Entries in Medical Research (8)


Heightened Estrogen Levels Associated with Sudden Cardiac Death

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Heightened estrogen level may be associated with an increased risk of cardiac death in both men and woman, according a new study.

The study was presented on Friday at an annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society in Denver. More than 350,000 Americans die each year from cardiac death, which can occur when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, says HealthDay News.

Researchers analyzed data from people who had either suffered sudden cardiac death or had coronary artery disease. According to HealthDay News, testing on the blood samples of those patients found that both group had similar cardiac risk factors.

While diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol were found in similar rates in both groups, researchers were interested to find that both men and women who suffered sudden cardiac death had greatly increased estrogen levels. Additionally, the ratio of testosterone to estrogen was lower in those who suffered sudden cardiac death.

While the findings do not prove that high estrogen levels cause cardiac problems, the findings could help identify patients at greater risk.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Scientists Find 'Striking' Change in Sex Hormone When Friend Is Involved

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Hey brother, feel sexually drawn to your best friend's wife? Testosterone, the bad boy among male sex hormones, is supposed to make it easier for you to ignore your friendship and make your move.

However, scientists at the University of Missouri have found that men are biologically inclined toward avoiding a close encounter with the mate of a buddy, and it works the other way around if she is not committed to a friend.

Testosterone seems to be depressed if a friend is involved, but elevated if there is no close relationship, a condition the scientists describe as a "striking reversal" in the role of this powerful hormone. The study was published in the journal Human Nature.

"Men's testosterone levels generally increase when they are interacting with a potential sexual partner or an enemy's mate," anthropologist Mark Flinn, lead author of the study, said in releasing the report. "However, our finding suggests that men's minds have evolved to foster a situation where the stable pair bonds of friends are respected."

The findings should be regarded as tentative, because the number of participants was limited and some data may be compromised by the difficult circumstances under which it was collected, as the researchers note in their own study. The conclusions depend partly on data collected a few years ago in the Dominican Republic.

In some cases, for example, testosterone levels were not determined before the "interaction" with the female, so it's not known how much the level changed during the event, and it was not known if there were prior interactions with the same female.

"Even with these important limitations, the apparent dampening of androgen (sex hormones) levels when interacting with friends' mates is remarkable nonetheless, and consistent with mutual respect of mating relationships and enhanced cooperation among group males," the study notes.

The scientists see their study as much broader than just the sexual temptation involving a friend's mate, because additional research was carried out showing that testosterone is actively involved in a wide range of human activities, probably even international conflict.

They found, for example, that the level of testosterone soared in young men in a Dominican community when they competed in sporting events with a rival from another community, but it remained unchanged if the rival was a close neighbor. And that, they suggest, shows we are biologically determined to form relationships, or coalitions, with those around us -- so we will act less aggressively within our group -- but we are more willing to trample or attack outsiders.

"A victory against friends does not affect testosterone significantly, whereas a victory against outsiders results in elevated testosterone," the study concludes. "Likewise, a defeat by friends has little effect on testosterone, whereas a defeat by outsiders results in decreased testosterone from pre-competition levels."

The researchers take that a step further, suggesting that testosterone remains low to help members of a community work together and it rises to help defeat a threat from outside the community. Thus, they add, it may play a critical role in human interactions, even at the international level.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New Technique Could Detect Pancreatic Cancer Early

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Pancreatic cancer is a brutal and deadly disease. Fewer than five percent of patients who are diagnosed with it survive more than five years.

Doctors believe that early detection could increase survival rates. However, the disease has few symptoms that clearly warn patients they have the disease, and blood tests are not very effective at picking it up, detecting only 55 percent of pancreatic cancers.

A group of Japanese researchers has developed a new scientific technique that increases the chances of detecting early stage pancreatic cancers using a blood test.

They developed a technique that can help detect and differentiate cancerous cells from normal cells.

The researchers found that cancer cells produce molecules and proteins in different amounts than normal cells. Eventually, they came up with four molecules that, when observed together, are cancer indicators.

The new mathematical model could increase the odds of detecting early pancreatic cancer to four out of five patients.

