Researchers Identify Alzheimer’s Gene Patterns

Scientists believe that they have discovered a possible explanation for how Alzheimer’s disease spreads in the brain, according to numerous media reports.

The Guardian newspaper has particularly picked up on this exciting study emanating from Cambridge University.

Researchers believe that gene patterns which are located in specific areas of the brain may help to explain why the disease tends to emanate in certain regions before later spreading.

Such patterns were located in the areas of healthy brains which were primed to produce certain proteins.

Scientists involved in the study believe that the natural defences on which the body relies become less able to prevent protein build-up as cells age, and this becomes apparent first in the areas most genetically primed for protein overgrowth.

While this is very much an embryonic theory, it is hoped in the future that it may be possible to target particularly vulnerable areas of the brain for Alzheimer’s treatment; thus making such efforts more efficient and effective.

The study was carried out by researchers from Cambridge University and received no specific funding.

It was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Science Advances, which requires a subscription in order to access.

This was an experimental study comparing data from healthy human brains against data about which regions of the brain are affected in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers used data relating to 500 samples of tissue from the post-mortems of six healthy human brains, all from people aged 24 to 57, none of whom had Alzheimer’s disease.

They analysed 19,700 genes to see which affected protein expression in the brain.

Researchers found that neurones were less likely to express genes protecting against protein build-up, and more likely to express genes promoting protein growth, compared with other brain cells.

When comparing brain maps, those regions of the brain in which tissues were more susceptible to protein expression correlated well with the brain regions that first show signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers commented on their results in the study.

“Our results identify a quantitative correlation between the histopathological staging of AD [Alzheimer’s disease] and the specific expression patterns of the genes corresponding to the proteins that coaggregate in plaques and tangles.”

Findings related to immune response suggest inflammation should also be considered important, indicating that, “the vulnerability of specific tissues in AD may result from the sum of a number of factors, including genetic control of protein exprssion, natural defences against protein overgrowth, and the response of the immune system.”

This research offers an intriguing insight into one possible factor contributing to Alzheimer’s, but does not demonstrate any way of recognising who will develop the condition.

Additionally, scientists have no knowledge regarding a suitable manipulation of gene expression.

It is not even known whether protein plaques and tangles actually cause Alzheimer’s disease.

So any cure or effective treatment for the debilitating condition remains a long way off.

What can be said is that the latest research sheds light on the complex conditions which contribute to Alzheimer’s vulnerability.

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Study Suggests Antidepressant Autism Link…But More Study Needed

A controversial study has suggested that taking antidepressants during pregnancy can have a serious impact on incidences of autism.

Researchers tracked just under 150,000 pregnancies and found the use of antidepressants in the second and / or third trimester of pregnancy was linked to an almost doubled risk of a child developing ASD.

The Daily Telegraph proclaimed that the study proved that “taking antidepressants during pregnancy almost doubles the risk of children developing autism”.

Yet although the study was well designed and its findings are interesting, it is something of a stretch to suggest that it proves that drugs were causing ASD.

The study was carried out by researchers from universities in Canada, and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Quebec Training Network in Perinatal Research.

It was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.

And it has certainly generated headlines in the press, with the NHS acknowledging that the reporting of the study was both accurate and responsible.

Yet health experts have suggested that the press has been guilty of jumping to hasty conclusions.

The study’s authors explain that the association between the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and the risk of ASD in childhood is controversial, partly because the causes of ASD itself are unclear.

Thus, the NHS assertst that “on this case, antidepressant use isn’t the cause of the link, it’s merely a symptom of something else.”

Researchers conducting the study analysed the Quebec Pregnancy/Children Cohort, which included data on all pregnancies and children in Quebec from January 1 1998 to December 31 2009.

Ultimately, they acquired a sample of 145,456 full-term single babies born to mothers covered by medical insurance.

It is suggested that the sample size was insufficient to draw broad conclusions.

Additionally, it is important to note that genetic factors could have had a massive influence over the results of this study.

Underlying genetics may predispose a mother to depression and use of antidepressants, and make it more likely for the infant to develop ASD.

It has also been suggested that mothers prescribed antidepressants during the second and third trimester of pregnancy may be more vulnerable to conceiving a child with ASD for reasons that are not yet fully understood.

The study certainly establishes an interesting and significant correlation, but causality cannot be asserted at this time.

There are around 700,000 people in the UK with autism, and it is often suggested that autism touches the lives of 2.8 million people in the UK every day; over 4 per cent of the UK population.

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Men More Likely to Die from Diabetes According to Research

New research indicates that men are significantly more likely to die from diabetes than women.

