December 3, 2010
NIH Podcast Episode #0123
Balintfy: Welcome to episode 123 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. Coming up in this episode a report reminding of the dangers of SIDS in winter months; stories on a couple of studies involving teens and youth: the implications of watching violent TV or video games, and depression related to bullying—in particular, cyber bullying; and another perspective on nanotechnology and cancer, our series returns. But first, some program notes:
Happy Holidays from NIH Research Radio! Two end-of-year program notes for you: our News Update is taking a break, and we’re skipping New Year’s Eve. Episode 125 due December 31st will be available on Friday, January 14th. Our other December edition will be available as usual, except without a News Update, and we’ll return to our regular, every-other-Friday schedule on January 14th. So be sure to keep tuning in through December and again in the New Year, and thanks for listening. Happy Holidays again from NIH Research Radio!
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NIH alerts caregivers to increase in SIDS risk during cold weather
Balintfy: In our news brief a couple episodes ago, we mentioned that the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is cautioning parents and caregivers to be alert for an increased risk of SIDS during cold weather. Now Wally Akinso has the whole story.
Akinso: Parents and caregivers can take steps to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, known as SIDS, during cold weather.
Willinger: The most important thing during any month is to place the baby to sleep on their backs for every sleep time.
Akinso: Dr. Marian Willinger is a special assistant for SIDS research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Willinger: During the colder months when parents are more likely to put more clothing on the baby or heavy blankets. They should not put too many blankets or clothing on the baby, you know, to keep the baby warm.
Akinso: Dr. Willinger provides some advice for parents and caregivers who may over dress their baby’s or use extra blankets.
Willinger: What they should be doing is trying to avoid the use of blankets, to use a blanket sleeper so that you don’t run the chance of the baby getting their face or head covered by the bedding. They should not let the baby get too hot. And if you’re outside with the baby and you have heavy outerwear on the baby, when you come inside you need to remove the outerwear even if the baby is asleep. The important thing is that you do not want the baby to overheat. If the baby overheats it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Akinso: For more than a decade, the NICHD and its partners, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the First Candle, and the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality have led the Back to Sleep campaign. For more information, visit www.nichd.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Watching violent TV or Video Games may promote more Aggressive Behavior in Teens
Balintfy: From infants to adolescents: Research shows that exposure to aggressive media results in a blunting of emotional responses in teens. This exposure may increase the likelihood that aggression is seen as acceptable behavior. Wally Akinso is back with this report.
Akinso: Watching violent movies or TV shows, or playing violent video games, desensitizes teenagers and may promote aggressive behavior. Dr. Jordan Grafman, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, explains that research he led shows that in boys exposed to more violent videos over time, their activation in brain regions concerned with emotional reactivity decreased.
Grafman: Those areas of the brain in essence became desensitized to the aggressive video clips we showed people.
Akinso: For a NINDS study, Dr. Grafman and colleagues recruited 22 boys between the ages of 14-17 to see if watching violent TV or playing violent video games could cause aggressive behavior. The boys watched short, four-second clips of violent scenes from 60 videos, arranged randomly. The degree of violence and aggression in each scene was low, mild or moderate; there were no extreme scenes. The boys were asked to press one of two buttons after viewing each clip to say whether they thought each video was more or less aggressive than the previous video. The boys’ brain function was monitored using a MRI scanner and emotional responses measured with electrodes on their skin. Dr. Grafman says there were individual differences within responses, which partly depended on the boys’ experience and their exposure with violence outside of the laboratory situation.
Grafman: So those teenage boys who experienced more aggression or violence say in their neighborhoods, at home, watch more movies, play more video games that involve violence, they’re the ones that showed the most desensitization.
Akinso: Dr. Grafman adds that the important new finding is that exposure to the most violent videos inhibits emotional reactions to similar aggressive videos over time and implies that normal adolescents will feel fewer emotions over time as they are exposed to similar videos.
Grafman: The implications are that people who show more rapid desensitization to violent pictures are going to be more accepting of violence. There’s going to be more toleration of it, not only as they observe others—friends, family members, acquaintances—but also in their society at large and potentially in their own behavior. And that is dangerous for the integration and the wellbeing of their local community. And it also may potentially put them into dangerous situations if they’re willing to be more aggressive without having the emotional breaks we all use and the cognitive breaks we all use to stop our aggressive and violent behavior.
Akinso: Dr. Grafman says this study has implications for parents dealing with a child who watches violent TV or plays violent video games.
