September 24, 2010
NIH Podcast Episode #0118
Balintfy: Welcome to the 118th 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 research appears to confirm that stress may delay women getting pregnant; new breast cancer research goals; a new source of information on alcohol use for older adults; and our series on nanotechnology continues with a perspective on safety. But first, this news update, here’s Craig Fritz.
Fritz: A recent study funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health And Human Development found that victims of cyber-bullying are more likely to suffer from depression than victims of traditional bullying or bullies. Traditional forms of bullying involve physical violence, verbal taunts, or social exclusion. Cyber bullying, or electronic aggression, involves aggressive behaviors communicated over a computer or a cell phone. Researchers note that unlike traditional bullying which usually involves a face-to-face confrontation, cyber victims may not see or identify their harasser. As such, cyber victims may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack. The study followed students in grades 6 through 10. Researchers also say that although bullies are less likely to report feelings of depression than are victims, they are more likely to report depression than are youth not involved with any bullying behaviors—either traditional bullying or cyber bullying.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences or NIEHS is awarding $36 million in grants to 20 organizations that develop safety and health training programs. These efforts focus on workers involved in hazardous waste operations and transportation, environmental restoration of contaminated facilities, and chemical emergency response. The training programs are intended to prepare people to be first responders to different disasters around the country. NIEHS trainees have assisted with aftermaths of the September 11th attacks, hurricane Katrina and the gulf oil spill. Since its inception in 1987, the training program has prepared more than two million hazardous waste and emergency responders with potentially life-saving information.
Researchers at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute have found that a drug commonly used for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is also useful to treat adults whose asthma is not well controlled on low-doses of inhaled corticosteroids. Scientists say that the study results show that the drug might provide an alternative to other asthma treatments, expanding options available to patients for controlling their asthma. According to the study, adding the drug to low doses of inhaled corticosteroids is more effective at controlling asthma than doubling corticosteroids alone. Increasing corticosteroids is one of the preferred treatment options available for adults whose asthma is poorly controlled on low doses. However, higher doses of corticosteroids do not improve symptoms for all patients and can have significant side effects. Researchers are excited about the results but say long-term studies must take place to ensure the new therapy is safe.
For this NIH news update, I’m Craig Fritz
Balintfy: News updates are compiled from information at www.nih.gov/news. But for more on that last item check out Monday’s NIH Research Matters e-newsletter at www.nih.gov/researchmatters. The September 27 e-newsletter will also include stories about aplastic anemia – which is a blood disorder in which the body's bone marrow doesn't make enough new blood cells – and how stress can change DNA. We’ll also be reporting on stress – how it may reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant. That’s next on NIH Research Radio.
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NIH study indicates stress may delay women getting pregnant
Balintfy: Welcome back. A study by researchers here at NIH and at the University of Oxford supports the widespread belief that stress may reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant. The study is the first of its kind to document, among women without a history of fertility problems, an association between high levels of a substance used to measure stress and a reduced chance of becoming pregnant. Craig Fritz is back with this detailed report.
Fritz: Scientists at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development recently performed a study to determine if a woman's stress level could impact the chances of her becoming pregnant. Researchers showed that women who had higher levels of a substance called alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than were women with lower levels of the substance. Alpha-amylase is secreted into saliva by the largest of the salivary glands. In recent years many researchers have used it as a barometer of the body's response to physical or psychological stress. The substance is secreted when the nervous system produces compounds that initiate a type of stress response. Senior investigator at NICHD, Dr. Germaine Louis explained the study in detail.
Louis: We collaborated with investigators at Oxford University who were conduction a prospective pregnancy study where we were recruiting women who were discontinuing contraception for purposes of becoming pregnant. Then we followed these women up through six months of attempting pregnancy. And women completed daily diaries for us regarding sexual intercourse, menstruation and life-style factors. And also on day six of each menstrual cycle, the women provided us a saliva sample for us. And that sample was sent to a lab to measure two biomarkers of stress.
Fritz: Helping couples find their best method of relaxation may improve the chances of becoming pregnant. However, common stress relievers such as alcohol and tobacco use should be avoided. Dr. Louis explained. . .
Louis: Well I think stress is a very personal state. And I think how people relax is also a very personal state. What may be a form of relaxation for someone such as jogging may not be as relaxing for someone else. So I think our message is however you best relax, as long as it's healthy and won’t have further implications for trying to get pregnant, is something you might want to consider. We do have some evidence that suggests that life style factors, smoking and alcohol consumption while you're trying to get pregnant increases the time it takes the body to conceive, so we would discourage people from relaxing in those ways. But again, I think it's important to relax in a way that they think works best for them.