The study in question indicated that male pride will tend to stop them from making the lifestyle changes required to combat the debilitating condition.

Research published in the journal Diabetologia by Dr Marlene Krag, of the University of Copenhagen, discovered that men were considerably less likely to sign up for personally tailored care.

Data collected by the Danish researchers indicated that women who were provided structured personal care where around 30 per cent less likely to die of any diabetes-related cause.

“Structured personal diabetes care could provide women with significant attention and support and thus provide an incentive to treatment adherence,” the authors of the report observed.

The report went on to observe that masculinity can be a major problem in the treatment of diabetes.

“Women accept disease and implement disease management more easily, which might affect long-term outcomes. Masculinity may be challenged by diabetes, demanding daily consideration and lifestyle changes. The structures approach could conflict with men’s tendency to trust self-directed learning instead of self-management.”

In attempting to address the problem, the authors suggested that further study was required, and that the results could be explained by a complex matrix of social and cultural issues.

“We propose that the improved outcomes in woman may be explained by complex social and cultural issues of gender. There is a need to further explore the gender-specific effects of major intervention trials in order to rethink the way we provide medical care to both men and women, so that both sexes benefit from intensified treatment efforts.”

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen assessed the impact of a trial that was held in Denmark between 1989 and 1995.

During this period, tailored treatments were offered to both male and female patients, while a control group was also tested in order to provide accurate results.

Authors then followed the same participants through until 2008.

The results of this study will be considered particularly important owing to the diabetes epidemic which is now spreading worldwide.

It was reported that just this week that almost half of 45-year-olds will develop so-called prediabetes, an elevated blood sugar level that often precedes diabetes, according to a large study from The Netherlands using population estimates.

And the number of people suffering with type two diabetes in the United Kingdom has increased exponentially in recent years.

Considering the scale of the problem, it should be considered essential for adults to seek assistance when they are diagnosed with prediabetes, along with health professionals to understand the scope of the issue.

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Physical Fitness Can Promote ‘Youthful’ Brain According to Research

Scientists at the University of Tsukuba in Japan have suggested that physical fitness can have an unexpected influence over brain capacity.

Researchers found that fitter men are able to access areas of the brain that are more associated with youth.

Thus, effectively increasing physical fitness can literally lead to a younger brain.

The study suggested that the left-side of the brain, which typically deals with short-term memory and the meaning of words, is used frequently in our younger years.

By contrast, the right-side of the brain becomes more favoured as we become older.

And scientists conducting the experiment found that fitter men were more able to utilise the youth- like, task-related sector of the brain.

Professor Hideaki Soya, one of the leading scientists in the study, suggested that white matter that connects the two sides of the brain retain better condition if someone is physically fitter.

“One possible explanation suggested by the research is that the volume and integrity of the white matter in the part of brain that links the two sides declines with age,” Soya stated.

The professor continued by commenting that the results of the survey are significant, but also emphasised that corroborative study will be required in order to determine the validity of its outcome.

“There is some evidence to support the theory that fitter adults are able to better maintain this white matter than less fit adults, but further study is needed to confirm this theory,” Soya explained.

A fairly small sample size of men aged between 64 and 75 years were showed a series of coloured cards during the experiment.

In order to confuse the brains of participants, the word of a different colour was written on top. Their ability to say the colour they can see, and not the word they can read, is the Stroop test of brain-function speed.

Participant fitness was also measured by documenting the level of oxygen present in the blood.

It was found that those with superior aerobic fitness consistently had shorter reaction times, leading researchers in the study to suggest that this may reflect more youthful brain structure.

Although the results of the study were certainly interesting, it is also important to note that no women were involved in the experiment, and thus it is not clear whether physical fitness can increase mental agility across both genders.

Typically the ability to complete the Stroop test accurately diminishes with age, but this research suggests that older people can engage in behaviours in order to improve their mental agility.

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Study Identifies Heart Disease Gene in Women

A new study has seemingly identified a gene that puts women at a higher risk of heart disease.

The results of the study could have a significant influence on treating the deadly condition in the future.

Coronary heart disease results from blockages or interruptions to the heart’s supply due to fatty substances, and this has generally been attributed to behavioural reasons.

Factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes can increase the risk of suffering from heart disease.

The condition is one of the biggest killers in Britain, with NHS figures suggesting that heart disease is responsible for over 73,000 deaths annually.

With such an obvious incentive to tackle the problem, a team of researchers from University College London decided to investigate heart disease further.

In particular, scientists examined the relationship between heart disease and the female anatomy.