This potential breakthrough discovery is still new, and is not widely available in hospital labs.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Predicting the Course of Alzheimer's

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cindi Braud remembers well the date when her husband, Jon Braud, 43, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease: May 29, 2009. For her, it was a devastating revelation. "The first year of his diagnosis, I literally called every single drug trial in this country," she said. "Everyone said, 'I am so sorry for his diagnosis, but he's too young for our study.'"

What they did learn from doctors was that Jon has a very rare form of Alzheimer's that is genetically transmitted. Parents have a 50-50 chance of passing the gene to any of their children. If children inherit the gene, they will invariably get the disease.

This form of Alzheimer's also develops much earlier; Jon's father died at 45 of the disease, and his grandmother died at 51.

Three years ago, Cindi Braud's search finally led her to a group studying precisely this form of Alzheimer's, and researchers are now following her husband, tracking his progression through the disease.

Thanks in large part to Alzheimer's patients like Jon Braud and their family members, researchers can study this form of the disease as part of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network, or DIAN. On Wednesday, Dr. Randall Bateman and his colleagues at Washington University-St. Louis School of Medicine reported the first data from this study in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, shedding new light on the timeline by which changes in the body of these patients occur, from the increase in abnormal proteins to abnormal brain scans, as well as mental dysfunction.

What this means is that now, for the first time, scientists and doctors have a clear picture of when different changes in the body come along, presenting tantalizing targets for drug research, which can be aimed at patients who have not yet developed symptoms.

Many Alzheimer's researchers say this is a big deal. ABC News heard from three dozen experts in the field; nearly half believed that the findings released today represent are landmark.

"[The new data] are significant in planning primary prevention trials, meaning starting a drug before any detectable disease [develops]," said Dr. Samuel Gandy, associate director at the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York.

Others were more circumspect. They pointed out that while this study represents important research, some of its findings had been presented before in other forms, although not with this level of clarity.

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Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor and head of the Division of Biological Psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine, stopped short of calling the study landmark. But he did say that he believed it would open the door to new ways of treating Alzheimer's and its progression.

"This represents incredible modeling of the baseline data," Doraiswamy said. "Everyone developing a diagnostic test in the Alzheimer's field is going to be poring over these results."

Dr. Anton Porsteinsson, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says that for experts in the field, the data released "brings together findings that up until now we have been patching together."

Nearly all the experts contacted pointed out that while the findings are valuable, the data comes with an important caveat: The overwhelming majority of patients with Alzheimer's disease have the sporadic form, which is not directly inherited in the same way the familial form is. But this terrible fact has one advantage for researchers: They can study patients they know will get Alzheimer's disease, long before they show symptoms.

Knowing that the gene is a guarantee for the disease and that it can be passed along to children presented Jon Braud and his wife with an awful dilemma. They'd been married two years before Jon was diagnosed, and were planning to have children until the devastating news hit. Cindi, a casino worker in Louisiana, said she was not willing to bet on the Alzheimer's fate of their children.

"When you play roulette, do you put money on red or black?" she asked, referring to the 50 percent chance that their children would have of developing the disease. "That's not a wager I want to make: a wager on a life."

Regardless of whether they agree that this single study represents a true landmark in Alzheimer's research, most experts agree that the DIAN registry has the potential to provide a previously unseen look into the profile and progression of a disease that has proved incredibly difficult to study since so many of the bodily changes happen long before a person displays any symptoms. Some even compared it to the Framingham study, a landmark effort begun in 1948 that has led to much of our current medical knowledge about heart disease and its risk factors.

It's this potential that seems most appealing to experts in the field, regardless of whether they believe the data released today represents a true landmark occurrence.

"The Bateman study is like discovering the first gold coin on a sunken ship that signals a huge treasure trove," Duke's Doraiswamy said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Study Provides Hope for Patients in 'Vegetative State'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA)-- New research using a portable electrode test suggests nearly 20 percent of those previously determined to be in a vegetative state may be consciously aware of their surroundings and even able to communicate through easily detectable brain signals.

The results, published Wednesday in Lancet, could offer some hope for many caregivers who face the complex decision to keep their loved ones in a vegetative state alive when they're awake but seemingly unaware.

"The assumption that they lack awareness is based on the assumption that there are no outward signs they are aware," said Adrian Owen, co-author of the study and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the University of Western Ontario.

