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Can a saliva test advance Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis?

Can a saliva test advance Alzheimer's disease diagnosis?

Toronto: Scientists have identified biomarkers that can help in early detection of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease in saliva samples. A saliva test would prove useful in clinical settings for its ease and non-invasive nature. It also has the potential to detect neurodegenerative diseases earlier on, allowing for early intervention, said a team from the University of Alberta in Canada.

Liang Li, Professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Roger Dixon, Professor in the Department of Psychology examined saliva samples from three sets of patients - those with Alzheimer’s disease, those with mild cognitive impairment and those with normal cognition. 

Using a powerful mass spectrometer, the team examined more than 6,000 metabolites – compounds that are part of our body’s metabolic processes – to identify any changes or signatures between groups. “In this analysis, we found three metabolites that can be used to differentiate between these three groups,” said Li. 

“This is preliminary work because we’ve used a very small sample size. But the results are very promising. If we can use a larger set of samples, we can validate our findings and develop a saliva test of Alzheimer’s disease,” Li noted. In addition, identifying these biomarkers is the ability to conduct efficacy testing for treatments. 

“Using the biomarkers we can also do testing to see what types of treatments are most effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease, from diet to physical activity to pharmaceuticals,” added Li.

“So far, no disease-altering interventions for Alzheimer’s disease have been successful,” said Dixon. “For this reason, researchers are aiming to discover the earliest signals of the disease so that prevention protocols can be implemented.”

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New human protein may help fight Ebola: Study

Ebola, human protein

Washington: Researchers have discovered a human protein that helps fight the Ebola virus, and could one day lead to an effective therapy against the deadly disease. The newly discovered ability of the human protein RBBP6 to interfere with Ebola virus replication suggests new ways to fight the infection, according to the study published in the journal Cell.

As viruses develop and evolve proteins to bypass the body’s immune defences, human cells in turn develop defence mechanisms against those viruses — an evolutionary arms race that has been ongoing for millions of years. This particular defence mechanism has therapeutic potential, said Judd Hultquist, an assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the US.

“One of the scariest parts about the 2014 Ebola outbreak was that we had no treatments on hand; tens of thousands of people became sick and thousands of people died because we lacked a suitable treatment,” Hultquist said.

“What we envision is a small molecule drug that mimics this human protein and could be used in response to an Ebola virus outbreak,” he said.

A small molecule drug is the ultimate goal because these are able to enter cells more easily and, therefore, be more effective, researchers said. The Ebola virus, like other viruses, invades host cells and uses them to replicate, usurping cellular processes to build viral proteins, which eventually become new copies of the virus.

Hultquist and his collaborators used mass spectrometry — a technique that identifies specific elements in a sample by mass — to search for interactions between human proteins and Ebola virus proteins. They found strong evidence for an interaction between the Ebola virus protein VP30 and the human protein RBBP6.

Further structural and computational analysis narrowed the interaction down to a small, 23-amino acid-long peptide chain. This small group of amino acids alone is sufficient to disrupt the Ebola virus life cycle, Hultquist said.

“If you take that peptide and put it into human cells, you can block Ebola virus infection,” Hultquist said.
“Conversely, when you remove the RBBP6 protein from human cells, Ebola virus replicates much faster,” he said.

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Heart attack risk peaks at THIS time on Christmas Eve: 5 tips to keep your heart healthy

Heart attack risk peaks at THIS time on Christmas Eve

New Delhi: You’ve probably heard that cold weather can cause your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to rise, increasing your risk of a heart attack. But that’s not all, now, a new study has associated winter holidays with a higher rate of heart attacks, with Christmas Eve being the riskiest day of the holiday season. The researchers from the Lund University in Sweden said that the risk of having a heart attack was 37 per cent high around 10 p.m. on Christmas eve.

The study, which analyzed 16 years of data from the Scandinavian country, found that people above 75 and those with existing conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, have the highest risk. Stressing the need for the society to raise awareness of this vulnerable group over the Christmas period, the study looked at whether time factors could trigger a heart attack. Read - Neck pain? Symptoms women don’t realise they’re having a heart attack

According to the study, the chances of having a heart attack was also higher during New Years, midsummer holidays, early mornings (8 a.m.) and Monday mornings. Compared with the control period, Christmas and midsummer holidays had a 15 per cent and 12 per cent higher risk of heart attack respectively. But the Easter holiday and sporting events were not, said the study published in the medical journal The BMJ.

Apart from overindulgence in unhealthy food and beverages, emotional stress, and exhaustion during the holiday season have been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. However, the authors concluded that no firm conclusions can be drawn about the cause and effect since it is an observational study.