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation, and involved the analysis of data from five separate European research projects.

Over 4,000 cases were involved in the report, with both male and female subjects assessed.

Researchers compared the participants’ genes, health of their blood vessels and the thickness of key arteries.

And by engaging in this process, the scientists ultimately found a version of a gene that was linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and diseased blood vessels in women.

It is believed that this gene could be involved in the process of encouraging the mass migration of cells into blood vessel walls.

This process wouldn’t make them thicker, and thus increase the risk of blockages that ultimately lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Commenting on the important findings of this research, Freya Boardman-Pretty pointed out that it is important to understand this issue from a gender perspective.

“We’ve known for a long time that risk factors for heart disease are different for men and women. This gene effect seen only in women, could be contributing to this difference, although we expect there are a lot of other factors at play,” Boardman-Pretty commented.

Boardman-Pretty struck a hopeful note regarding the findings of the study.

“If we can confirm that this gene is involved, and work out exactly how it leads to an increased risk of heart disease in women, it could become a new target for drugs in the future.”

Speaking about heart disease, Shannon Amoils from the British Heart Foundation added: “It is imperative that everyone takes steps to prevent it. Women can reduce their risk by not smoking, getting regular physical exercise and eating healthily.”

Despite the undoubted threat that heart disease poses, the number of people dying from the condition has actually fallen significantly in the last few decades.

Since 1961, the number of people dying from cardiovascular related illnesses has fallen by more than half.

Yet there are still an estimated 7 million people in the UK currently living with cardiovascular disease.

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New Collaborative Study to Seek Obesity Solutions

A study commissioned by Public Health England will examine the obesity epidemic in Britain with the intention of finding lasting solutions.

In particular, researchers at Leeds Beckett University will investigate the best way for local authorities to tackle this growing problem.

Public Health England has worked in collaboration with the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Public Health Germany, and with colleagues in local government organisations in commissioning this program.

All of the groups involved will attempt to identify methods that local authorities can use in order to create a holistic approach to tackle obesity.

The program has been funded by Public Health England, and will run over a three-year period.

It is hoped that a cohesive and co-ordinated approach will be developed by experts at the Leeds-based university.

Previous research has indicated that a whole systems approach is essential in addressing the obesity epidemic.

Central to this will be linking a whole range of sectors and influences including planning, housing, transport, children’s and adult’s services, business and health.

By attempting to implement this scheme at the local level, it is hoped that local authorities across the country will be able to make significant inroads into the obesity battle.

Although there are obvious health benefits to winning this particular struggle, it is also suggested that tackling obesity effectively can improve quality of life, save money for local authorities, and even contribute to sustained prosperity for regions across the country.

The Leeds Beckett’s team will work closely alongside a number of pilot local authorities to understand their perspectives and the realities for local government.

Capturing best practice, the importance of collaborative working, and the co-ordination  of new and innovative approaches to obesity will all be floated as part of the overarching scheme.

Researchers at the university will be carrying out a systematic review of research evidence on the subject of obesity, while also gathering experience of dealing with the problem from across the world, thus gathering a raft of good practice case studies.

The Leeds Beckett team and the pilot local authorities will then create a process and develop a roadmap and practical strategies for local authorities to apply in practice, in order to address the current high levels of obesity.

Speaking about the programme, Pinki Sahota, Professor of Nutrition & Childhood Obesity at Leeds Beckett, outlined its importance.

“Obesity is a major global health crisis and tackling obesity is a complex and multifaceted problem. Local Authorities are investing great efforts into tackling these issues but clearly they are enthusiastic to do more and gain the benefits that come from a healthier population. 

“All the evidence shows that if we can link together many of the influencing factors on obesity by coordinating action and integration across multiple sectors, including health, social care, planning, housing, transport and business, then we can bring about major change to combatting obesity, making better use of resources and improving wellbeing and prosperity,” Sahota asserted.

The Health Survey for England indicated recently that 62.1 percent of UK adults are overweight or obese (67.1 percent of men and 57.2 percent of women).

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Study Suggests UK is World Beater in End of Life Care

The quality of end of life care in the United Kingdom has been ranked as the very best in the world in a recent study.

A report conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit was hugely complimentary regarding the quality and availability of such services within the UK.

The study examined 80 countries worldwide, and particularly praised the NHS and hospice movement within the UK, describing the quality of care in the country as “second to none”.

As would perhaps be expected, developed economies generally performed well in the study.

Australia and New Zealand ranked second and third in the report, but there was also some encouraging news for developing economies and the third world.

