Archive | October 2012

Limit children’s screen time, expert urges

The amount of time children spend in front of screens should be curbed to stave off development and health problems, an expert says.Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman says children of all ages are watching more screen media than ever, and starting earlier.The average 10-year-old has access to five different screens at home, he says.

And some are becoming addicted to them or depressed as a result, he warns.


Writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr Sigman says a child born today will have spent a full year glued to screens by the time they reach the age of seven.

He adds: “In addition to the main family television, for example, many very young children have their own bedroom TV along with portable hand-held computer game consoles (eg, Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox), smartphone with games, internet and video, a family computer and a laptop and/or a tablet computer (eg iPad).

“Children routinely engage in two or more forms of screen viewing at the same time, such as TV and laptop.”


‘Facebook depression’

British teenagers are clocking up six hours of screen time a day, but research suggests the negative impacts start after two hours’ viewing time.

Dr Sigman cites from a string of published studies suggesting links between prolonged screen time and conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.But he suggests the effects go further than those simply associated with being sedentary for long periods.

He says prolonged screen time can lead to reductions in attention span because of its effects on the brain chemical dopamine.


Dopamine is produced in response to “screen novelty”, says Dr Sigman.It is a key component of the brain’s reward system and implicated in addictive behaviour and the inability to pay attention.


“Screen ‘addiction’ is increasingly being used by physicians to describe the growing number of children engaging in screen activities in a dependent manner,” Dr Sigman says.


‘Reduce screen time’

And there are other psychosocial problems associated with excess screen time. These include “Facebook depression”, reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which develops when young people spend too much time on social media sites and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.

Dr Sigman says: “Perhaps because screen time is not a dangerous substance or a visibly risky activity, it has eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract.”


He says there are many questions remaining about the precise nature of the association between screen time and adverse outcomes, but adds: “The advice from a growing number of both researchers and medical associations and government departments elsewhere is becoming unequivocal – reduce screen time.”

Developmental psychopathology expert Prof Lynne Murray, of the University of Reading, said: “There is a well-established literature showing the adverse effects of screen experience on the cognitive development of children under three, and the US Paediatric Association for example has recommended no screen time before this age.


“If children do watch, however, adverse effects are mitigated by watching with a supportive partner – usually adult , who can scaffold and support the child’s experience, and by watching more familiar material.


“A lot of screen material is not well designed for a child’s cognitive processes, eg loud, fast changing stimulation – this is attention grabbing, but does not help processing.”


US scientists aim to make human sperm from stem cells


US researchers say they will redouble their efforts to create human sperm from stem cells following the success of a Japanese study involving mice.A Kyoto University team used mice stem cells to create eggs, which were fertilised to produce baby mice.

Dr Renee Pera, of Stanford University in California, aims to create human sperm to use for reproduction within two years, and eggs within five years.Infertility affects up to 15% of reproductive-aged couples worldwide.


“I know people think it’s Frankenstein medicine, but I think it’s not an imagined or lessened health problem – infertility affects your whole life,” Dr Pera says.


“To have sex and have a baby would be a super simple decision, but not everybody can do it.”


But using embryonic stem cells for research – as Dr Pera’s lab at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine does – is controversial because the embryos are destroyed in order to use them.Dr Pera’s lab uses embryos left over from IVF treatments.


Laboratory generation?

Stem cells have the potential to grow into any cell in the body. Creating eggs in a lab could become mainstream, much like IVF is viewed today.

Dr Pera says there are about one million or 1.5 million embryos made each year in America using IVF – and about 500,000 of those embryos are discarded. About 500 of those embryos are used for research, she said.


“And people worry about those 500 instead of the 500,000 discarded,” Dr Pera says.


The Japanese study marks the first time a mammal has been created from stem cells. It is being hailed as the Holy Grail of reproductive stem cell research.The researchers at Kyoto University say they have demonstrated how to grow eggs and sperm in a lab and combine them to produce seemingly healthy offspring.

“We are reinvigorated again. It seems that something every two years comes out that gets everyone reinvigorated,” Dr Pera said of the Japanese study.


“We’ve been mostly working on the human system to do the same things – to make mature eggs and mature sperm in a dish.”


Pregnancy age limits

By creating sperm and eggs from embryonic stem cells, scientists hope to better understand the reproductive process and embryos.Clinically, this could eventually give new options to infertile couples who want to have biological children.

Dr Pera’s lab has successfully made “primitive” sperm and eggs in the past, but have not yet mastered creating cells good enough to actually use in human reproduction.


“The cells have some errors. When you think about stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, most applications are about making large batches or large sets of cells for, say, cardiac repair,” she says.


“Here, we are trying to make one cell that’s perfect.


