July 2, 2010
NIH Podcast Episode #0113
Balintfy: Welcome to the 113th episode of NIH Research Radio with news about the ongoing medical research at the National Institutes of Health—the nation's medical research agency. I'm your host Joe Balintfy. And coming up in this episode how new research may open doors for new blood pressure treatments; a study shows that babies can learn while theyíre sleeping; also, a vaccine that protects against two pandemic viruses; and having a fun summer with better eating and getting active. But first, this news update. Hereís Craig Fritz.
Fritz: Researchers have found in a study of rats that the vitamin folate appears to promote healing in damaged spinal cord tissue. They showed that the healing effects of the vitamin increased with the dosage, to a point. The study results suggest that a greater understanding of how folate works chemically, and how it interacts with DNA, may lead to new techniques to promote healing of damaged spinal cords and other nervous system injuries. The research is at an early stage and additional studies are needed to determine what role folate might play in the treatment of humans with spinal cord injury. Nearly 11,000 Americans experience a spinal cord injury each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The effects of spinal cord injuries vary, with severe injuries resulting in complete paralysis below the injury site. Folate, a B vitamin, occurs naturally in leafy green vegetables and other foods. The synthetic form, folic acid, is used to supplement cereal grains. The vitamin is important for the development of the brain and spinal cord in early embryos.
An intervention study in middle schools lowered the obesity rate in students at the highest risk for type 2 diabetes. High risk students were identified as those who started sixth grade overweight or obese. The goal of the study was to determine whether changes in school food services; more intense periods of physical education; and classroom activities to promote behavior change would lower risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Conducted from the beginning of sixth grade to the end of eighth grade, the intervention significantly lowered the obesity rate among children whose body mass index was initially at the 85th percentile or higher. Body mass index is a measurement of weight in relation to height. Students in the study who were overweight or obese in sixth grade had 21 percent lower odds of being obese by the end of eighth grade compared with students in schools with no intervention. Nationally, about one-third of children are overweight or obese, but in this study, half of the students were overweight or obese in sixth grade.
For this NIH news update, Iím Craig Fritz.
Balintfy: Thank you Craig. News updates are compiled from information at www.nih.gov/news. Coming up next understanding proteins and blood pressure; also how newborns are learning while sleeping, then a vaccine that works against two pandemic viruses; and later, better eating and getting active for the summer. Stay tuned.
(BREAK FOR PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT)
NIH-Supported Study Finds Novel Pathway May Open Doors for New Blood Pressure Treatments
Balintfy: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure. High blood pressure, also called hypertension increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States. Wally Akinso reports that a recent study is providing new research avenues that may lead to new treatments for hypertension.
Akinso: Researchers have found that increasing certain proteins in the blood vessels of mice, relaxed the vessels, lowering the animalís blood pressure.
Zeldin: Targeting this pathway might lead to new therapies, new treatments for hypertension.
Akinso: Dr. Darryl Zeldin is the Action Clinical Director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He says a study shows that cytochrome P450 plays an important role in the management of high blood pressure
Zeldin: Cytochrome P450 have traditionally been known to be involved in the metabolism of drugs and carcinogens, theyíre the major detoxifying enzymes in the body. Recently itís been discovered that these enzymes can also be involved in the metabolism of endogenous fatty acids to compounds called EETsóthat have potent effects on the cardiovascular system. What our studied showed was that mice that were genetically engineered to have high levels of these cytochrome P450s in their cardiovascular system did not develop high blood pressure, hypertension when stimulated in ways that lead normal to develop high blood pressure.
Akinso: The study was conducted by researchers at the NIEHS, who teamed with investigators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Dr. Zeldin says the study provides new avenues for research that may lead to new treatments for hypertension.
Zeldin: The most exciting thing about this study is that it shows how findings can be translated from humans to mice and then back to humans. The study gave us a better understanding of the basic physiology and will lead to additional studies in humans that target this pathwayópatients with hypertension, with high blood pressure, to try to develop new ways to treat this disease of enormous public health importance.
