December 6, 2008, 4:43 PM CT
A book of common prayers
In times of economic distress and plenty, ninety percent of Americans pray, more than half of us once a day or more. We pray for big things-to stay healthy, to keep our jobs, and to strengthen our relationships. And we pray for small things-to find parking spaces and missing items. Some of us are sure God exists and others pray simply to cover the bases.
A novel Brandeis study reported in the current issue of Poetics analyzed 683 prayers written in a public prayer book placed in the rotunda of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital between 1999 and 2005. The study observed that prayer writers seek general strength, support, and blessing from their prayers, rather than explicit solutions to life's difficult situations, and, more often than not, frame their prayers broadly enough to allow multiple outcomes to be interpreted as evidence of their prayers being answered.
Lead author Wendy Cadge, a sociologist, observed that the prayers fell into one of three categories: about 28 percent of the prayers were requests of God, while 28 percent were prayers to both thank and petition God, while another 22 percent of the prayers thanked God.
The study sheds light on the psychology of the people behind the prayers. Most writers anthropomorphized God, addressing God as they would a relative, friend, or parent, preferring familiarity over deference. "Most prayer writers imagine a God who is accessible, listening, and a source of emotional and psychological support, who at least sometimes answers back," says Cadge.........
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December 6, 2008, 4:32 PM CT
A little wine boosts omega-3 in the body
Results from the European study IMMIDIET show that moderate wine intake is linked to higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids considered as protective against coronary heart disease.
Moderate alcohol intake is linked to higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells. This is the major finding of the European study IMMIDIET that would be reported in the recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an official publication of the American Society for Nutrition and is already available on line (www.ajcn.org ). The study suggests that wine does better than other alcoholic drinks. This effect could be ascribed to compounds other than alcohol itself, representing a key to understand the mechanism lying behind the heart protection observed in moderate wine drinkers.
The IMMIDIET study examined 1,604 citizens from three geographical areas: south-west London in England, Limburg in Belgium and Abruzzo in Italy. Thanks to a close cooperation with General Practitioners of these areas, all participants underwent a comprehensive medical examination, including a one year recall food frequency questionnaire to assess their dietary intake, alcohol consumption included.
Omega-3 fatty acids, mainly derived from fish, are considered as protective against coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death, thus their high blood concentration is definitely good for our health.........
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December 6, 2008, 4:12 PM CT
Insight on wonder of cell division
A photomicrograph made using fluorescent light microscopy shows a one-cell stage Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) embryo undergoing cell division. Microtubules (green) are rigid protein polymers that organize, capture and move chromosomes (blue) made up of DNA. Chromosomes are in two groups, which are being pulled by microtubules towards opposite poles of the bipolar spindle. The microfilament cytoskeleton (red) is at the cell cortex just underneath the cell membrane. These longer, more flexible protein polymers must be organized into a "cleavage furrow" that pulls a circumferential ring of the cell surface into the center of the cell, ultimately dividing the single parent cell into two daughter cells at the end of cell division -- each with one complete set of chromosomes and genes. The organization and constriction of the cleavage furrow happens slightly later.
Credit: Courtesy of Bruce Bowerman
Biologists have discovered a mechanism that is critical to cytokinesis -- nature's completion of mitosis, where a cell divides into two identical daughter cells.
The scientists have opened a new window on the assembly and activity of a ring of actin and myosin filaments that contract to pinch a cell at just the right time. They focused on key proteins whose roles drive signaling mechanisms that promote the production of both linear and branching microfilaments along the inside surface membrane of a dividing cell. By down-regulating the production of branched microfilaments at the right time, the membrane may be more malleable and better able to pinch inward and complete cytokinesis.
The findings-- detailed in the Dec. 5 issue of the journal Science
-- come from basic research using Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) embryos. The discovery provides more basic insight than immediate biomedical application, but the implications could lead to a fine-tuning of anti-cancer drug therapies or to isolating new targets for drugs to stop malignant cell division, said Bruce Bowerman, professor of biology in the University of Oregon's Institute for Molecular Biology.
