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Friday
Aug172018

Mysterious smell plaguing California residents and sparking finger-pointing

iStock/Thinkstock(ORANGE COUNTY, Calif.) -- Residents of several Orange County, California cities are complaining about a strange, mysterious odor in the air -- and local municipal agencies seem to be pointing fingers at each other as to the cause of the bad smell.

The odor is affecting cities like Orange, Anaheim Hills, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, according to Patrick Chandler, spokesperson for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Tony Bommarito told ABC News that the odor "appears to be vector control spray for mosquitoes.”

But a spokesperson for the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District subsequently denied this claim, insisting that “the spray is odorless.”

Residents are reporting smells similar to petroleum, paint thinner or butane in the air.

The ongoing investigation is now being handled by South Coast Air Quality Management, officials said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug172018

First-generation students discuss overcoming 'impostor syndrome'

Jared Jaramillo(NEW YORK) -- When Jared Jaramillo arrived at his East Coast college, the Utah native and first-generation college student felt like he'd entered an "alien world."

While the 19-year-old excelled at math and science in high school and was admitted to Tufts University's prestigious mechanical engineering program, Jaramillo said that as soon as classes began he "felt out of place."

The child of Salt Lake City housekeepers who never attended college, Jaramillo said he felt like a "fraud" on the private college campus his first few weeks.

"You feel like the only reason you are there is because somebody made a mistake," he told "Good Morning America," despite being a high academic achiever his whole life.

"You feel like any moment you are going to slip up," he added. "You are going to make a mistake so big, and somebody is going to tell you to just go home."

While Jaramillo described feeling isolated, his experiences as a first-generation college student are actually part of a common psychological phenomenon often referred to as "impostor syndrome."

Everyone from former first lady Michelle Obama to Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg have also spoken out in the past about feeling a sense of "impostor syndrome" despite a record of accomplishments.

As increasing numbers of first-generation college students flock to campuses this fall, "GMA" spoke to experts and first-generation college students who shared advice on how to overcome "impostor syndrome" and succeed.

'I never had anyone explain what that was going to be like'

Jaramillo said that there was a "very extreme learning curve" during his first few weeks of college.

"I never had anyone to explain what that was going to be like," he added. "I definitely stressed a lot about grades, about feeling like I didn't fit in."

The feeling of not belonging hit especially hard during a general requirement English class.

"I always liked writing," he recounted, "but the moment we started discussions in class, I felt immediately out of place. These people seemed a lot more experienced."

"I'm Hispanic, my family is Hispanic and every person in that room of 18 or 19 people was white," he added. "That is something that I definitely noticed. I don't know if they did."

"I feel like what definitely helped me get past my sense of 'impostor syndrome' was finding that community where everybody felt the same way," he said, adding that he joined a program of fellow first-generation college students.

"Seeing such brilliant people struggle in the same way that I did, it made it feel like it was all right to feel that way, it made me feel like I wasn't failing," he added. "Seeing other people struggle just made me feel like I wasn't the only one."

Jaramillo said he wants to encourage other first-generation college students to know that they are not alone and to not be afraid to reach out for help.

"If you come from a similar background as me, perhaps you didn't have other people around you who went to college, nobody was able to tell you what classes were going to be like," he said. "My advice would be if you come from that background, you need to find people who can help you fill in those gaps."

'You can be embarrassed about your background, or you can be proud of it'
Recognizing and overcoming the feelings associated with "impostor syndrome" can be crucial for first-generation students, who are less likely to persist through the first two years of college than their peers with parents who attended college, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Education.

Dr. Neil Bernstein, an adolescent psychologist, described the "impostor syndrome" that many first generation students feel as "almost the opposite of entitlement."

"The word teenagers would use is that they are a 'poser' -- there is a fear of being discovered," he added. "They feel their accomplishments won't last, they’ve just been lucky."

Bernstein added that he was the first in his family to go to college himself and recounted "feeling embarrassed that people would see through me because my great-grandparents were immigrants."

His advice to those who may be struggling with "impostor syndrome" is to not ignore those feelings.

"It is really important that what we feel inside and what we present outside are similar," he said. "Because the greater the discrepancy between what we feel on the inside and what we present on the outside, the more angst we feel."

Most important, for those suffering from impostor syndrome, is, "They need permission to be themselves."