Akinso: He adds that this is a great example of a basic finding that improves our understanding of a metabolic pathway that can be used to develop improved treatments for those suffering from a common disease like hypertension. For more information on this study, visit www.niehs.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health Bethesda, Maryland.
Infants Capable of Learning While Asleep
Balintfy: Newborn infants are capable of a simple form of learning while theyíre asleep, according to a study by researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health. Craig Fritz reports that the findings may one day lead to a test that can identify infants at risk for developmental disorders that do not become apparent until later in childhood.
Fritz: Scientists funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have recently performed a study to determine if infants can learn while theyíre sleeping.
Fifer: What weíve been investigating is how babies begin to take in information about their environment right after birth.
Fritz: Dr. William Fifer is a research scientist in the psychiatry department at Columbia University in New York. He says being born is perhaps the most significant environmental transition humans make.
Fifer: And babies have to learn very quickly how to adapt to this new surroundings. That includes both the environment they meet while theyíre awake and that environment including their own internal systems that they have to learn very rapidly to deal with while theyíre asleep. So we designed a study to investigate whether, in fact, they could demonstrate simpler forms of learning while they were asleep. And thatís what they did.
Fritz: Dr. Fifer, who led the study, explains that researchers played a tone, while a machine blew a faint puff of air at a sleeping infantís eyelids. The infantsí reflex was to squeeze their closed eye lids tighter. Fairly quickly, most of the infants studied — 24 out of 26 — would scrunch their faces in response to a tone that was not accompanied by an air puff.
Fifer: The fact that in this study they learned how to associate a tone with a puff of air is nothing you would meet in the real world, but it demonstrates the fact that this kind of learning is done by babies and, in fact, is something that they might do frequently.
Fritz: Dr. Fifer says it is important to determine how quickly babies can learn a behavior and how long they can remember it. He adds that this research may also have implications for identifying developmental issues in infants.
Fifer: We donít have very good tools right now to really quantify how well the brain is developing right after birth. And this provides a way to do — ask questions of babies while they are asleep, in a state that they are spending most of their time in, in fact, and one in where we can ask these questions both rapidly and non-invasively. ÖSo, for example, in this conditioning study, you need an intact cerebellum in order to demonstrate this learning. We know that other childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, as in autism and attention deficit disorders, also have cerebellar abnormalities, so perhaps this kind of a probe could be used to assess vulnerability for those conditions.
Fritz: It is not known whether the learning demonstrated in this study is unique to infants or could also occur in adults. Dr. Fifer adds that the more elaborate kinds of learning that are required to speak a new language or appreciate music are different.
Fifer: But that isnít to say that we canít ask more interesting and complicated questions about what the brain is doing while it is sleeping. We already know that a good deal of rehearsal of whatís gone on during the previous day is done during sleep; memories are reactivated and shaped during sleep, and for a baby, REM sleep by itself is a very stimulating condition which many believe is, in fact — it serves a major purpose by stimulating neuronal connections during sleep.
Fritz: Dr. Fifer is hopeful that this kind of research may someday yield results to help indentify babies at risk for sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, or have applications for patients who are in comas. For more information on this study visit www.nichd.nih.gov. This is Craig Fritz, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
NIH-Funded Scientists Find 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Influenza Vaccine Protects Mice from 1918 Influenza Virus
Balintfy: Mice injected with a 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza vaccine and then exposed to high levels of the virus responsible for the 1918 influenza pandemic do not get sick or die, report scientists funded by NIH. This new vaccine tested in mice works against both the 1918 influenza pandemic virus and the 2009 strains of H1N1 influenza. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says this is because both viruses share some similar features.
Fauci: If you have some similarities between viruses, even though they were separated by decades and decades and decades, that the response against one could be partially protective against the other.
Balintfy: Dr. Fauci explains that even thought both the 1918 and 2009 pandemics were H1N1 viruses, that alone would not necessarily predict cross-protection.