Owen and his colleagues hooked 16 patients in a vegetative state to electroencephalography (EEG) machines and asked the patients to move their right hands and their toes, and repeated the test with 12 healthy patients.

The EEG showed brain activity in front part of the brain in three of the 16 patients -- the same area that showed activity in the healthy group -- which suggested they understood and responded to those commands.

The patients who responded varied so widely in their conditions that researchers said it's difficult to know what type of person may be more likely to display signs of consciousness. One of the patients who responded to the command had been in a vegetative state for nearly two years.

The test could potentially offer those who have been unresponsive but aware for many years a chance to express themselves, the researchers said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐


More Diversity Needed When Searching for Disease Genes

Comstock/Thinkstock(STANFORD, Calif.) -- It seems that a study is published almost every week that reports new gene variations associated with a particular disease such as a type of cancer, type 2 diabetes or autism.  But the Stanford University authors of an opinion piece, published in Nature present a potential problem:  96 percent of participants included in over 1,000 such studies are of European descent.  

Because considerable genetic differences can exist between people of differing descent, focusing on only one human population means that the benefits of personalized medicine and genetic understanding of disease are not likely to benefit many people who are most in need.  

The authors argue that "a biased picture will emerge of which [genetic] variants are important, and genomic medicine will largely benefit a privileged few." 

Therefore, they propose that scientific reviewers and granting bodies "must demand racial and ethnic diversity in genome studies" and that global genomic projects be supported by governments as well as non-profits.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Research Shows Stem Cells Can Replace Themselves

Science Photo Library / Getty Im(BALTIMORE) -- Nervous system stem cells can replace themselves and even amplify, according to a study conducted by a Johns Hopkins team.

The research, conducted on adult mice, shows that a lone brain cell can generate two new functional brain stem cells.

“If we can somehow cash in on this newly discovered property of stem cells in the brain, and find ways to intervene so they divide more, then we might actually increase their numbers instead of losing them over time, which is what normally happens, perhaps due to aging or diseases,” said Hongjun Song, Ph.D., director of the Stem Cell Program in the Institute for Cell Engineering, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Are Prison Medical Records a Source for Medical Discoveries?

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It sounds like something out of science fiction -- doctors using a cache of prisoner health records to produce medical breakthroughs for the betterment of society.  But it's not.

Medical researchers across the country are eager to sift through electronic health data in hope of finding future health benefits.

And in an effort to control rising health care costs in the federal prison system, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, in a 2010 audit, recommended a plan to maintain analytical health data on inmates.  And while there are privacy concerns, the hope is that the strategy that will improve prison health care.

"Electronic medical records have the potential to improve the quality of care in a prison system," David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project.

The recent push for more electronic medical records by Washington has made it feasible for researchers to get their hands on useful medical data.  The 2009 Recovery Act signed into law by President Obama included $25.8 billion in incentives for the health care industry to adopt electronic medical records.

In the past, health insurance companies did most of the widespread analysis relying on data gathered from claims filed in databases.  With records in paper form, the analysis could not be completed as fast and potential benefits went unclaimed.

Paper medical records in a prison are a problem, according to Fathi.  As prisoners are frequently moved from facility to facility, an inmate's medical history often follows at an excruciatingly slow pace.  A doctor without complete records could, for instance, give an inmate a medication to which he or she was allergic, causing a potentially fatal reaction.

Fathi said he hopes that an electronic system will help improve communication between prisons.

Meanwhile, a fight is brewing over whether mining medical data violates patients' privacy.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in April over whether a private company had a First Amendment right to sell data-mining results to pharmaceutical companies.  In that case, the company argued that data mining could help advance medical discoveries.  Opponents argued that the sale of information is a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality.

While current law does protect individual medical data from being released, "de-identified" medical data is currently unregulated.

When researchers want to use medical data from your doctor's chart, they will strip out such data as your ZIP code, last name or email, thus disassociating the medical data from the personal information -- and making it impossible, in theory, for a researcher or a report reader to identify individual patients.

Under current law the patient doesn't need to give consent to use their medical data in research as long as the data is de-identified.  The Department of Justice could gather medical data in the same way through the federal prison system.´╗┐

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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