"We have to be honest about who we are," Bernstein said. "We have to be honest to ourselves."

Here, Bernstein breaks down his top tips for "GMA" on how to overcome feelings of "impostor syndrome."

Expert tips on how to overcome 'impostor syndrome'

1. Believe in yourself

Know that "you don't have to be perfect, and that what you've achieved is something to be proud of," Bernstein said.

"Don't be embarrassed about your background," he added. "Know that in some ways your background helped you to get where you are."

He also recommended viewing your background as a "strength," and to remember that "you’ve done this well all along, there is no reason to assume the worst -- that you're going to be 'discovered.'"

2. Embrace the concept of 'good enough'

Recognize "you are OK as you are, and it's OK that you're not perfect," Bernstein said. "Give yourself permission to feel a little vulnerable or scared once in a while."

3. Identify the feelings that are upsetting you and counter them

If you are feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts, Bernstein recommended an actionable exercise to help fight "impostor syndrome."

"Learn how to identify the thoughts that are upsetting you," he said, and "pose the counter argument to that." He recommends making a list "of the scary, negative thoughts you feel" and writing them down and then making "another column of other possibilities" that go against these negative thoughts.

4. Reach out for help

Sometimes people who suffer from various anxiety disorders also may experience depression, Bernstein said, and it's important to recognize when you should reach out for help.

"A person should ask themselves how much of my underlying thoughts are interfering with my life," he said, and if you feel it is overbearing, he recommends finding a therapist or reaching out to a self-help group.

5. Find role models

"You'll find that people who have had good role models are less susceptible to these kind of things," Berstein said.

"There are lot of famous people out there who have immigrant backgrounds, or came from disadvantaged backgrounds," he added. It's "about how we interpret our own experiences, and it's what we say to ourselves that's really significant."

"You can be embarrassed about your background, or you can be proud of it," he added.

6. Know that you're not alone

"Know that you're not alone in what you're feeling," Bernstein said. "There are thousands and thousands of people who feel the same way, and they've overcome."

"It's not an unusual feeling to feel like people will see through you," he added. "And it's nothing to be ashamed of -- you don't have hide it -- and there are people in the world that will support you."

'I felt like I was behind, I was a little ashamed of that.'

Annette Kaminaka, 21, a first-generation student at New York University majoring in biology on the pre-med-school track, described similar feelings.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Kaminaka told "GMA" that pursuing higher education has been a generational dream for her family.

While her grandfather only completed middle school and her father only finished high school, her parents always wanted to give her the opportunity to go to college.

Coming from Hawaii to New York City, however, was a huge adjustment, Kaminaka said.

"The culture in the city was very different, and in general I had a feeling, I had a sense, that the people that I met knew what to do," she said.

"They seemed so involved with the school early on. It seemed like they knew how to take advantage of the opportunities NYU has to offer," she said. "There were times when I felt like I didn’t belong."

Kaminaka said her biggest piece of advice for first-generation college students would be to "be as proactive as possible, and don't be afraid to ask questions."

Now a junior at NYU, Kaminaka works as a mentor for incoming first-generation college students to help build a community of people going through similar experiences.

"GMA" is spotlighting the stories of first-generation college students. Explore our full coverage.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug162018

Smelling things that aren't there could be a sign: Study

iStock/ThinkstockBY: DR. RYAN GUINNESS

(NEW YORK) -- Imagine smelling something that isn’t there. Now imagine if these smells were always around, persisting through everyday life without any apparent reason.

These "phantom odors" occur when someone smells something, but there is nothing in the environment that corresponds to the often unpleasant odors. Though it may seem like a minor irritation, a persistent problem with smells can come with some risks and indicate other health issues, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About one in 15 people in the study smelled phantom odors, according to researchers from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders who looked at national health survey records between 2011 and 2014 from more than 7,400 people over 40 years old.

Who is most at risk

A particularly striking find in the thousands of records: About twice as many women as men reported phantom odors, especially those under age 60.

There may be several explanations. Prior research suggests that women are generally better than men at naming odors, and women are more often negatively affected by odors around them. They may also have a heightened sense of smell and more likely to report a problem with phantom smells, according to past research.

Other factors also affect whether people report phantom odors, such as head injury, dry mouth, poor overall health, among a list of other possible issues.

