Losing your teeth linked to losing your mind

2 02 2011

A press release I recently wrote for BioMed Central’s open access journal Behavioral and Brain Functions has again hit the newstands. I can’t find an online archive of the original release I wrote, but some lazy journos have reproduced it verbatim, so I definitely know it’s mine!

The release describes a study from the Nara Medical University in Japan whereby elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease were found to lose more teeth than those without the degenerative neurological disorder. Not only is this tooth loss associated with failing to remember to brush one’s teeth and a general poor state of hygiene, but gum disease may in fact accelerate dementia by affecting the sensory neurones in the gums, leading to the brain.

Read the original article in Behavioural and Brain Functions: Relationship of tooth loss to mild memory impairment and cognitive impairment: findings from the fujiwara-kyo study

Read some of the news articles using this press release:

BMC Blog V

13 12 2010

I almost forgot that it was my turn again to moderate the BMC Blog last week, but I was glad to realise it when I read some of the interesting posts that we had in store! Find out how you can submit a manuscript to a new journal established for the Herpes research community, or submit a paper for a new series on chronic health conditions to be published in Globalization and Health; read a commentary on the proposed link between depression and the menopause; investigate the uses of clud computing in genomics, and read opinion on open data access from BioMed Central’s head honcho, Matt Cockerill and Journal Publisher Iain Hrynaszkiewicz. Enjoy!


1 11 2010

I moderated the BMC Blog again last week and was kept pretty busy editing some interesting posts. Here they are!

The Science Bit: Part 5 – Understanding Down’s Syndrome

26 10 2010

Down’s Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that affects approximately 1 in 700 live births. Normally, people have 23 pairs of chromosomes in almost every cell in their body, but in Down’s Syndrome, something goes wrong and the child is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21. In this month’s Science Bit (a bit later in the month than usual, sorry!), I explore the causes of Down’s Syndrome and new research that could provide an answer to this unsolved problem.

Chromosomes are long lengths of DNA that contain hundreds or even thousands of genes, which in turn provide the genetic code for making the proteins that carry out thousands of different functions in our bodies. Normally, we have 23 pairs of chromosomes in almost every cell – 22 pairs of “autosomes”, plus the sex chromosomes; XX if you’re female, and XY if you’re male.

The sex cells, eggs (or oocytes) and sperm (short for spermatozoa), normally have half the number of chromosomes of other cell types. Through a special kind of cell division called meiosis, each egg and sperm only contains one of each chromosome pair so that when one of each of these sex cells combine, the resulting zygote (fertilised egg) has the correct number of chromosomes, neatly arranged into their pairs again. This single fertilised egg cell then undergoes another type of cell division called mitosis in which the chromosomes and cell contents are duplicated, the cell grows and divides over and over again, and packages 23 pairs of chromosomes – identical to the first cell – into every new cell produced.

As miraculous as the cellular mechanisms that give rise to new life are, the process is not flawless, and there are a number of genetic conditions that can arise from faulty chromosomes. One of the best known chromosomal disorders is Down’s Syndrome, in which each cell has an extra copy of chromosome 21. People affected by Down’s Syndrome have the characteristic Down’s features including short stature, a long tongue and sloping eyes; they are also more prone to suffering from respiratory disorders, heart defects, learning difficulties and a much reduced life expectancy.

It has been known for some time that babies born to mothers in their 30s and 40s have an increased risk of Down’s Syndrome compared to younger mothers, and we also know that having the extra chromosome, called “trisomy”, is because the chromosomes don’t split properly during cell division from the fertilised egg cell. So far however, the reason why this “non-disjunction” of chromosomes occurs in older mothers has remained unclear.

New research from the University of Newcastle however, recently published in Current Biology (boo, paywall alert!), may have the answer. Working with mouse eggs, researchers from the University’s Institute for Ageing and Health have identified a group of proteins called “cohesins”, which seem to be important in holding chromosomes together during cell division. They have discovered that, in mice at least, a female’s level of cohesin declines with age, which in turn prevents chromosomes from moving normally such that they become “trapped”. Low levels of cohesin may be responsible for a number of chromosome disorders including not only Down’s Syndrome, but others such as Klinefelter’s Syndrome and Turner Syndrome (intersex conditions both associated with non-disjunction of the sex chromosomes).

It’s far too early to suggest that these findings may lead to a “cure” for chromosomal disorders like Down’s Syndrome, or that they will help to prevent the condition from occurring in the first place, but knowledge of the mechanisms by which cohesin decreases with age could lead to the discovery of ways to prevent this loss. Consequently, this may one day provide reassurance for an ageing population and a generation of families who now tend to have children much later in life.

