Electrical Brain Activity May Spot Autism Risk

Study Shows Computer Analysis of Brain Activity Helps Predict Autism Risk for Infants

Feb. 22, 2011 — Combining a standard noninvasive test that measures electrical activity in the brain with a high-tech computer analysis may help determine the risk of autism spectrum disorder in infants, according to a new study.

In the study, a computer program that assists in evaluating brainwave data from an electroencephalogram (EEG) was used to determine the way nerve cells communicate with one another in infants. Using the data generated, researchers were able to predict which 9-month-old infants have a high risk of autism with 80% accuracy.

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Hearing loss may be an early sign of dementia

Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but in some people it may also be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.

Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but in some people it may also be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.

Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but in some people it may also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, a new study suggests.

The risk of dementia appears to rise as hearing declines. Older people with mild hearing impairment — those who have difficulty following a conversation in a crowded restaurant, say — were nearly twice as likely as those with normal hearing to develop dementia, the study found. Severe hearing loss nearly quintupled the risk of dementia.

Health.com: 25 signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

It’s unclear why the loss of hearing and mental function might go hand in hand. Brain abnormalities may contribute independently to both conditions, but it’s also possible that hearing problems can help bring on dementia, the researchers say. Hearing loss may lead to social isolation (which itself has been linked to dementia), for instance, or it may interfere with the brain’s division of labor.

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Success of Spina Bifida Study Opens Fetal Surgery Door

For years, surgeons have been trying to find ways of operating on babies in the womb, reasoning that medical abnormalities might be more easily fixed while a fetus is still developing.

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The Skin Gun

Scientists have invented a ballistic new way to treat burns and skin abrasions – shoot them with a stem cell gun. The gun – a sterile syringe that loads into a spraying nozzle – releases a patient’s own stem cells, generated from a piece of healthy skin, which can immediately begin repairing the skin.

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Largest animal genome discovered

Wikimedia commons, Paul Hebert

Scientists have sequenced the entire genome of Daphnia pulex, a small crustacean commonly used as a model organism for basic biological function studies, and revealed the largest number of genes of any animal genome. The paper, published last week in Science, reports that Daphnia has a total of 30,907 genes, significantly more than the 23,000 estimated human genes.

Pfizer cuts R&D

Pfizer announce last week that it will cut some 20 percent of its R&D expenditure, from $8.5 million to $7 million, sometime next year. The pharmaceutical company also plans to shut down a UK research facility that currently employs 2,400 people and to drastically reduce staff in its Connecticut research center, according to ScienceInsider, although it may increase its Massachusetts workforce by several hundred.

While the news has come as a surprise to many, GlaxoSmithKlein’s chief executive Andrew Witty indicated that Pfizer’s loss may be GSK’s gain. “We absolutely will look at… high calibre people, talented people there,” Witty told The Telegraph. “There may be some people who want to come here…and of course we’ll look at that.”

90 retractions coming?

Nearly 100 papers might be pulled from the literature because they didn’t receive proper institutional approval, according to Retraction Watch. Joachim Boldt, former head of anesthesia at the Klinikum Ludwigshafen in Germany, was fired last year after suspicions were raised about one 2009 Anesthesia & Analgesia paper that appeared to be based on research that hadn’t taken place. But last week an ongoing investigation by Klinikum Ludwigshafen and the German state medical association of Rheinland Pfalz announced that as many as 90 studies failed to get proper institutional approval — grounds for the immediate retraction of an article, according to a letter from the editors of 11 journals. (Hat tip to ScienceInsider)

News in a nutshell

Vaccines prevent cancer?

Some vaccinations routinely given to children, such as those for hepatitis B and polio, may lower the risk of certain cancers, like leukemia. Comparing 2,800 cases of childhood cancer in Texas to more than 10,000 healthy individuals, researchers found that children born in counties where the hep B vaccine was common were 20 percent less likely to develop cancer. Similarly, kids born in areas where children are typically vaccinated for both the polio and hep B were 30 to 40 percent less likely to contract the disease, according to a new study published last week in the Journal of Pediatrics. Though some parents choose against vaccinating their children because they believe the shots can cause autism, “people can take a step back and really look at the benefit that vaccines provide — not just for the infectious diseases they were intended to prevent,” study author Michael Scheurer of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, told Reuters. (Hat tip to FierceVaccines)

Flickr, Blake Patterson


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