"Chronic nasal inflammation, deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps, and even having a bad cold can cause issues with our sense of smell," Dr. Benjamin S. Bleier, associate professor of otolaryngology and director of endoscopic skull base surgery at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News.

Another surprising factor seemed to be socio-economic status. Researchers think people with lower socio-economic status may be more commonly exposed to environmental pollutants and toxins, or have health conditions that contribute to phantom odors -- and medications treating those health conditions could also cause the phenomenon.

How phantom odors happen

The reasons behind phantom odors are a mystery.

“The condition could be related to overactive odor sensing cells in the nasal cavity or perhaps a malfunction in the part of the brain that understands odor signals,” Dr. Kathleen Bainbridge of the epidemiology and biostatistics program at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, part of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

Genetic variation may also play a role. Several genes have been implicated this condition. However, further studies are needed to look at potential genetic factors associated with it.

"A good first step in understanding any medical condition is a clear description of the phenomenon," she added. "From there, other researchers may form ideas about where to look further for possible causes and ultimately for ways to prevent or treat the condition."

This study didn't include information on other health conditions that could have helped explains the age, sex and income patterns that were described. It also did not look at anyone below the age of 40. Because it was limited to looking at data only from a specific survey and time period, it could not determine if other issues had occurred before or were diagnosed separately.

Why phantom odors shouldn't be ignored

Phantom odors can decrease quality of life if left untreated.

"Problems with the sense of smell are often overlooked, despite their importance. They can have a big impact on appetite, food preferences and the ability to smell danger signals such as fire, gas leaks and spoiled food," Dr. Judith A. Cooper, acting director the NIDCD said in a statement.

This can especially be problematic for those who work in places that rely on our sense of smell, including those in the food and service industries.

Phantom odors may also be a sign of a more serious health problem. Recent studies show that phantom odors can be an early marker of severe neurological conditions, which highlights the importance of seeking early intervention.

The study found only 11 percent of people who report phantom odors have actually discussed a taste or smell problem with a doctor. "Most people who have this condition don’t go to a physician," Bleier said. "The value of these studies is that they reveal findings of certain disease states that were not as previously well known."

The authors hope that increased awareness of phantom odors could prompt doctors to ask about them more, too, which could help more people with the problem receive accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Ryan Guinness M.D., M.P.H., is an internal and preventive medicine resident physician, currently in the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug162018

FDA approves first generic EpiPen

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first generic version of the EpiPen and EpiPen Jr auto injector for the emergency treatment of allergic reactions.

The approval is part of the FDA's "longstanding commitment" to providing access to low-cost generic alternatives, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

"This approval means patients living with severe allergies who require constant access to life-saving epinephrine should have a lower-cost option, as well as another approved product to help protect against potential drug shortages," the commissioner said.

It is unclear how much the generic product -- manufactured by Teva Pharmaceuticals -- will cost. In August 2016, Mylan Pharmaceuticals was criticized for raising the price of a two-pack of EpiPens to $600.

The price of two EpiPens was about $100 in 2009. The brand name version is by far the most popular epinephrine auto-injector on the market.

The generic version of "the most widely-prescribed epinephrine auto-injector in the U.S." has been approved for adults and children who weigh more than 33 pounds, Gottlieb said. It can be used to treat life-threatening allergic reactions from insect bites or stings, food medications, latex and other causes, according to the FDA.

The generic auto-injector is also intended for immediate administration of epinephrine, which works by reducing swelling in the airway and increasing blood flow in the veins.

"Combination products," such as epinephrine auto-injectors that include both a drug and a device, are "more challenging than typical drug products" to develop generic versions, according to the FDA.

Complex products are "hard to copy" and often take a long time, Gottlieb said, adding that the FDA is working on more efficient ways to develop generic products.

"We’re advancing new guidance for sponsors to make the development of generic versions of complex products more efficient, and we’re prioritizing review of many complex generic drug applications," he said.

An "authorized generic" is made using the brand name's existing new drug application and uses the same formulation, process and manufacturing facilities used by the brand name manufacturer, according to the FDA. The label and packaging used by the brand name are also changed.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug162018

Hiker survives 6 days on mountain by hunting bees and plucking huckleberries

Courtesy Cowlitz County Sheriffs Office (NEW YORK) -- A hiker missing for six days on Washington state's Mount St. Helens survived on huckleberries and bees that he killed and ate, according to the man's parents.

