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Study sheds light on asthma and respiratory viruses

People with asthma often have a hard time dealing with respiratory viruses such as the flu or the common cold, and researchers have struggled to explain why.

In a new study that compared people with and without asthma, the answer is becoming clearer. The researchers found no difference in the key immune response to viruses in the lungs and breathing passages. The work, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, suggests that a fundamental antiviral defense mechanism is intact in asthma. This means that another aspect of the immune system must explain the difficulty people with asthma have when they encounter respiratory viruses.

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Funding: This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (grant numbers AADCRC U19-AI070489 and U19-AI000000, U10-HL109257, and CTSA UL1 TR000448), and Roche Postdoctoral Fellowship awards.

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Association Between Nicotine Withdrawal and Reward Responsiveness

For more information related to this study, please visit: http://www.fau.edu/mediarelations/Releases0608/060818.php

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Nicotine withdrawal reduces response to rewards across species

Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death worldwide and is associated with approximately 440,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population continues to smoke cigarettes. While more than half of U.S. smokers try to quit every year, less than 10 percent are able to remain smoke-free, and relapse commonly occurs within 48 hours of smoking cessation. Learning about withdrawal and difficulty of quitting can lead to more effective treatments to help smokers quit.

In a first of its kind study on nicotine addiction, scientists measured a behavior that can be similarly quantified across species like humans and rats, the responses to rewards during nicotine withdrawal. Findings from this study were published online on Sept. 10, 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Response to reward is the brain’s ability to derive and recognize pleasure from natural things such as food, money and sex. The reduced ability to respond to rewards is a behavioral process associated with depression in humans. In prior studies of nicotine withdrawal, investigators used very different behavioral measurements across humans and rats, limiting our understanding of this important brain reward system.

Using a translational behavioral approach, Michele Pergadia, Ph.D., associate professor of clinical biomedical science in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, who completed the human study while at Washington University School of Medicine, Andre Der-Avakian, Ph.D., who completed the rat study at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), and colleagues, including senior collaborators Athina Markou, Ph.D. at UCSD and Diego Pizzagalli, Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School, found that nicotine withdrawal similarly reduced reward responsiveness in human smokers - particularly those with a history of depression - as well as in nicotine-treated rats.

Pergadia, one of the lead authors, notes that replication of experimental results across species is a major step forward, because it allows for greater generalizability and a more reliable means for identifying behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms that explain the complicated behavior of nicotine withdrawal in humans addicted to tobacco.

"The fact that the effect was similar across species using this translational task not only provides us with a ready framework to proceed with additional research to better understand the mechanisms underlying withdrawal of nicotine, and potentially new treatment development, but it also makes us feel more confident that we are actually studying the same behavior in humans and rats as the studies move forward," said Pergadia.

Pergadia and colleagues plan to pursue future studies that will include a systematic study of depression vulnerability as it relates to reward sensitivity, the course of withdrawal-related reward deficits, including effects on relapse to smoking, and identification of processes in the brain that lead to these behaviors.

Pergadia emphasizes that the ultimate goal of this line of research is to improve treatments that manage nicotine withdrawal-related symptoms and thereby increase success during efforts to quit.

"Many smokers are struggling to quit, and there is a real need to develop new strategies to aid them in this process. Therapies targeting this reward dysfunction during withdrawal may prove to be useful," said Pergadia.

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Medical Research is the Beginning of Hope

Restoring the federal government’s investment in medical research and our biomedical research workforce is a national priority.  Congress needs to finish what it started and pass the FY 2015 Labor-HHS spending bill now to restore sequestration cuts so that the promise of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored research can be realized.   

What You Can Do

  1. Visit our Thunderclap page via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or all three, and get the word out to your friends and followers to do the same.
  2. On September 18, watch as everyone’s messages are blasted out simultaneously!
  3. In addition to signing up for our Thunderclap, take this opportunity to tell your member of Congress that they should pass the FY 2015 Labor-HHS spending bill
  4. Share this Thunderclap campaign with friends, family, colleagues and peers to help reach our support goal.

Discover why preserving federal funding for medical research is vital to the nation’s health today and crucial for the medical advancements of tomorrow.