“One mistake in a genome can lead to devastating disease in a child. And so I would guess if we were not so careful we could inject the cells we make into an egg and see what happens.


“But you can do that in mice. You can’t do that in women.”

If successful, the technology could significantly wind back the time on a woman’s biological clock.That is great news for many women who have put off having babies to pursue careers and for women who cannot get pregnant due to cancer treatments.But it raises a slew of new ethical issues: who would decide when a woman is too old to become pregnant?

“That is one of the major worries of technologies like this – what age should women be allowed to reproduce,” Dr Pera says.

“In most countries there is an age limit – mainly based on health of being able to carry a pregnancy. It can be dangerous to the heart. It’s hard to carry a baby.”

Autistic Children Are More Likely To Run Away




A new study from the US finds that nearly half of children with autism wander off or run away, often placing themselves in danger. An analysis of responses from parents surveyed by the nation’s largest online autism research project, shows children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are four times more likely to “elope” than their unaffected brothers or sisters.

Researchers from the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), a project of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, write about their findings in a paper expected to appear online (Epub ahead of print) in the journal Pediatrics on 8 October.Paul Law is director of the IAN project and senior author of the paper. He says in a press statement:

“Since the launch of IAN, we have heard from families of children with autism that their children often place themselves in danger by wandering or eloping.”

“These are the first published findings in the US that provide an estimate of the number of children with ASD who not only wander or elope, but go missing long enough to cause real concern,” he adds.

Law and colleagues found the places children most often wandered off or ran away from were their home or someone else’s, a store, or from school. And some children had tried to elope several times a day.In an attempt to explain the reasons why running away behavior appears to be more common in children with ASD, Law says in a comment reported by Reuters that “it’s rooted in the very nature of autism itself”.Examples parents gave as reasons for children running away included a desire to satisfy curiosity or explore, to find an enjoyable place, and to get out of a stressful or uncomfortable situation. Law says kids with ASD don’t have the social skills to check in with their parents first before they run off.

What the Researchers Did

For their study, the researchers used online questionnaire responses from parents of 1,218 children with ASD and 1,076 unaffected siblings.The main figure they were looking for was how many children had shown elopement or wandering off tendencies starting at age 4, when such behavior is not typical.Another figure they were interested in was how many children had gone missing long enough to cause concern. Such cases were classed as “missing”, whereas those who had not yet come into this category were classed as “non-missing”.Then, from responses to questions about stress, the researchers tried to link up elopement characteristics to measures of family stress.

What They Found

The researchers found that in this sample, from age 4 onwards, 49% of children with ASD had tried to elope or run away at least once. And of these, 53% went missing long enough to cause concern.In the age range 4 to 7 years, the researchers found 46% of children with ASD had eloped or run away, and this was four times the rate of their unaffected brothers or sisters.In the age range 8 to 11 years, 27% of children with ASD had eloped, compared with only 1% of their unaffected siblings.

From what the parents said, the researchers suggest the age at which most attempts to elope takes place is around 5.4 years, and when asked about “the worst year ever”, 29% of parents said their child had tried to elope several times a day, with another 35 saying it happened at least once a week.Close calls with traffic injury were reported in 65% of the missing children, and close calls with drowning were reported in 24%.Elopement appeared to be goal-oriented: the children had a reason in mind for going somewhere or doing something.

Over half (56%) of parents said elopement was one of the most stressful behaviors they had to cope with in caring for a child with ASD. 50% of them said they had received no help or guidance on how to deal with this behavior.On average, children went missing for 41.5 minutes.When their child went missing, the most common thing parents said they did was get in touch with neighbours (57%). Calling the police (35%), calling the school (30%) and staff in the store (26%) were the next most common.


Law says they hope their findings will “inform families, physicians, educators and first responders of the real consequences of elopement”.

“Parents often fear being viewed as neglectful when their children leave from safe places. This study demonstrates that we urgently need interventions to address elopement and provide support to affected families,” he urges.He and his co-researchers suggest more studies should be done to find out if there are different types of elopement, each requiring a different approach to preventing it. The more we understand this tendency, the more chance of finding ways to help parents cope with this extremely stressful behavior, they say.(Medical News Today)

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 Awarded for Discovery That Mature Cells Can Be Reprogrammed to Become Pluripotent

he Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has decided to award The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 jointly to John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.

The Nobel Prize recognizes two scientists who discovered that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body. Their findings have revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop.

John B. Gurdon discovered in 1962 that the specialisation of cells is reversible. In a classic experiment, he replaced the immature cell nucleus in an egg cell of a frog with the nucleus from a mature intestinal cell. This modified egg cell developed into a normal tadpole. The DNA of the mature cell still had all the information needed to develop all cells in the frog.