Steps on how to prevent a heart attack

Heart attack prevention starts by making healthier, smart lifestyle choices. Here are a few things you can do to prevent or reduce your risk of having a heart attack.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that is loaded with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fresh tuna or herring, etc. Adding a variety of nutrient-dense foods to your diet is a good way to ensure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs.
  • Cut back on salt, saturated fats, sweets, and red meats. Try to avoid trans fats and food high in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated ingredients. Also, avoid or take alcohol in moderation if you drink.
  • Avoid or quit smoking, which is a major risk factor for heart attacks.
  • Stay physically active by including exercise in your daily routine – this will keep your heart and blood vessels in good condition by lowering your blood pressure. According to NHS, low-impact activities such as walking, swimming and cycling are good options to boost your heart health. Being physically active will also help you either maintain or lose weight.
  • Ensure that the levels of your blood cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar are under control. These conditions can be managed by losing weight (if you’re overweight), modifying your diet and taking medication, or doing a combination of these things.

Stay safe this holiday season!

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purpose only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.

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Stethoscopes loaded with infectious bacteria: Study


Washington: Stethoscopes carried by healthcare practitioners are loaded with diverse bacteria, including some that can cause infections, according to a study. The research, published in the journal Infection Control Hospital Epidemiology, also reviewed the effectiveness of cleaning methods. It found a standardised approach to be superior for removing bacteria compared with various approaches employed by health care practitioners.

“This study underscores the importance of adhering to rigorous infection control procedures,” said Ronald Collman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

Researchers used molecular sequencing to develop a complete picture of bacteria on stethoscopes in use in an intensive care unit (ICU). This included 20 traditional reusable stethoscopes being carried by physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists, 20 single-patient-use disposable stethoscopes used in patient rooms, and 10 unused single-use disposable stethoscopes as a control.

The analysis showed all 40 of the stethoscopes in use in the ICU were significantly contaminated with a rich and diverse community of bacteria, including those related to common infections. However, it could not determine if the stethoscopes ever made patients ill.

Staphylococcus, the bacteria responsible for Staph infections, was found in abundance on all stethoscopes, with more than half of them having confirmed contamination with S aureus. Other bacteria that can cause healthcare-associated infections, such as Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter, were also widely present on stethoscopes, though in small quantities.

To assess the impact of cleaning on contamination, researchers sampled 10 additional practitioner stethoscopes before and after cleaning for 60 seconds using a hydrogen peroxide wipe. They also assessed 20 more practitioner stethoscopes before and after cleaning by the practitioner according to their usual method, which included the use of alcohol swabs, hydrogen peroxide wipes or bleach wipes used for different durations.

All cleaning methods reduced the number of bacteria but failed to consistently bring contamination to the level of clean, new stethoscopes. The standardised cleaning method reduced bacteria on half of the stethoscopes to the clean level, while only 10 per cent, or two of the 20, reached that level when cleaned by the practitioner-preferred method.

This made the stethoscopes as a potential vehicle for transmission of infection. Molecular sequencing allowed researchers to identify all the types of bacteria and the number of bacteria, not just specific pathogens they set out to study.

The DNA test could not distinguish live from dead bacteria, so it is not clear if the stethoscopes are responsible for the spread of disease-causing agents, Collman said.

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Nearly 30 million sick, premature newborns require treatment every year

premature babies, premature newborns

New Delhi: Nearly 30 million babies are born too soon, too small or become sick every year and need specialised care to survive, according to a new report released on Thursday by a global coalition that includes Unicef and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report ‘Survive and Thrive: Transforming care for every small and sick newborn’ found that among the newborn babies most at risk of death and disability are those with complications from prematurity, brain injury during childbirth, severe bacterial infection or jaundice, and those with congenital conditions.

Additionally, the financial and psychological toll on their families can have detrimental effects on their cognitive, linguistic and emotional development, it said.

“When it comes to babies and their mothers, the right care at the right time in the right place can make all the difference,” said Omar Abdi, Unicef Deputy Executive Director, adding that “millions of small and sick babies and women are dying every year because they simply do not receive the quality care that is their right and our collective responsibility.”

According to the report, without a specialised treatment, many at-risk newborns won’t survive their first month of life.

In 2017, some 2.5 million newborns died, mostly from preventable causes. Almost two-thirds of babies who died were born prematurely. And even if they survive, these babies face chronic diseases or developmental delays, the report said.

In addition, an estimated one million small and sick newborns survive with a long-term disability, it said.

With nurturing care, these babies can live without major complications. The report shows that by 2030, in 81 countries, the lives of 2.9 million women, stillborns and newborns can be saved with smarter strategies.

In addition, almost 68 per cent of newborn deaths could be averted in 2030 with simple fixes such as exclusive breastfeeding; skin-to-skin contact between the mother or father and the baby; medicines and essential equipment; and access to clean, well-equipped health facilities staffed by skilled health workers.