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Researchers Identify New Rare Neuromuscular Disease

An international team of researchers has identified a new inherited neuromuscular disorder. The rare condition is the result of a genetic mutation that interferes with the communication between nerves and muscles, resulting in impaired muscle control. 

The new disease was diagnosed in two families – one in the U.S. and the other in Great Britain – and afflicts multiple generations. The discovery was published today in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

“This discovery gives us new insight into the mechanisms of diseases that are caused by a breakdown in neuromuscular signal transmission,” said David Herrmann, M.B.B.Ch., a professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and co-lead author of the study. “It is our hope that these findings will help identify new targets for therapies that can eventually be used to treat these diseases.”

Funding: The study was supported by funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Picower Neurological Disease Research Fund, the JPB Foundation, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Medical Research Council (U.K.), the Wellcome Trust, and the European Union Seventh Framework Programme.

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Tell Congress to finish the job and sustain funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at http://bit.ly/NIHthunderclap.

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Process isolated that damages lungs of donors with traumatic brain injury

"Few people would guess that some of the most detrimental damage from a traumatic brain injury is to the lungs, but transplant specialists are keenly aware of this phenomenon. Indiana University research published in Science Translational Medicine sheds light on the potentially lethal process.

Research conducted by an interdisciplinary team co-led by Fletcher A. White, Ph.D., the Vergil K. Stoelting Professor of Anesthesia, and David S. Wilkes, M.D., executive associate dean for research affairs and director of the Center for Immunobiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found evidence of fluid accumulation in the lung within hours after head trauma. The fluid limits the ability of the lung to oxygenate the bloodstream; this is particularly relevant in the case of a donor lung, which may become unsuitable for transplantation. Signs of the fluid leakage in the lungs are clearly evident within four hours after the head injury, and at 24 hours, the lungs’ ability to oxygenate the blood stream is reduced nearly 80 percent.”

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Funding: This research was funded by National Institutes of Health grants NHLBI R01 HL096845, and NIAID P01AI084853, NIDDK R01 DK100905, and funding from the Indiana Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Fund.

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Investigating the Deadly Potential of a Common Fungus

Fungal spores are everywhere—in your garden, probably in your carpet, and even in the air. For most people this is not a problem. But for those with a weakened immune system, such as people undergoing chemotherapy or recipients of an organ transplant, exposure to certain fungi can be dangerous. One of the chief troublemakers, Aspergillus fumigatus, can be deadly when it invades the lungs or other organs. Robert Cramer, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, wants to know why invasive A. fumigatus is so virulent.

“In general, fungi do not grow well at human body temperature,” explains Cramer. “Yet there is something about the biology of this organism that allows it to do very well in a human host who has a weakened immune system, and we just don’t know what that is.”

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A one-two punch for brain tumors? New clinical trial opens at U-M

University of Michigan Health System doctors have started testing a unique new approach to fighting brain tumors — one that delivers a one-two punch designed to knock out the most dangerous brain cancer.

The experimental approach, based on U-M research, delivers two different genes directly into the brains of patients following the operation to remove the bulk of their tumors.

The idea: trigger immune activity within the brain itself to kill remaining tumor cells — the ones neurosurgeons can’t take out, which make this type of tumor so dangerous.

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Vanderbilt study creates new road map for cellular activity

Human cells are constructed in large part from proteins whose activity can be altered by the incorporation of oxygen in what are known as redox modifications.

Scientists studying cellular processes have long sought to measure redox modifications because they provide one of the normal layers of cell control. But redox disruption or oxidative stress at the cellular level can also create a pathway to diseases like cancer, diabetes or neurodegenerative diseases.

Detecting these redox modifications as they occur in proteins is delicate work, “like trying to catch a fairy in a jar,” said Daniel Liebler, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University.

Funding: The study was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (U24CA159988 and GM102187).

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Restoring federal support for medical research and our biomedical research workforce is a national priority. Sign on to our Thunderclap campaign to tell Congress to finish what it started and pass the FY 2015 Labor-HHS spending bill now to restore sequestration cuts so that the promise of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored research can be realized.

