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Health Watch, June 2014

Clinical news

Health Watch, June 2014


Faster DNA ageing signs have been revealed in long-term unemployed men. Researchers in northern Finland measured their subjects’ telomeres, which lie at the ends of chromosomes protecting the genetic code from being degraded. Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risks of age-related conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The study, the first revealing the cellular effects of unemployment, showed men without jobs for more than two of the preceding three years were more than twice as likely to have short telomeres. Earlier studies reported similar results from other stresses.


Drugs could be developed against bacteria that escape many antibiotics. Some bacterial cells, a subset called persisters, stop replicating but tolerate antibiotics, differing from those that survive by mutating genetically. Their tolerance is temporary but antibiotic resistance can follow. Scientists at a Medical Research Council bacteriology centre observed that salmonella bacteria, when engulfed by macrophage immune cells, form persisters that linger and cause recurrent infections. Dr Sophie Helaine said: “Now we know the molecular pathways and mechanisms that lead to persister formation during infection, we can work on screening for new drugs to coax them out of this state so that they become vulnerable to antibiotics.”


Blocking an enzyme in the common malaria parasite has been shown to prevent symptoms in mice, raising the possibility of new treatment, particularly for resistant strains, which now appear more often. The NMT enzyme is active in the parasite’s processes, including producing proteins that enable multiplying and long-term infection, but several molecules were found in laboratory tests to stop its activity in human red blood cells and in mice. Scientists at Imperial College London are now designing more potent molecules and aim to conduct human trials within four years.


Thrombotic stroke appears to be more common in children than previously believed. A UK study of nearly six million young people funded by the Stroke Association reported the highest risks among those under 12 months and black and Asian children. The researchers said many children suffering strokes had underlying artery disease combined with infection. They thought the black children’s risks were largely due to sickle cell disease and the Asian children’s to iron deficiency anaemia, related to socioeconomic deprivation and their mothers’ low iron levels. The study urged increased awareness to reduce diagnosis and treatment delays.


People born during whooping cough outbreaks are more likely to die prematurely, analyses at Lund University, Sweden, have calculated. Women’s early death risk was 20 per cent higher and men’s 40 per cent. Complications during and after pregnancy and risks of miscarriage and infant death within one month were also higher. The assessments were based on statistics from 1813 to 1968. The medical reasons were not apparent.


More than 600 dogs have been examined for genes predisposing them to bone cancer, to make pinpointing the human genetic causes easier. Scientists at the Broad Institute, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Uppsala University, Sweden, used dogs because their simpler genetic variation makes the responsible genes more accessible. They chose greyhounds, rottweilers and Irish wolfhounds as they are more prone to the disease, and concentrated particularly on one human cancer gene. The research could produce better treatments for osteosarcoma in humans and dogs.

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