The Science Bit: Part 4 – Sunlight – Friend or Foe?

2 09 2010

At this time of year, when the sun is (hopefully) shining and we’re looking forward to our summer holidays, messages about sun safety abound. In this seasonal Science Bit, Lisa Martin examines new research that suggests some of us play a little too safe in the sun.

In Australia, the oft-quoted “Slip, slap, slop” slogan, reminds us to slip on a t-shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the sunscreen in an effort to educate the public about the dangers of too much exposure to ultra-violet light. It’s common knowledge that this is the single most frequent cause of skin cancer, and has a premature ageing effect as well, but less well known it seems, are the positive effects of exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D, actually a group of chemicals called secosteroids, is vital for our health.  Vitamin D is used to activate a hormone that performs a number of essential roles in the body, the most significant of which is to fix calcium in the bones, thus making them hard and strong.  A very small amount of vitamin D can be taken in through the diet, but in order to gain enough, we’d have to eat oily fish – even the skin – 3 times a day, every day! I don’t know many people who like sardines that much! Instead, the majority of our vitamin D is actually made as the result of a chemical reaction that uses sunlight.

A substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol, found naturally in the epidermis of the skin, absorbs UV light and is then broken down into vitamin D. If we do not obtain enough vitamin D, a deficiency can lead to several bone disorders, most notably, osteoporosis (brittle bones) and Ricketts (soft bones). People who spend all day indoors, those who work night shifts and those who cover their whole bodies for religious or cultural reasons, as well as children and the elderly, are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

A recent article in the Independent newspaper revealed that Cancer Research UK, the country’s leading cancer research and education body, is currently drafting a new position statement to reflect emerging research findings in this high profile area. Traditionally, the advice has always been to avoid going out in the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm when the intensity of UV radiation from sunlight is strongest, to cover up and to wear a high factor sunscreen. All of these things however, are a barrier to vitamin D production in the skin.

Is it estimated that more than half of the UK population produce insufficient levels of vitamin D. We’re not helped by the fact that the UK is located in the far north of the hemisphere, where the UV radiation in sunlight is weak, but according to health writer and vitamin D campaigner Oliver Gillie, inappropriate sun safety advice is also largely to blame for the state of the nation’s vitamin D levels.

Recent research has shown that vitamin D deficiency could be a major contributing factor to several serious diseases, including heart disease, arthritis and susceptibility to infections. Gillie even believes that multiple sclerosis and insulin-dependent diabetes could both be completely eradicated if breastfeeding mothers took vitamin D supplements or spent enough time in the sun.

Clearly, recommending that people go out in the midday sun without sunscreen is dangerous advice if not communicated properly. It is still more pertinent than ever to prevent burning and the risks of skin cancer and premature ageing should not be underestimated. It only takes a few minutes of unprotected exposure to sunlight in order to make enough vitamin D, so for most people sitting outside for 3 or 4 minutes a day before applying sunscreen will be more than enough to maintain your vitamin D levels and keep you healthy.

Sad mothers have small babies

26 08 2010

This press release that I wrote for BMC Public Health publicises research carried out in Bangladesh that finds it is not poverty, socieconomic status or nutrition levels that most contribute to the birth of underweight babies, but depression and other mental health issues in the mothers. This is the first time this result has been found in a non-Western country and provides an interesting insight into the role of mental health on physical health and child development, even in a country where, arguably, there are many other confounding factors that could be blamed for low birthweight.

Read the press release at EurekAlert: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-08/bc-smh082410.php

Read the full articles at BMC Public Health: Low birth weight in offspring of women with depressive and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy: results from a population based study in Bangladesh

And some of the media sources that picked up the story:

A Cure for HIV could be all in the “Mix”

23 08 2010

A press release that I recently wrote for BioMed Central describing a potential new lead in the quest to cure HIV has now been released. The study, published in the open access journal AIDS Research and Therapy, describes successful experiments carried out by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to eradicate HIV from cultured cells. Rather than trying to remove integrated HIV genes from human DNA, the team have discovered that by effectively “over-infecting” cells with HIV, with the help of a mixture of peptides dubbed “Mix”, programmed cell death is induced due to genomic instability. Though this is clearly a very early stage of investigation, the findings suggest an exciting new approach towards discovering a cure for this devastating disease.

Read the press release at Eureka: A Cure for HIV could be all in the Mix

Read press articles based on this release:

  • The Independent
  • EScienceNews.com
  • PhysOrg.com
  • ScienceDaily
  • Medical News Today

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