Matthew Matheny, 40, who was visiting the area from Warren, Ohio, was found alive Wednesday on the side of the mountain leading up to the legendary volcano, the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Matheny was conscious and talking when rescue teams found him, authorities said. He was transported to a local hospital by helicopter, but it does not appear that he suffered any life-threatening injuries, according to the sheriff's office.

After visiting him in the hospital, Matheny's parents told ABC Portland affiliate KATU that their son was in good physical condition and had survived by eating huckleberries as well as bees he had killed.

"I don't know where he learned that," his mother, Linday Matheny, said, adding that he was a former boy scout.

 On Tuesday, authorities used cell phone records to determine that Matheny was in the general area of the Blue Lake Trail, near Mount St. Helens. Witnesses also told authorities that they saw a man in gray clothing in the area, according to the sheriff's office, which stated that he may have been wearing a gray Cleveland Browns sweatshirt, shorts and sandals that day.

Matheny had borrowed a friend's Subaru Outback last Thursday to drive to the mountain and go hiking. But after losing contact with him, the friend, Michael Bush, filed a missing persons report, and search and rescue teams began combing the area for him on Saturday morning.

 The gray Subaru was found unoccupied Saturday at the entrance to the Blue Lake Trail, authorities said.

Matheny was found days later in the general area of Blue Lake Trail, and members of his family were waiting at the base camp when he was located, according to the sheriff's office.

Matheny started out his hike with two liters of water and some snacks he had brought with him, but he was all out after Thursday and couldn't find any water sources, his parents told KATU.

At least 40 people participated in the search for Matheny, Cowlitz County Sheriff's Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig told ABC News. A helicopter and drone searched for him from above, KATU reported.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Aug152018

More than half of drowsy-driving accidents caused by drivers younger than 25: Report

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- It happens far too often: Drivers struggle to keep their eyes open, putting themselves and other drivers at risk.

Earlier this year, a driver launched nearly 30 feet through his windshield after slamming into a tollbooth in Florida.

Officials later discovered drowsy driving was the cause.

A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found there's an average of 328,000 drowsy-driving crashes every year in the U.S., with more than half caused by drivers younger than 25.

General Motors has developed a suit to test the effects of driving while drowsy. Senior transportation correspondent David Kerley suited up with 23 pounds of weights on his wrists, ankles, and chest and put on goggles that distorted his vision to recreate the delayed reaction that can accompany drowsiness.

Chevy safety engineer Maureen Short said one of the biggest problems about driving while drowsy is impaired decision making.

"Drowsiness, unfortunately, it generally happens over time," Short said. "The problem is, you as a driver are a very poor judge of how tired you are."

While caffeine may seem like a quick fix, it is highly unpredictable, Short added.

A report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that a driver who drinks coffee can still have "microsleeps" or briefly lose consciousness for a few seconds – more than enough time to cause an accident.

The NHTSA also said that drivers who still want to drink coffee can drink one or two cups and then pull over for a 20-minute nap at a safe, designated stop. This has been shown to increase alertness, but only for short periods.

The best thing to do is get consistent rest, especially before longer drives.

"Nothing's going to be as good as six to eight hours of sleep," Short said. "That's the only thing that really helps you."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Aug152018

4 ways to relax at your office on National Relaxation Day

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wednesday is National Relaxation Day.

If you are stuck at work and missing out on a spa day or reading at the beach, relax, literally.

We've got you covered.

"Good Morning America" turned to two experts for tips on how to relax while you're at work.

The good news is that relaxation doesn't mean you have to lay down on a couch or take a nap, two things that would turn heads in the office.

"Simply plopping on the couch doesn’t address the long-held tension in your body," said Jillian Pransky, author of "Deep Listening" and a mindfulness teacher and certified yoga therapist. "True relaxation, conscious relaxation...creates a sense of space, ease, in our body and mind so that we can better handle the daily stressors that arise."

Especially at work, taking time to mindfully relax, as Pransky calls it, can calm your nervous system, give you an energy boost and clear your thinking.

While mindful relaxation can calm you on the inside, simple movements at your desk can relax your body physically too.

"When we are relaxed, we can see things much more clearly, we are quicker to find creative solutions to challenges and we are easier to work with and generally be around," said Bethany Lyons, the founder of Lyons Den Power Yoga.

