdap booster wanes in adolescents.

Kaiser Permanente's Vaccine Study Center found that the vaccine provides moderate protection against whooping cough during the first year after vaccination, but its effectiveness wanes to less than 9 percent after four years among teenagers who have received only a newer form of the whooping cough vaccine (acellular pertussis vaccine) as infants and children.

The study explored Tdap effectiveness among adolescents during outbreaks of whooping cough in Northern California in 2010 and 2014. Despite Tdap coverage of more than 90 percent in adolescents, they had the highest incidence of pertussis of any age group in 2014. Routine vaccination at ages 11 to 12 did not prevent the epidemic.

This study demonstrates that despite high rates of Tdap vaccination, the growing number of adolescents who have received only the newer acellular pertussis vaccines continue to be at higher risk of contracting whooping cough and sustaining epidemics, said lead author Nicola Klein.

Klein added that because Tdap provides reasonable short-term protection, it may contain whooping cough more effectively if it is administered to adolescents in anticipation of a local outbreak rather than on a routine basis at age 11 or 12.

Klein noted that the strategy of routinely vaccinating adolescents to prevent future disease did not prevent the 2014 epidemic, arguably because the protection afforded by a dose of Tdap was too short-lived. While awaiting development of new vaccines that will provide longer-lasting protection against pertussis, we should consider alternate Tdap immunization strategies for adolescents.

These findings are published in Pediatrics.

Feb 16
Transcendental meditation lowers BP, heart and mortality risks
Since the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the enzyme telomerase in 1984, identifying other biological molecules that lengthen or shorten the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes has been slow going.

A new Maharishi University of Management study found that the Transcendental Meditation technique and lifestyle changes both appear to stimulate genes that produce telomerase, an enzyme that's associated with reduced blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Specifically, these approaches were found to activate two genes that code for telomerase, which adds molecules to the ends of chromosomes, or telomeres, protecting them from deteriorating.

The finding that telomerase gene expression is increased and that this is associated with a reduction in blood pressure in a high-risk population, suggests that this may be a mechanism by which stress reduction improves cardiovascular health, said coauthor Robert Schneider.

The new study examined what was happening at the level of DNA, showing that the Transcendental Meditation technique increases telomerase gene expression and suggesting that this may contribute to the cardiovascular and aging benefits.

Coauthor Otelio Randall of Howard University College of Medicine concluded this pilot study in African Americans suggests stress reduction and lifestyle modifications may reduce blood pressure with an increase in telomerase.

The study appears in PLOS ONE.