Fritz: Dr. Louis knows there is much more work to be done to help provide couples with the most complete information available to help them achieve healthy pregnancies. She feels that the field and NICHD specifically are headed in the right direction.
Louis: Well I think both the field and our research here at NICHD is going in the right direction. And that is recognizing that we need to be studying environmental exposure and life style in the context of your genome, at sensitive windows of human reproduction. Which for things like conception and pregnancy include the preconception period. So the ability to measure exposure and life style during these sensitive windows before people become pregnant is really an important piece.
Fritz: Dr. Louis also added that she hopes to be able to release exciting research in this area within the next few years. This is Craig Fritz, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
New Breast Cancer Committee to Establish Federal Research Agenda
Balintfy: The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, has announced the appointment of members to a newly formed committee. The committee will develop and coordinate goals and a plan for research on the environmental and genetic factors for breast cancer. Wally Akinso reports that the first meeting of the committee will take place at the end of this month in the Washington, D.C. area.
Akinso: A newly formed advisory committee will develop and coordinate a strategic federal research agenda on environmental and genetic factors related to breast cancer.
Collman: This committee came at the result of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Act of 2008.
Akinso: Dr. Gwen Collman is the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' Acting Director of the Division of Extramural Research and Training.Collman: Congress directed that Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to bring together the federal agencies that were involved with breast cancer research to discuss the ongoing work related to the topic of breast cancer in the environment.
Akinso: The Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee will develop recommendations for the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies, to improve existing research programs related to breast cancer research.
Collman: What this committee will do is bring together federal scientists, scientists from the committee at large in a number of different areas and breast cancer advocates to talk about the research that is currently being conducted on breast cancer in the environment and look to the literature and to the future to see what kinds of scientific opportunities there might be to develop continuing research efforts in this area.
Akinso: The 19-member committee will have their first meeting September 30-October 1, 2010 in the Washington, DC area. For more information, visit www.niehs.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
NIHSeniorHealth Site Offers Information about Older Adults and Alcohol Use
Balintfy: Wally Akinso is right back with a report on how alcohol can be a problem for older adults, and a new resource to help.
Akinso: Having a drink now and then as you get older is not known to be harmful, but alcohol can be a problem for older adults, especially if they take certain meds, have health problems or don't control their drinking.
Willenbring: I think the point is not that drinking alcohol is a good or bad thing per say. The question is for a given individual is drinking better for you or worse for you.
Akinso: Dr. Mark Willenbring is an Advisor to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, and Alcoholism's Director for Clinical Research.
Willenbring: Does it make sense to take the risk associated with drinking are there potential health benefits associated with drinking?
Akinso: These and many other issues related to the elderly and alcohol consumption are addressed in Alcohol Use and Older Adults a new topic on the NIHSeniorHealth website.
Willenbring: The website has essential information for older adults about alcohol and aging. The website is for people who are not dependent but who have some concern about drinking and when it might be safe to drink and when it might not be safe to drink. So this is just kind of a beginning to give people some essential information to help them consider their own drinking habits.
Akinso: The NIH Senior Health website was jointly developed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine for older adults and their families. If you would like to read up on this topic, visit www.NIHSeniorHealth.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Balintfy: Coming up on NIH Research Radio, our series on nanotechnology continues with an interview on how researchers are examining the safety of nanoparticles. That’s next.
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Health effects of nanoparticles
Balintfy: Last episode, we heard about the promise of nanotechnology and cancer. In this episode, we look at how research is also being done on what happens when these miniscule materials get loose in the air and sucked up into someone’s lungs. We’re talking with Dr. Tim Nurkiewicz, an NIH grantee at West Virginia University who recently received NIH funding to study this. Dr. Nurkiewicz, first, can you explain how prevalent the use of nanotechnology is and where it’s already being used?
Nurkiewicz: Sure, nanotechnology is actually very, very well rooted in our everyday lives already. Some of the purposes in which we are seeing nanotechnology showing up are surface coatings on all of our computer components and electronic components. You see it in protective coatings, scotch guard coatings. It makes many of our paints and colors brighter or more resilient. It’s used on anti-bacterial surfaces and it’s used in fuels to make fuels combust more efficiently are some examples of nanotechnology.
Balintfy: With all these uses of nanotechnology is there an easy way to define it or explain these tiny particles?