Fauci: But it was clear that in this case, there were certain elements of the 1918 H1N1 that were similar enough to the 2009 H1N1 that when the animals studies that have now been recently reported indicated that if you had vaccinated or exposed to or antibodies to one, you would be protected against the other, which actually fits right into place with what we actually observed in real time during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, where we found that individuals who either had been vaccinated in 1976 against the H1N1 or who had prior exposure, elderly individuals, people 60, 65, 70 who may have had exposure to other H1N1s, had a degree of cross-reactivity such that they were relatively protected against the 2009 H1N1.
Balintfy: To learn more, similar challenge studies need to be conducted in other animals, but the investigators say their results suggest people who are vaccinated against 2009 H1N1 influenza or were exposed to the virus could be similarly protected against the 1918 strain of H1N1. Dr. Fauci adds that this research tells us something that scientists have suspected all along:
Fauci: Even though differences in viruses occur, that even when you have some similarities that that triggers and immune response that could potentially cross-protect, so that if we get another H1N1 thatís different years from now, being exposed to this one might in fact have generated enough background immunity to protect you either completely or partially against the next wave.
Balintfy: He adds that every time we learn something more about influenza and the immune response to influenza, it gets researchers closer to what the ingredients might be for a universal vaccine, which is a vaccine that would work against all or at least many viruses. Dr. Fauci also points out another implication of this recent research.
Fauci: There has always been that concern that the 1918 H1N1 has been recreated, as it were, molecularly, and there was a theoretical concern if that ďescapedĒ you know, from the confinement that that could cause a similar 1918-type pandemic. Well, we know right now that people who were vaccinated or exposed to or had background immunity against the H1N1 of 2009 likely would be quite protected against the 1918 virus.
Balintfy: For more about influenza research and H1N1 pandemic viruses, visit www.niaid.nih.gov. And coming up next, fun summer days, stay tuned.
(BREAK FOR PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT)
Fun Summer Days—NIH News in Health Cover Story
Balintfy: A fairly popular publication here at NIH is the NIH News in Health newsletter. Itís a monthly newsletter with practical consumer health news and information based on research from NIH. The June cover story is titled Fun Summer Days and talks about eating better and getting active. To talk about these topics Iím joined by Harrison Wein, Ph.D., the editor of NIH News in Health. Even though itís already July now, these seemed like good topics for the whole summer. So Harrison, you talked to some health experts for this June cover story, what are they saying about better eating and getting active during the summer?
Wein: Well, it always helps your heart and cardiovascular system to get more physical activity, and summer is a great time for getting out and increasing your activity. And summer is a great time for getting out and increasing your activity. You could take evening walks around the neighborhood. Sign the kids up for sports programs at the local community or recreation center. Go swimming together. Ride your bike or take a hike through a park. Thereís lots of opportunities when the weatherís warmer.
And the other thing is that healthy eating opportunities come with warmer weather too. When youíre hot, a salad is refreshing and fruits. And in places like the DC area, and probably most of the country, itís a lot easier to get fresh fruits and vegetables because theyíre grown locally. You can also go to pick-your-own farms to get the kids involved and let them really know where their food comes from and that makes it more likely that theyíll actually eat healthy foods.
Balintfy: Thatís great. And youíre a runner yourself. Do you do running during the summer?
Wein: I do, but I try to get out early before it gets really hot.
Balintfy: Because there are risks of doing too much during hot summer months, arenít there?
Wein: Absolutely. Heat is the biggest health danger in the summer months. Being hot for too long can cause many illnesses, some of them can be deadly. So donít try to exercise or do a lot of strenuous activities in the midday heat. And make sure to drink plenty of liquids.
And also you should know the warning signs of hyperthermia, which is a general term for heat-related illness: and that include headache, nausea, dizziness, muscle spasms and real fatigue. If you suspect someone is suffering from hyperthermia, get the person out of the sun and into a cool place and give them lots to drink. And also get help immediately if the person has a very high body temperature and symptoms like confusion, unusual behavior, faintness, a lack of sweating or if pass out definitely get medical help immediately.
Balintfy: Good advice, excellent. What are health experts recommending about sun exposure about sun screen and those kind of things?