The Economist Intelligence Unit found that the quality of care in some of the poorest nations on the planet had improved considerably, with African nations ranking surprisingly highly in the study.

Mongolia was rated as highly as 28th by the Economist Intelligence Unit, with its investment in hospice facilities considered particularly important.

Meanwhile, Uganda, ranked 35th in the report, has managed to improve access to pain control through a public-private partnership.

Rankings in the study were calculated by utilising assessments of the quality of hospitals and hospice environments.

In particular, the Economist Intelligence Unit assessed  staffing numbers and skills, affordability of care and quality of care.

And although the results related to Britain were encouraging, the overall picture was rather disturbing for the quality of end of life care worldwide.

Less than 50 per cent of the countries survey provided what the report classed as a good end of life care, with only 34 of the 80 countries reported on considered to be adequate.

Not only was this a relatively paltry number in terms of total nations, but the percentage of the global population that they represented was even smaller.

The 34 nations considered to be good in terms of end of life care only accounted for approximately 15 per cent of the adult population.

Yet despite the relatively poor level of end of life care indicated by the study, the report in fact suggested that this aspect of healthcare is becoming increasingly important.

An ageing population ensures that people around the world are increasingly facing “drawn-out” deaths.

Already there have been a demographic problems with greying populations in such countries as Japan and Germany, and this trend is expected to accelerate and encompass the rest of the developed world in the coming decades.

Report author Annie Pannelay praise the quality of end of life care in the UK, but also suggested that there is still room for improvement.

“The UK is an acknowledged leader in palliative care. That reflects its comprehensive strategy towards the issue as well as the improvements that are being made. But there is more that the UK could do to stay at the forefront of palliative care standards, such as ironing out occasional problems with communication or symptom control,” Pannelay commented.

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Study Suggests Musculoskeletal Burden to Grow in the UK

A study entitled the Global Burden of Disease provides some interesting insights for the nation of England and NHS England as an organisation, according to the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (AMA).

And data published in The Lancet this week further underlines this critical issue.

The study highlights what has been described as “a huge opportunity for preventive public health”.

But it also paints a picture of musculoskeletal disorders remaining a serious problem, suggesting that this issue is under-prioritised when the enormous and growing burden of the problem is taken into consideration.

The AMA has particularly highlighted the problems illustrated by the Global Burden of Disease, and called for significant action within the United Kingdom.

Produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study is the largest and most comprehensive effort to date to measure epidemiological levels and trends worldwide.

The survey highlights that developed economies and nations such as the UK face a growing burden of disability, with larger numbers of residents living longer with increasingly long-term conditions.

Among the conditions of this nature identified by the study, musculoskeletal disorders are by far the single largest cause.

If this global survey wasn’t strong enough evidence in itself, then new data applied specifically to England that has been published in The Lancet journal brings the subject into sharper focus.

The data suggests that health services in England must do more to tackle conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders.

It is particularly suggested that integrated models of care and a sharply more preventative approach would be particularly effective.

Musculoskeletal disorders affect as many as ten million people across the United Kingdom, and have a massive impact on the NHS budget.

It is suggested by The Lancet study that muscular disorders are the fourth highest subject of spending in the NHS, accounting for £5 billion annually.

Additionally, muscular disorders impose a significant workload on staff within the NHS, yet are not being dealt with efficiently.

The Lancet study suggests that 40 per cent of the current NHS burden related to muscular disorders can be attributed to potentially preventable risk factors.

Findings from the study indicate that treatment for musculoskeletal diseases within the UK tends to be based on “incomplete data at subnational level, and the level of inequality for many disorders is likely to be underestimated.”

And the study also suggests that there is insufficient strategic provision for muscular disorders within the NHS, despite the evidence that such complaints are increasing.

Prof Anthony Woolf, Chair of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA) and co-author of the study, suggested that the evidence indicated that a change of tack and organisation related to the issue is essential.

“The new…evidence published in The Lancet paints a familiar and compelling picture which requires us to take stock of where resources need to be invested in order to successfully meet the challenges not just of tomorrow, but of today. This means a better understanding of the risk factors behind the growing burden of disability in this country, and a greater emphasis on tackling some of the major causes of this through a more joined-up and preventive approach. [Musculoskeletal] disorders in particular must not be an afterthought but must constitute a central focus for national and local strategies aimed at improving health and well-being across the board,” Woolf stated.

Dr. Liam O’Toole, chief executive of charity Arthritis Research UK, added: “Today’s study provides conclusive evidence that for too long, the needs of the millions of people in the UK living with neck, back pain and osteoarthritis have been ignored. This is an issue that will not go away.”

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