If you're not able to get up and move, simply playing music at your desk that gives you energy and puts you in a good mood is beneficial, according to Lyons.

Also try to think of time away from your desk, even as little as two minutes, not as a distraction from work, but as break that will make you a better, more productive worker when you return.

With that in mind, try these two mindful relaxation techniques from Pranksy and two yoga moves from Lyons at your office and just, relax.

1. Stretch your hips

The hips tend to hold a lot of tension -- especially from how much we sit during the day, at work, in our cars, etc -- so to ease the physical tension of this area is a great way to find some relief and relaxation.


Standing near a wall or a desk: Bend both legs and then send the right leg across the standing left leg, with the foot flexed and sit back as it sitting down onto a bench.

Use the wall or desk for support so you can relax into the stretch and any resistance you feel. Hold for 10 breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

2. Release tension in your body

Use this technique when you body feels tight and uncomfortable, or when you feel irritable or short-tempered. Plan to do a relaxation pause like this at least three times a day.

Come to a relaxed sitting position, eyes open, or closed. Use three slow exhales to allow the weight of your body to land more heavily on your chair.

On your inhale, gently curly your hand into a fist, firm all the muscles from your hands to your shoulders, and draw your shoulders up towards your ears. Scrunch up your face. Then, as you exhale out through your mouth, completely let go of all tension in your face, shoulders and arms.

On your inhale, gently, progressively, tighten your thigh muscles, seat, belly. And as your exhale, release the muscles of your lower body and allow your belly to soften completely.

On your third inhale squeeze all the muscles of your upper and lower body together, equally everywhere. As your exhale let all your muscles release. Allow your body weight to drop into your chair completely.

Pause and feel your seat on your chair and your feet on the ground. Let your breath fill and refresh your entire body. Slowly shift your awareness back into the space around you.

3. Go upside-down

Flip your vision and clear your head by going upside-down.

Take your feet either hip-width distance or wider (wider stance gives a little more stability).

Fold forward the upper-half of the body over the legs, bending the knees slightly to take any unnecessary pressure out of the lower back and not to strain hamstrings. Let the head hang. Either clasp hand to opposite elbow overhead, which creates added weight.

Take 10 deep breaths in the pose, slowly roll up using hand on the legs for support once complete.

4. Get an energy boost

Step away from your desk to a window or head outside, just be sure you can see the sky.

Soften your face, shoulder, and belly and take three deep breaths.

Think of your mind as open as the sky.

Consider that just as the sky stays open while clouds flow through it, you can relax into the spaciousness of your mind as thoughts flow through it.

To finish, notice your feet on the floor and imagine your mind in the shape of the sky. You'll go back to work more energized, grounded and open.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Aug152018

Sleep loss can make people more isolated and lonely: Study

iStock/ThinkstockBY: DR. RICHA KALRA DR. RYAN GUINNESS

(NEW YORK) -- It only takes one sleepless night to ruin social interactions and make people feel lonely, a new study showed.

In 1942 the average American used to sleep about 7.9 hours, according to the National Gallup survey, but now the average American's busy schedule has decreased the average amount of sleep to 6.5 hours.

"Mother nature took millions of years to perfect our sleep and we just shaved off over an hour to fit our lifestyle," Dr. Matt Walker, founder and director of Center for Human Sleep Science at University of California-Berkeley and lead author of the study told ABC News.

But, that reduced amount of sleep can create social problems and increase feelings of loneliness, the study published in the journal Nature Communications said.

To better understand the social effects that poor sleep can create, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a series of experiments using brain imaging, paired with surveys that helped rate the participants' loneliness and videos that simulated real-life scenarios.

Researchers looked at the social and neural responses of 18 healthy participants after a night of adequate rest, as well as after a sleepless night, in the small study. Participants were asked to view video tapes of individuals with neutral facial expressions walking towards them and push a stop button when the people got too close for comfort. They recorded the distance that participants allowed the individuals get to them and found that more sleep-deprived participants wanted greater distance from the people, indicating a strong social repulsion response.

In other words, the desire for personal space increased as sleep deprivation increased. This type of social aversion, which was also seen in neural activity on brain imaging, is typically what is seen when an individual feels an invasion of personal space.

The fMRI brain images backed up the behavior. After sleep deprivation, brain regions that usually promote socialization, were also seen to been less active on the images.