Nurkiewicz: There are many definitions out there of what particles are, let alone nanoparticles, but the most common definition that we come across in terms of nanoparticles is that it is a particle that is engineered with a specific intent in mind. That is, it was created with a purpose: to have a certain solubility in fluids, or to have a certain conduction, or to have a certain interaction with other particles or components. But common across all of those — common across all of those definitions is the common theme that a nanoparticle has at least one dimension measurement less than 100 nanometers.
Balintfy: And we know from our last interview, that’s a scale 50-thousand times smaller than a human hair. Dr. Nurkiewicz, what kind of nanoparticles are you studying?
Nurkiewicz: We look at—the purpose of the grant is to look at two very distinct nanoparticles. One is a metal oxide, titanium dioxide, and that is a smaller, spherical nanoparticle. And the other nanoparticle that we’re looking at are carbon nanotubes, and carbon nanotubes come in a couple of different flavors. One is multi-walled carbon nanotubes, and that’s just several tubes within each other, and then there’s a single-walled carbon nanotube, which is just, as its name implies, is a single tube. And in terms of exposure, we are interested in pulmonary exposure or inhalation of these nanoparticles because this is our interest in terms of occupational and environmental exposure. That’s where the most common roots of entry are into the body, although it’s not limited to that. And then we evaluate their health effects after exposure by measuring the ability for the blood vessels in the body to dilate or constrict because that really is the sign of a healthy tissue in that the blood vessels must be able to dilate to deliver more blood to an active tissue.
Balintfy: Where and how are these nanoparticles used?
Nurkiewicz: Titanium dioxide is commonly used in cosmetics, in any white cream. It is a common compound used — or a base in paint and in any type of liquid paint application. Titanium dioxide is used to wash or filter the air and the water that we breathe and drink. And carbon nanotubes are used in a variety of applications as a surface coating or as an insulator, as an electrical insulator or as a vibration dampener, to insulate that.
Balintfy: What do you expect to find by studying these nanoparticles – can you explain what you hypothesize?
Nurkiewicz: Yes, what we hypothesized in my grants was based on our previous work with environmental pollutant exposures in which we determined that—or we discovered that the ability for blood vessels to dilate after exposure to larger environmental particles is significantly impaired. We hypothesized that we would see something greater after nanoparticle exposure, because if you consider an individual’s pulmonary exposure -- that is, they’re breathing the same volume per unit time—if they’re breathing in nanoparticles that are several orders smaller than a larger environmental particle, they’re breathing in more particles. And if you breathe in more particles, the surface area of particles to interact with the lung is far greater. It’s analogous to thinking of a can full of basketballs or a can full of tennis balls; there are far more tennis balls in this can and therefore, that increased surface area can exert a greater biologic affect that results in a more profound impairment of the blood vessels to dilate.
Balintfy: Dr. Nurkiewicz, it sounds like you’re looking at nanotechnology from a risk perspective—are there reasons to be cautious using nanoparticles?
Nurkiewicz: Certainly; they can be a risk, and in a broad overview, we are not at all against nanotechnology. We totally grasp and respect the health benefits and the benefits to our society as a whole that nanotechnology has to offer. My research interest is on microvascular health. And the microcirculation is comprised of the tiniest blood vessels in the body and these blood vessels are responsible for the delivery and removal of nutrients and wastes in any given tissue of the body. And in many regards, this level of the vasculature is the point of origin for most every pathologic or disease process present in humans. So, we look at how a nanoparticle exposure affects the function of these tiny blood vessels.
Balintfy: Are there any other key points you think are important to understand about nanotechnology and nanoparticles?
Nurkiewicz: I’d really like to reemphasize that we are not anti-nanotechnology and just that we fully realize the potential for this and that we just want to make sure that we are fully identifying the health effects at all levels, not just in terms of pulmonary exposure; we have interest in using nanoparticles as drug-delivery systems, as you mentioned in your previous broadcast. The question is is what is the persistence of these nanoparticles once they are intentionally placed in the body? How are they cleared out? These are studies that we have ongoing that we want to find out how long the affects of these particles affect normal health and do they interact with other systems in the body? Are there other questions that remain to be determined? That is, how do they affect, for example, kidney function or liver function or gastrointestinal function? This is, you know, some of the other alternative entry mechanisms for nanoparticles into the body.
Balintfy: That’s Dr. Tim Nurkiewicz at West Virginia University. His project is titled "Microvascular Health and Nanoparticle Exposure." For more about his research and funding, visit www.niehs.nih.gov. We’ll have more on nanotechnology in future episodes; but for now, that’s it for NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on Friday, October 8 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 email—my address is email@example.com. I'm your host, Joe Balintfy. Thanks for listening.
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