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How A Dissolvable ‘Tampon’ Could One Day Help Women Stop HIV

University of Washington bioengineers have discovered a potentially faster way to deliver a topical drug that protects women from contracting HIV. Their method spins the drug into silk-like fibers that quickly dissolve when in contact with moisture, releasing higher doses of the drug than possible with other topical materials such as gels or creams.

“This could offer women a potentially more effective, discreet way to protect themselves from HIV infection by inserting the drug-loaded materials into the vagina before sex,” said Cameron Ball, a UW doctoral student in bioengineering and lead author on a paper in the August issue of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

The UW team previously found that electrically spun cloth could be dissolved to release drugs. These new results build upon that research, showing that the fiber materials can hold 10 times the concentration of medicine as anti-HIV gels currently under development.
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This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $1.5 million to study biological and social factors for why “three-quarters” of lesbians are obese and why gay males are not, calling it an issue of “high public-health significance.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., has received two grants administered by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to study the relationship between sexual orientation and obesity.

“Obesity is one of the most critical public health issues affecting the U.S. today,” the description of the grant reads. “Racial and socioeconomic disparities in the determinants, distribution, and consequences of obesity are receiving increasing attention.”

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The NICHD said the future of the project is uncertain because of the sequester—automatic spending cuts that took effect on March 1.

"The NIH is currently assessing the impact on funding due to sequestration," said Robert Bock, Press Officer for the NICHD.  ”It is not possible to say how this (or any other NIH grant) will be affected in the long term beyond the 90 percent funding levels already in place.”

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Researchers turn to plants to help treat hemophilia

Accidents as minor as a slip of the knife while chopping onions can turn dangerous for patients with hemophilia, who lack the necessary proteins in their blood to stem the flow from a wound.

People with severe hemophilia typically receive regular injections of these proteins, called clotting factors, as a treatment for the disease. But up to 30 percent of people with the most common form, hemophilia A, develop antibodies that attack these lifesaving proteins, making it difficult to prevent or treat excessive bleeding.

Now, researchers from University of Florida Health and the University of Pennsylvania have developed a way to thwart production of these antibodies by using plant cells to teach the immune system to tolerate rather than attack the clotting factors. The study was published Sept. 4 in the journal Blood.

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Funding: The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and Bayer. Other authors included Jin Su and Shina Lin from the University of Pennsylvania, and Alexandra Sherman and Xiaomei Wang at UF.

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In Pro Baseball Pitchers, Weak Core Linked to More Missed Days

New research suggests that professional baseball pitchers with poor core stability are more likely to miss 30 or more days in a single season because of injury than are pitchers who have good control of muscles in their lower back and pelvis.

In the study, 347 pitchers were assessed for lumbopelvic control during spring training. Pitchers with more tilt in their pelvis as they raised a leg to step up were up to three times more likely to miss at least 30 days – cumulative, not consecutive – during the season than were pitchers who showed minimal tilt in their pelvis.

The study shows association, not causation, but does suggest that pitchers might benefit from training to improve their lumbopelvic control – essentially, a more stable core during movement.

Researchers say these findings and previous studies suggest that “task-specific training” mimicking real-world, quick-reaction activities – as opposed to such static moves as crunches and planks – could be an effective core-strengthening approach for pitchers and other active people.

“The nice thing about lumbopelvic control is that there’s not any downside we can think of to trying to improve it,” said Ajit Chaudhari, associate professor of health and rehabilitation sciences and of orthopaedics at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

Funding: This work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, the OSU Sports Medicine Initiative Grants Program, the TechColumbus TechGenesis Program and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences .

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Dieting? Low-carb trumps low-fat for weight loss, heart health

"Low-carbohydrate diets are better for losing weight and protecting the heart than low-fat diets, according to a new Tulane University study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine

The study followed 148 obese participants who were randomly assigned to either a low-carb diet, consuming less than 40 grams of digestible carbs per day, or a low-fat diet, consuming less than 30 percent of daily calories from fat. Researchers gave both groups dietary advice, but neither had strict calorie or exercise goals.”

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