Shinya Yamanaka discovered more than 40 years later, in 2006, how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. Surprisingly, by introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, i.e. immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body.

These groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialisation. We now understand that the mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialised state. Textbooks have been rewritten and new research fields have been established. By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy.

Life — a journey towards increasing specialisation

All of us developed from fertilized egg cells. During the first days after conception, the embryo consists of immature cells, each of which is capable of developing into all the cell types that form the adult organism. Such cells are called pluripotent stem cells. With further development of the embryo, these cells give rise to nerve cells, muscle cells, liver cells and all other cell types — each of them specialised to carry out a specific task in the adult body. This journey from immature to specialised cell was previously considered to be unidirectional. It was thought that the cell changes in such a way during maturation that it would no longer be possible for it to return to an immature, pluripotent stage.

Frogs jump backwards in development

John B. Gurdon challenged the dogma that the specialised cell is irreversibly committed to its fate. He hypothesised that its genome might still contain all the information needed to drive its development into all the different cell types of an organism. In 1962, he tested this hypothesis by replacing the cell nucleus of a frog’s egg cell with a nucleus from a mature, specialised cell derived from the intestine of a tadpole. The egg developed into a fully functional, cloned tadpole and subsequent repeats of the experiment yielded adult frogs. The nucleus of the mature cell had not lost its capacity to drive development to a fully functional organism.

Gurdon’s landmark discovery was initially met with scepticism but became accepted when it had been confirmed by other scientists. It initiated intense research and the technique was further developed, leading eventually to the cloning of mammals. Gurdon’s research taught us that the nucleus of a mature, specialized cell can be returned to an immature, pluripotent state. But his experiment involved the removal of cell nuclei with pipettes followed by their introduction into other cells. Would it ever be possible to turn an intact cell back into a pluripotent stem cell?

A roundtrip journey — mature cells return to a stem cell state

Shinya Yamanaka was able to answer this question in a scientific breakthrough more than 40 years after Gurdon´s discovery. His research concerned embryonal stem cells, i.e. pluripotent stem cells that are isolated from the embryo and cultured in the laboratory. Such stem cells were initially isolated from mice by Martin Evans (Nobel Prize 2007) and Yamanaka tried to find the genes that kept them immature. When several of these genes had been identified, he tested whether any of them could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells.

Yamanaka and his co-workers introduced these genes, in different combinations, into mature cells from connective tissue, fibroblasts, and examined the results under the microscope. They finally found a combination that worked, and the recipe was surprisingly simple. By introducing four genes together, they could reprogram their fibroblasts into immature stem cells!

The resulting induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) could develop into mature cell types such as fibroblasts, nerve cells and gut cells. The discovery that intact, mature cells could be reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells was published in 2006 and was immediately considered a major breakthrough.

From surprising discovery to medical use

The discoveries of Gurdon and Yamanaka have shown that specialised cells can turn back the developmental clock under certain circumstances. Although their genome undergoes modifications during development, these modifications are not irreversible. We have obtained a new view of the development of cells and organisms.

Research during recent years has shown that iPS cells can give rise to all the different cell types of the body. These discoveries have also provided new tools for scientists around the world and led to remarkable progress in many areas of medicine. iPS cells can also be prepared from human cells.

For instance, skin cells can be obtained from patients with various diseases, reprogrammed, and examined in the laboratory to determine how they differ from cells of healthy individuals. Such cells constitute invaluable tools for understanding disease mechanisms and so provide new opportunities to develop medical therapies.

Sir John B. Gurdon was born in 1933 in Dippenhall, UK. He received his Doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1960 and was a postdoctoral fellow at California Institute of Technology. He joined Cambridge University, UK, in 1972 and has served as Professor of Cell Biology and Master of Magdalene College. Gurdon is currently at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge.(ScienceDaily)

Nishikori rips Raonic to win Japan Open



Kei Nishikori stunned big-serving Milos Raonic 7-6 3-6 6-0 with an electrifying display of attacking tennis to become the host country’s first Japan Open champion on Sunday.It was the eighth seed’s second career title after winning in Delray Beach in 2008 and will elevate the 22-year-old from 17th to 15th in the world rankings.

“I’m partying tonight,” Nishikori said in a courtside interview as a sellout Tokyo crowd went wild. “I’d thought the Gods were against me at this event in the past.”To win the title is amazing. I’m overwhelmed.”I don’t know what I’m going to do with a year’s worth of Corona beer,” added Nishikori, sheepishly referring to a bonus gift from tournament sponsors. “I don’t even like beer.”