Other measures like resuscitating a baby who cannot breathe properly, giving the mother an injection to prevent bleeding, or delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord could also save millions.

According to the report, the world will not achieve the global target to achieve health for all unless it transforms care for every newborn. Without rapid progress, some countries will not meet this target for another 11 decades.

To save the newborns, the report recommends for round-the-clock inpatient care for newborns seven days a week.

It also suggested training nurses to provide hands-on care working in partnership with families and harnessing the power of parents and families by teaching them how to become expert caregivers and care for their babies, which can reduce stress, help babies gain weight and allow their brains to develop properly.

Providing good quality care should be a part of country policies, and a lifelong investment for those who are born small or sick, it said.

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Holiday health tips

Stressed ahead of the holidays? Dr. Joyce Johnson is here to help!

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Brain tumors may respond to immunotherapy: Study

Brain tumors may respond to immunotherapy: Study

Washington DC: According to a recent study, a slow-growing brain tumor in patients affected by neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) may be vulnerable to immunotherapy, which helps to boost the immune system in fighting cancer. The study, led by researchers at Columbia University showed that a lot of have NF1, a hereditary disease that can lead to the development of tumors throughout the nervous system, including a type of brain tumor called a glioma.

The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Nature Medicine. Gliomas are most highly resistant to chemotherapy, and radiotherapy aggravates, rather than relieve, symptoms, such as headaches and seizures. Since the tumors typically engulf delicate brain regions, surgery is rarely an option.

Immunotherapy has been successful for some patients with melanoma, lymphoma, and a few other types of cancer. But some clinical trials have shown that it is ineffective for brain cancers in general. In this study, researchers performed an in-depth analysis of tumor samples from 56 patients to create the first comprehensive inventory of the genetic, epigenetic, and immune alterations in NF1 gliomas.

“This inventory will give us a much better idea of how to design individualised treatments,” said Antonio Iavarone, a researcher. Immunotherapy is ineffective for most brain tumors because the tumors are infiltrated with large numbers of cells called macrophages that thwart the immune system’s attack.

The study revealed that many slow-growing NF1 gliomas contain few macrophages and produce proteins, called neoantigens, that can trigger an immune system attack.

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Did you know? Internet therapy apps may reduce depression

Did you know? Internet therapy apps may reduce depression

Washington DC: In a new study, researchers have found that a series of self-guided, internet-based therapy platforms effectively reduce depression. A research, led by a team at the Indiana University reviewed 21 pre-existing studies with a total of 4,781 participants. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

In the past several years, many internet-based apps and websites have made claims to treat depression. The subjects of the study were specifically those applications that provide treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing thought patterns and behavior to alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental disorders.

Previous studies had examined the effectiveness of individual Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps, or iCBT, using a range of methods. “Before this study, I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems and were at low risk for suicide,” said Lorenzo-Luaces, a researcher. “To my surprise, that was not the case. The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people.”

Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps are an important new tool for addressing a major public health issue: that individuals with mental health disorders like depression far outnumber the mental health providers available to treat them.

“Close to one in four people meet the criteria for major depressive disorder,” he said. “If you include people with minor depression or who have been depressed for a week or a month with a few symptoms, the number grows, exceeding the number of psychologists who can serve them.”

People with depression are also expensive for the health care system, he added. By conducting a “meta-regression analysis” of 21 studies, researchers determined that internet-based therapy platforms effectively alleviate depression.

The conclusion was that the apps worked in cases of mild, moderate and severe depression. App-based therapy also has an advantage in situations where access to face-to-face therapy is limited due to logistical barriers, such as long distances in rural areas or inflexible work schedules.

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Poor Posture Hurts Your Health More Than You Realize: 3 Tips for Fixing It

Didn’t listen when your mom nagged you to sit or stand up straight? You should have. If you’re a serial sloucher, you can probably trace your neck and shoulder pain, stiffness, and aching back right back to your posture.

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Ignoring advice on good posture can affect your health overall, and set you up for neck and shoulder strain, back pain and even joint damage. You may dismiss the discomfort for a while. But it’s your body’s way of getting your attention.

“Having poor posture may lead to aches and pains, but having it over the long term is when you get real damage,” says chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC.

Think of it this way: If you went to the gym and did strenuous leg exercises five days a week, your legs would feel overworked and sore. Sitting at a desk every day can bring similar results.

Poor posture forces you to overwork the muscles in your neck and back. Your immune system’s efforts to heal those muscles spur inflammation that — over time — can lead to arthritis in nearby joints.

So, how can you tweak your habits to remedy the problem? Dr. Bang offers a few suggestions.

1. Pay attention to your desk setup

When you sit at your desk to work, hold your shoulders and arms at a 90-degree angle. Position your monitor straight ahead at eye level. (Most people place it so they’re looking downward, but this greatly increases neck strain, notes Dr. Bang.)