"Being able to see which parts of the brain were actually shutting down in the sleep deprived population was the most riveting part of the study," Walker said.

In the next part of the study, the authors had more than 1,000 online observers view video clips of study participants discussing common day-to-day topics. They found that sleep deprivation not only made participants come across as lonelier to observers, but that this effect was contagious. After viewing a minute-long clip of a seemingly lonely person, observers reported increased feelings of loneliness and alienation themselves.

Even 10 to 15 minutes of sleep loss triggered loneliness, Walker said, and that's concerning because it can have physical consequences, too.

"Loneliness is not benign and it actually increases your mortality risk over 45 percent," he said.

The irony of loneliness is that individuals are not alone in these feelings. Nearly half of the U.S. population reports feeling lonely or left out in a recent study. Several studies have tied an increased risk of earlier death to loneliness, more than double the risk affiliated with obesity.

This was a small study with few participants, so it's possible that not all the results would be seen in a larger population. Also, the second portion of the study relied on the self-reported survey information, which could have some bias.

However, the authors hope the association between sleep loss and loneliness can help extend the larger conversation about sleep as a primary method to address common physical and mental health conditions.

"On a positive note, just one night of good sleep makes you feel more outgoing and socially confident, and furthermore, will attract others to you," Walker said.



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug142018

New 'zombie' gene found in elephants could help humans fight cancer

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- They may not be the fastest or the smartest or even the scariest, but when it comes to beating cancer, elephants are the superheroes of the living world.

It's a phenomenon that has baffled scientists since the 1970s. After all, at their size, they should have a much higher rate of the disease. The larger a living thing, the more the cells, and the more the cells, the more chance one of them turns out to be cancerous -- which is why tall people are more vulnerable to the disease than short people and why Marmaduke is much more likely to get cancer than the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

And yet, cancer rates among elephants is less than 5 percent, comparable to the rates in much smaller animals. The lifetime cancer mortality rate for humans is about 20 percent.

So what gives? With all those cells on their body, why are more elephants not stricken by the disease?

Scientists may have found an answer.

In a paper published in the journal Cell Reports Tuesday, researchers from the University of Chicago announced they may have discovered one of the cancer protection mechanisms the pachyderms have evolved to deal with every time a cell may be corrupted.

"What we found is that elephants have an extra copy of the gene whose job it is to kill the cell when there is the kind of stress that causes cancer," said Vincent Lynch, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago in Illinois and an author of the study.

The fact that this gene was even functional was extraordinary -- it was supposed to be non-functional or "dead". Yet somehow this "zombie" gene, called leukemia inhibitory factor 6 (LIF6), had evolved in elephants to come back from the dead and slay any cell that showed damage to its DNA, thus preventing it from becoming cancerous.

This is the second study that has found the differences in elephant genome that may explain the animal's ability to resist the disease.

In 2015, two teams of scientists -- one led by Lynch from the University of Chicago and the other from the University of Utah -- found in elephants 20 copies of a major cancer-suppressing gene called p53 that helps damaged cells repair themselves or self-destruct when exposed to cancer-causing substances.

Both these discoveries could have implications for the human fight against cancer, Lynch said.

"If we understand the function of this gene and all the other genes that makes elephants cancer-resistant, maybe we'll be able to develop drugs that mimic those functions and then use that to treat people with the disease," he said.

And there's hope that over time, scientists will come upon more such discoveries. Other creatures, such as some types of whales, bats and mole rats, also show unusual resistance to cancer, and they have none of the extra genes found in elephants -- which means they must have evolved their very own cancer protection mechanisms.

But don't cheer yet. Even if Lynch's findings in 2015 and 2018 are replicated and confirmed, there's still a long way to go.

"Developing new drug treatments is a very complex process and it takes decades," Lynch said. "We always hear the news that there is some discovery and that a new treatment based on that discovery is five to 10 years away but it's never five to 10 years. So this is going to be a very very long process."

"Of course," he added, "I guess we've been dealing with cancer for billions of years, so you know, a couple of decades isn't that long in the grand scheme of things."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug142018

Suicide risk nearly double for traumatic brain injury sufferers: Study

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- People who have been identified as having suffered a traumatic brain injury have almost double the risk of suicide than people without the condition, a new study by researchers in Denmark has found.