Bowerman and Karen Oegema of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California, San Diego, were principal researchers of a seven-member team funded by the National Institutes of Health.........
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December 6, 2008, 4:10 PM CT
Spreading the joy around
A laugh can be infectious. You don't need a sophisticated study to tell you that. But does this happy contagion vanish as quickly as a smile?
New research from James Fowler of UC San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School shows that happiness spreads far and wide through a social network traveling not just the well-known path from one person to another but even to people up to three degrees removed.
This holiday season, during gloomy economic times which, if things get dire enough, might be called a "depression" it is heartening to know, said Fowler, that "happiness spreads more robustly than unhappiness" and seems to have a greater effect than money.
The study is being reported in the British Medical Journal
"Researchers have been interested in happiness for a long time," said Fowler. "They've studied the effect of everything from winning the lottery to losing your job to getting sick, but they never before considered the full effect of other people. We show that happiness can spread from person to person to person in a chain reaction through social networks".
"One of the key determinants of human happiness is the happiness of others," said Christakis. "An innovative feature of our work was exploring the idea that emotions are a collective phenomenon and not just an individual one".........
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December 6, 2008, 4:01 PM CT
Secondhand smoke raises odds of fertility problems
If you need another reason to quit smoking, consider that it may diminish your chances of being a parent or grandparent. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have observed that women exposed to second hand smoke, either as adults or children, were significantly more likely to face fertility problems and suffer miscarriages.
An epidemiologic analysis of more than 4,800 non-smoking women showed those who were exposed to second hand smoke six or more hours per day as children and adults faced a 68 percent greater chance of having difficulty getting pregnant and suffering one or more miscarriages. The study is published online in Tobacco Control
and is one of the first publications to demonstrate the lasting effects of second hand smoke exposure on women during childbearing years.
"These statistics are breathtaking and certainly points to yet another danger of second hand smoke exposure," said Luke J. Peppone, Ph.D., research assistant professor at Rochester's James P. Wilmot Cancer Center.
In the study, four out of five women reported exposure to second hand smoke during their lifetime. Half of the women grew up in a home with smoking parents and nearly two-thirds of them were exposed to some second hand smoking at the time of the survey.........
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December 6, 2008, 3:54 PM CT
Maintaining the brain's wiring in aging and disease
Scientists at the Babraham Institute near Cambridge, supported by the Alzheimer's Research Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have discovered that the brain's circuitry survives longer than previously thought in diseases of ageing such as Alzheimer's disease. The findings were published recently in the journal Brain
Alzheimer's disease causes nerve cells in the brain to die, resulting in problems with memory, speech and understanding. Little is known about how the nerve cells die, but this new research has revealed how they first lose the ability to communicate with each other, before deteriorating further.
"We've all experienced how useless a computer is without broadband. The same is true for a nerve cell (neuron) in the brain whose wiring (axons and dendrites) has been lost or damaged," explained Dr Michael Coleman the project's lead researcher. "Once the routes of communication are permanently down, the neuron will never again contribute to learning and memory, because these 'wires' do not re-grow in the human brain." .
But axons and dendrites are much more than inert fibre-optic wires. They are homes to the world's smallest transport tracks. Every one of our hundred billion nerve cells continuously shuttles hundreds of proteins and intracellular packages out along its axons and dendrites, and back again, during every minute of every day. Without this process, the wires cannot be maintained and the nervous system will cease to function within a few hours.........
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December 6, 2008, 3:49 PM CT
First international conference on inflammatory breast cancer
Massimo Cristofanilli, M.D., associate professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Breast Medical Oncology and Director of the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic.
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center will hold the first international inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) conference on December 6-7, to bring together internationally recognized breast cancer clinicians and scientists.
Participants will present new clinical discoveries and participate in educational workshops, with the goal of improving diagnosis and management of this rare but deadly disease.
During the conference, the new IBC International Consortium will be formalized to develop joint international projects aimed at raising global awareness, increasing education and seeking funding to study the disease. The Consortium will consist of participants from ten countries, including: Australia, Belgium, Egypt, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Among its first projects, the Consortium plans to establish a database of IBC cases that will include a tissue and serum bank.