2014 study on text neck — also called tech neck, a problem caused by constantly looking down at your phone or tablet — found that when you hold your head in line with your shoulders, it only weighs about 10 pounds.

“But for every inch you tilt it forward, the amount of weight it places on your spine nearly doubles,” he says.

Standing poorly prompts similar problems for your neck and back. If you have access to a standing desk at your office, that’s a nice option. But you’ll still need to watch your posture.

Keep your spine in a neutral position. “Don’t jut your butt backward or lean too far forward,” cautions Dr. Bang. Standing in those positions can cause low back pain.

And, again, position your computer screen high enough to avoid looking downward.

2. Move around as much as you can

Whether you sit or stand at work, Dr. Bang recommends working in regular movement.

Take a short break and walk around about once every hour if you can. But even when you’re stuck at your desk, you can vary your motion.

“The body loves variety, so don’t allow your muscles to get too fatigued,” he says. “If you have a standing desk, you still need to move. Sway a bit, or step forward and backward for a while, throughout the day.”

3. Try these exercises to improve your posture

Changing your daily routine can help you feel better quickly. But making a habit of good posture may take some time, says Dr. Bang. As with any other exercise routine, it takes about four to six weeks to see real change.

He recommends the following types of exercise to strengthen muscles to improve your posture:

  • Superman. Lie on your stomach, and simultaneously raise your arms and legs just a couple inches off the ground. Hold, relax, and repeat.
  • Core. Crunches, planks and leg extensions all help strengthen your core muscles.
  • Neck extension. Sit comfortably, and press your head firmly backward into your chair (or car) headrest, or into your hands. Hold for 30 seconds multiple times to build strength.
  • Shoulder blades. Work your trapezius and rhomboid muscles to help pull your shoulders back. Hold an exercise band in front of you at shoulder height, then stretch it across your chest, bending your arms slightly. Return to starting position, and repeat.

If you think bad posture is causing your neck, shoulder or back pain, talk to your doctor about additional tips or therapies you can try to ease your symptoms.

Take steps to improve your posture now — you’ll be glad you did later on. (And your mom will be proud of you.)

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Turn up early, come prepared. Tips for surviving an ER visit

This is part of a series from CBC’s Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her “health hacks” — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Heading to the emergency department is an anxiety-inducing experience for any patient. Understanding how emergency departments work is key to having the least stressful experience possible, according to Mary Jane Hampton.

Those who are critically ill or severely injured will receive rapid, excellent care in an emergency department, said Hampton. If you’re “sort of sick,” though, you can often expect long waits.

But there are ways you can reduce the discomfort.

“My health hacks are geared toward people like me, who have found themselves sometimes becoming frequent fliers for themselves or their parents, and … can generally pick the time when you can turn up,” Hampton said.

Show up early

Knowing when to turn up at an emergency department is a crucial part of keeping waiting to a minimum.

“People start to appear en masse around 11 a.m. It builds and builds until about 3 p.m., and that’s the point at which gridlock starts to occur.”

Hampton said the gridlock isn’t a function of not having enough staff in the ER. Instead, it’s a result of delays elsewhere in the system.

“The problem is patients who are too sick to leave the emergency department, but there isn’t a hospital bed to send them to.”

The best time to go to avoid these delays? “Anytime, probably, before 10 in the morning.”

Come prepared

If you do have to wait, Hampton suggests that showing up at the ER prepared with “creature comforts,” such as a pillow and blanket, make the experience more bearable for both the patient and the person accompanying them. 

“I know that sounds really silly, but emergency department pillows, they’re hellishly uncomfortable, and the blankets are not cozy.”

Hampton said arriving prepared in other ways, including with a list of medications you’re taking, or a bag containing the medication themselves, helps the experience go more smoothly.

“Having that information available for the care team will save a world of time and confusion and actually potentially avoid some really dangerous errors that can be made because they don’t know what medication you’re on.”

If you’re referred to the ER by a doctor or nurse practitioner, Hampton recommends having them write down the reason. 

“The two minutes that it takes them just to jot down the reason that they’re sending you will save you an awful lot of time trying to recall what they were saying … to the care team in the emergency department.”

Mary Jane Hampton is a health-care consultant. (Robert Short/CBC)

Hampton said a smooth ER visit also means, where possible, making sure you have a way home afterwards.

Admissions aren’t always based on how sick someone is, she said. They’re also a reflection of whether or not someone has adequate supports in place to manage at home. 

People admitted to the hospital can end up more sick, she said, which is why someone heading into a hospital’s ER should try to have a care plan that allows them to leave as soon as possible. 

“Hospital staff are lovely; they do wonderful things when you’re there,” she said. “But if you can avoid being there, run like the wind.”

Read about other health hacks

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