Wein: Well, there are over a million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year. And to put that in perspective, thatís more than at least the top 5 body system cancers combined and maybe more than all cancers combined. Now, you need some sun to make enough vitamin D for your body. But you should definitely avoid the sun during peak hours when the sun can cause the most damage. So stay in the shade and use sun protection: that includes, cover your skin. Choose shirts with long sleeves and long pants. Modern fabrics are light and breathable yet protect your skin from the sun. I can tell you from personal experience that if you havenít tried them lately, you should check them out. Theyíve gotten a lot better and theyíre not as uncomfortable as they used to be, and they really do help protect you very well from the sun.
Use sunscreen. Now sunscreen canít replace shade and protective clothing, but it may help prevent skin cancer and it can definitely prevent a very uncomfortable sunburn. So look for a sunscreen with a sun protection factor—thatís the SPF number you see on the label—of at least 15. 30 or higher will provide the most protection. Thereís actually been some debate about how high that number can realistically go and a lot of experts say that an SPF over 50 isnít really very meaningful. But definitely look for something 30 or higher for the most protection.
Wear a hat. Broad brimmed hat all around to shade your ears and neck if possible. And finally, use sunglasses to protect your eyes. And look for sunglasses where the label says that the lenses block at least 99% of UVA and UVB radiation. Thatíll protect your eyes better.
Balintfy: Back to the SPF, doesnít that basically just buy some time?
Wein: Yeah, Sun Protection Factor, a lot of people think thatís itís a way you can multiply your time in the sun. Thatís not really true. So for example, if you get sunburned with 10 minutes in the sun, that will let you stay out 15 times longer. Thatís not exactly true. It does protect you from the sun somewhat, but you can still get burned. And depending on the time of day and other factors like how much you sweat the sunscreen off, itís not going to protect you as much as you might think, but itís definitely going to help.
Balintfy: So ultimately the shade, and the protective clothing is going to be better than just sunscreen.
Wein: Yeah, definitely.
Balintfy: In the June edition, there are some Wise Choices, some "Healthy Summer Habits." There are nine of them in there altogether and I think youíve touched on a few of them as weíve been discussing. Are there maybe two or three you would highlight from that side-bar that you think are especially important or especially useful?
Wein: Absolutely, Iíd say get active outside in the early morning or evening. Or, get active indoors: Go to an air-conditioned gym, do water workouts or use a fitness video at home. So take opportunities to get physical activity.
And also, take the opportunity to explore seasonal fruits and vegetables at your local farmers market, or grow your own. And try different fresh herbs to make healthy foods more interesting.
Balintfy: Great. This was the June edition that we are talking about this article, but July is here. Can you give us kind of a hint or maybe some insight of whatís coming up in the July issue?
Wein: Well there was a recent meeting at NIH about Preventing Alzheimerís Disease and Cognitive Decline - thatís your ability to think, learn and remember. Top scientists got together here to see what we know and where we need to do more research about preventing these things from happening. So the cover story summarizes what they found. And also, we have a story explaining how to take care of your mouth and prevent gum disease.
Balintfy: How can people get copies of the NIH News in Health Newsletter.
Wein: You can go to NewsInHealth—thatís all one word—newsinhealth.nih.gov and you can find it there.
Balintfy: And itís actually a funny coincidence that an upcoming episode of the NIH Research Radio podcast will also be covering that Alzheimerís conference. So itíll be good to get these different perspectives.
Wein: Yeah, it was a big conference. There was a lot of information there.
Balintfy: Very good. Thanks so much Harrison.
Wein: Thank you Joe.
Balintfy: Again to read the NIH News in Health newsletter, visit the website newsinhealth.nih.gov. You can also find it on Facebook or even get a print subscription.
Balintfy: And thatís it for this episode of NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on Friday, July 16th when our next edition will be available. If you have any questions or comments about this program, or have story suggestions for a future episode, please let me know. Best to reach me by emailómy address is email@example.com. I'm your host, Joe Balintfy. Thanks for listening.
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