"We are assembling scientists from around the world who are passionate about advancing progress against this disease," says Massimo Cristofanilli, M.D., associate professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Breast Medical Oncology and Director of the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic. "This is the first conference dedicated exclusively to exchanging knowledge and discussing the complexities of IBC. Our goal is to step up the pace of research and education - ultimately saving women's lives."........
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December 6, 2008, 3:46 PM CT
Improving patient outcomes in several platelet disorders
Four studies that highlight significant advances in therapy and survival outcomes for patients with various forms of thrombocytopenia, a group of bleeding disorders characterized by a low number of platelets in the blood, will be presented in a press conference on Saturday, December 6, at 8:00 a.m., during the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Francisco, CA. The studies featured in the press conference will report on a new combination treatment for previously untreated idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), an investigational oral therapy for chronic ITP, a low-dose platelet transfusion strategy for patients with hypoproliferative thrombocytopenia, and a new therapeutic platelet transfusion approach following high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation.
"We have some very exciting data on novel therapeutic approaches to minimize bleeding episodes in patients with platelet disorders," said press conference moderator Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, 2008 President of the American Society of Hematology and Helen M. Ranney Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. "The results of these studies will likely transform the way hematologists treat and manage these conditions, ultimately resulting in improvements in overall patient outcomes such as reducing bruising and unnecessary bleeding that can result if left untreated."........
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December 4, 2008, 7:44 PM CT
Gene packaging tells story of cancer development
To decipher how cancer develops, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers say scientists must take a closer look at the packaging.
Specifically, their findings in the December 2, 2008, issue of PLoS Biology
point to the three dimensional chromatin packaging around genes formed by tight, rosette-like loops of Polycomb group proteins (PcG). The chromatin packaging, a complex combination of DNA and proteins that compress DNA to fit inside cells, provides a repressive hub that keeps genes in a low expression state.
"We think the polycomb proteins combine with abnormal DNA methylation of genes to deactivate tumor suppressor genes and lock cancer cells in a primitive state," says Stephen B. Baylin, M.D., Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor of Oncology and senior author.
Previous to this discovery, researchers studying cancer genes, looked at gene silencing as a linear process across the DNA, as if genes were flat, one dimensional objects. Research did not take into account the way genes are packaged.
To better understand the role of the PcG packaging, the team compared embryonic cells to adult colon cancer cells. The gene studied in the embryonic cells was packaged by PcG proteins, in a low expression state, and had no DNA methylation. When the gene received signals for cells to mature, the PcG loops were disrupted and the gene was highly expressed. However, when the same gene was abnormally DNA methylated, as is the case in adult, mature colon cancer cells, the PcG packaging loops were tighter and there was no gene expression. "These tight loops touch and interact with a number of gene sites folding it into a structure that shuts off tumor suppressor genes," says Baylin. However, when the scientists removed DNA methylation from the cancer cells, the loops loosened somewhat, back to the state of an embryonic cell, and some gene expression was restored.........
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December 4, 2008, 5:30 AM CT
Pediatric obesity may alter thyroid function
In addition to its strong associations with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, pediatric obesity may induce alterations in thyroid function and structure, as per a new study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
Thyroid hormones drive metabolism, however demonstration of a direct or strong correlation of obesity with deficient thyroid function has been controversial, and prior studies provide conflicting conclusions. While some studies have observed that thyroid disorders may lead to obesity, this recent study shows that in some cases, it is the obesity that may cause the disorder.
"Our study shows that alterations in thyroid function and structure are common in obese children and we may have uncovered the link," said Giorgio Radetti, M.D., of the Regional Hospital of Bolzano in Italy and lead author of the study. "We found an association between body mass index and thyroid hormone levels which suggests that fat excess may have a role in thyroid tissue modification".
This study reviewed 186 overweight and obese children over a period of nearly three years. Scientists measured subjects' thyroid hormone levels and thyroid antibodies and also performed a thyroid ultrasound.........
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