The study, published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA, examined 34,529 deaths by suicide over 35 years from a Danish national registry and people who had medical contact for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Researchers not only found an increased risk of suicide between traumatic brain injury sufferers and the general population, they also found that the risk of suicide was even higher for people who had experienced severe traumatic brain injury and who had numerous medical visits or longer hospital stays related to the condition.

Patients who had longer hospital stays following traumatic brain injuries were at highest risk for suicide in the first six months after being discharged from the hospital, the study found.

The study did have limitations: the kind of medical treatment people with traumatic brain injuries received is unknown, and it does not account for people who have not sought medical treatment after suffering these injuries. But the study is an interesting look into the possible psychiatric effects of traumatic brain injuries.

Traumatic brain injuries have made headlines from the battlefield to the football field. But what are these injuries, how common are they and what other research is needed to understand them? Here's what you need to know.

What is a traumatic brain injury and how common is it?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, traumatic brain injuries can be defined as a type of head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. This can be caused by a bump, blow, jolt to the head, or penetrating injury. Everyone is at risk of experiencing a traumatic brain injury, as these most commonly result from motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, and falls.

Traumatic brain injuries can affect behavior, emotion, and motor function and lead to problems with memory, attention, learning, and coordination, according to the CDC's report to Congress on traumatic brain injuries. Other signs and symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and sleep disturbances, according to the CDC.

While the physical impact of a traumatic brain injury is immediate and can be quite devastating, the long-term health consequences are only starting to come to light through research. The injuries may cause secondary disorders such as mood disorders and post-traumatic epilepsy and increase a sufferer's risk for dementia, according to the CDC's report.

Every year in the U.S., traumatic brain injuries account for approximately 2.2 million emergency department visits, 280,000 hospitalizations and 50,000 deaths, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Recently, there has been increased attention to the long-term effects of repeated brain injury, especially as it relates to sports injuries and later development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). More research is still needed to better understand the long-term effects of CTE, including psychological disturbances.

How might traumatic brain injuries put someone at an increased risk of suicide?

While the exact mechanism remains unclear, there are some theories.

Dr. Trine Madsen is the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the Danish Institute for Suicide Prevention, part of the Copenhagen Mental Health Center. She said that TBIs can impact the brain’s functions by causing inflammation and damage to blood vessels, which may act to increase the risk of mental health disorders and suicide.

Dr. Fadi Tayim is a clinical neuropsychologist and the director of the Brain Mapping Center at the Premier Health Clinical Neuroscience Institute.

"Often times, we have a certain expectation of our ability and performance. Our identities are deeply rooted in what we do," Tayim told ABC News. “When a brain injury occurs, there is a fundamental disruption in a person’s ability to perform at their best. The longer this disruption persists, the greater the anxiety and pressure build up to 'go back to normal.' When that baseline cannot be achieved, especially in the case of more severe TBIs, there is a higher risk of depression and suicide."

How can we help people suffering from traumatic brain injuries?

The key might be in preventing the injuries from occurring in the first place, Madsen said.

"First and foremost, there needs to be a focus on preventing TBI from occurring, such as through promotion of protective helmets in traffic, at workplaces where risk of falls or head injury are higher, and in contact sports like boxing and American football," Madsen told ABC News. "That said, we would encourage any person who develops post-TBI psychiatric symptoms to seek immediate medical help and treatment right away."

While the results of this study may be sobering, there is hope that they may lead to changes.

Moving forward, Madsen said she also hopes to improve the treatment of traumatic brain injuries in order to minimize the long-term consequences that could lead to suicidal behavior. She said she is also interested in examining how traumatic brain injury might be associated with social consequences, such as employment status in the years following the injury.

Tayim said there are many ways medical professionals can help support patients.

"By knowing the link between severity of TBI and increased suicidality, clinicians can proactively address multiple problem areas by implementing early interventions. For example, arranging for counseling services in addition to speech, physical and occupational therapies," Tayim said.

"Establishing strong social support networks are also critical, and there are additional resources and support services available through Brain Injury Association across the United States. It's important for people to know they are not alone while navigating the recovery process, and proactive counseling may help this transition," Tayim added.

In addition to the resources listed above, a National Concussion Surveillance System has been developed by the CDC to improve prevention, care, and recovery efforts for those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

Ryan Guinness MD, MPH is an internal and preventive medicine resident physician currently working the ABC News Medical Unit.

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