Nishikori took the first set tiebreak 7-5 after a jaw-dropping running backhand pass, clenching his fist to salute the roars of the crowd.Sixth seed Raonic took the second, drilling a bullet serve at Nishikori’s body as the cheers of the majority among the 13,000 centre court fans turned to groans.However, Nishikori stormed back in the decider, ripping another fierce backhand pass down the line to open a 4-0 lead, leaving his Canadian opponent gaping in disbelief.He delivered the coup de grace moments later, a lofted return forcing Raonic to smash a drive volley into the net after two hours, eight minutes to complete a final set ‘bagel’.

Both players were presented with flowers by Australian Ken Rosewall, who won the title in 1973, the first year the Japan Open became an official tournament.”Kei is a superstar in Japan,” said Raonic, who shocked last year’s winner and U.S. champion Andy Murray in the semi-finals and fired down 14 aces against Nishikori.”Thank you Japan for your support,” added Raonic, who is projected to rise one spot to 14th in the rankings. “And thank you for inventing sushi. I love it.” (Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Death toll from meningitis outbreak rises to seven

The death toll from a widening outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to steroid injections has risen to seven, with 65 cases now reported in nine states, officials said on Saturday.The latest two deaths were reported on Saturday in Michigan, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Those affected fell ill after receiving steroid injections linked to a pharmaceutical compounding plant in Massachusetts.

New cases in Ohio and Minnesota on Saturday brought to nine the number of states affected, officials said.Other states with reported cases of people who fell ill after receiving the injections – primarily for back pain – are Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Indiana.Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.Vials of steroids linked to the outbreak were shipped to 76 facilities in 23 states and could have been used to inject thousands of patients, authorities have said.

As in other states where the outbreak has been detected, Minnesota authorities are trying to determine who else may have been infected at six locations known to have used the drugs in question, said Buddy Ferguson, public information officer for the state’s Department of Health.”We have identified a list of approximately 950 people who did receive injectable steroids from the implicated lots,” he said, adding authorities were in the process of contacting each patient.

Tennessee, where the outbreak was first detected, accounts for most of the cases, with 29, state officials said on Friday.Three of the deaths have been in Tennessee, and one each in Virginia and Maryland.In Tennessee, many patients remain hospitalized, some listed in critical condition.The infected patients have shown a variety of symptoms from one to four weeks after their injections, including fever, a new or worsening headache, nausea and neurological problems that would be consistent with deep brain stroke, the CDC said.All the cases have been traced to three lots of the steroid prepared at New England Compounding Center Inc in Framingham, Massachusetts. The company said it had suspended its operations while the investigation proceeds.

The Massachusetts Health Department said there were 17,676 vials of medication in each of three lots of methylprednisolone acetate sent out from July through September and have a shelf life of 180 days.So far, the tally of cases includes 29 in Tennessee, 11 in Virginia, eight in Michigan, five in Indiana, four in Florida, three in Maryland, two in North Carolina, two in Minnesota and one in Ohio.The steroid was sent to California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and West Virginia, the CDC said.

More Canadians fall sick in huge E. coli beef recall



Ten people have now fallen sick from contaminated beef products from a Canadian plant that sent its meat across Canada and the United States, more than twice the number earlier reported, health officials said on Saturday.The latest cases, linked to one of Canada’s largest-ever meat recalls, include three more illnesses in Alberta, where the giant XL Foods beef processing plant is located, two in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 All 10 people are recovering, the health and food inspection officials said on a conference call with reporters.


The ever-widening recall of meat from the plant now involves more than 1,800 products including steaks, ground beef and roasts and now spans all of Canada and most U.S. states.The previous four cases were also in Alberta, and officials say they have evidence that these victims ate meat produced by the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta, which has been shut down since September 27.


The United States stopped importing meat from the plant on September 13.The Canadian officials said the six new cases were caused by the same strain of the E. coli bacteria as the previous cases.


The officials said they cannot prove that the sick people ate food from XL. But Dr. Frank Plummer, chief science officer of Canada’s Public Health Agency, said it was almost certain that all 10 cases trace back to the XL Foods meat recall.The bacteria strain in this case has a unique “genetic fingerprint” never before seen in Canada or the United States, he said.

The XL plant, one of the largest in Canada, slaughtered about 4,500 cattle per day. It will remain closed until the privately held company complies with a series of requests for corrective action from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said Dr. Richard Arsenault, CFIA director of meat programs.Inspectors found that while XL Foods had an appropriate plan to control food safety risks, it didn’t fully carry it out.


The company said on Friday it deeply regretted the sickness caused by consumption of beef products. It promised to “exceed existing high standards and regain the trust of Canadian consumers.”The recall comes four years after a recall of deli meat produced at Maple Leaf Foods that killed 22 people. It has led to calls from opposition legislators for the Canadian Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz, to resign.


Ritz has said the government did all it could to protect Canadians.Symptoms of sickness from E. coli include bloody diarrhea, vomiting and fever.