Grafman: I think the important issue here is limiting the frequency and the intensity of their exposure to aggression. And that ranges everything from using computers and devices to making sure if they live in a community where there is a lot of aggression that they have alternative activities to participate in. You want to break up their exposure or experience to violent activities. So you want to control it and be an active parent and know where your kids are and what they are doing. And that should help.
Akinso: Dr. Grafman’s research has been published online in the Oxford Journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. For more information on his research, visit www.ninds.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Depression High Among Youth Victims of School Cyber Bullying, NIH Researchers Report
Balintfy: Unlike traditional forms of bullying, youth who are the targets of cyber bullying at school are at greater risk for depression than are the youth who bully them. This is according to a survey conducted by researchers here at NIH. Wally Akinso returns with the details.
Akinso: New research findings underscore the need to monitor and obtain treatment for victims of cyber bulling.
Iannotti: Cyber bullying involves the use of information or communication technologies such as computers, or cell phones.
Akinso: Dr. Ronald Iannotti with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is the senior author of the study.
Iannotti: For example you might send nasty or threatening emails. You may leave these as phone messages. You could post insulting or embarrassing messages online. You could even do photos or videos.
Akinso: Traditional forms of bullying involve physical violence, verbal taunts, or social exclusion. Dr. Iannotti adds that having more friends doesn’t really affect cyber bullying.
Iannotti: Having more friends is associated with more traditional bullying and less traditional victimization but these effects do not appear for cyber bullying. Boys are more likely to be cyber bullies, and girls are more likely to be cyber victims. With respect to symptoms in depression, victims of all forms of bullying, including cyber bullying, report more symptoms of depression. Even those who use all forms of bullying to bully others are at higher risk of depression.
Akinso: According to a survey conducted by researchers at NIH, unlike traditional forms of bullying, youth who are the targets of cyber bullying at school are at greater risk for depression than are the youth who bully them. Dr. Iannotti explains that past studies on traditional bullying show that bully-victims — those who both bully others and are bullied themselves — are more likely to report feelings of depression than are other groups.
Iannotti: Traditional victims and traditional bully-victims — and we call bully-victims those who report that they bully others but also report that they’ve been victimized by bullying — generally both bullies, victims and bully-victims, report symptoms of higher symptoms of depression than those who are just traditional bullies. But what’s unique about cyber bullying is that cyber victims report greater symptoms of depression than cyber bullies or cyber bully-victims.
Akinso: Dr. Iannotti says because of the association between bullying and depression, bullies, bully-victims, and victims are candidates for evaluations by a mental health professional. For more information, visit www.nichd.nih.gov . This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Balintfy: Coming up, the series on nanotechnology and cancer continues, that’s next on NIH Research Radio.
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Nanotechnology and cancer: therapeutics
Balintfy: We’re re-launching a series on nanotechnology and cancer in this episode. Back in episode 117 in September, we got an overview of nanotechnology and learned how micro-machines 50-thousdand times smaller than a human hair are being studied to improve screening, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. In the next episode, we talked about testing these tiny particles, nanoparticles, for safety. Now we’re going to get some more details on nanotechnology and cancer treatments. I’m talking to Dr. Robert Langer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. First can you explain the work you do?
Langer: Yes, well, I’ve been fortunate to co-direct along with Ralph Weissleder at the Massachusetts General Hospital NCI Nanotechnology Center. We started it five years ago, and it was just renewed again. And the specific work that we do in our lab has been aimed at drug targeting and delivery of these small interfering RNAs, and with Michael Sema [spelled phonetically], new kinds of diagnostics that might someday be implanted under the skin that could detect specific signals in the body that might tell you how a particular cancer treatment was doing. So those are the major areas that we are working on.
Balintfy: Can you briefly explain interfering RNAs and its potential?
Langer: Yes, well, there is a discovery that was made, in fact it won the 19—well, it was made in 1998, and I believe it won the Nobel Prize in 2006. And this was a discovery made by Andrew Fire and Craig Mello that you could have pieces of RNA that could—which is called small interfering RNAs—that could basically shut off specific genes. So it’s very, very highly specific. In other words, if there was a gene for a cancer being invasive, you might be able to shut that off. If there was a gene for a cancer that could recruit blood vessels, you might be able to shut that off. And so these would provide highly specific therapies unlike most drugs that really affect many targets. So that would be the potential benefit of it.
Balintfy: Dr. Langer, in general, how would you say nanotechnology can be used for cancer treatments?
Langer: Well, I think that nanotechnology, I think, can be helpful in a variety of ways. I think it can be useful in new types of drug therapies, in particular for targeted drug delivery, where you could take nanoparticles and put an anticancer drug in them, and by decorating the nanoparticle with the right substances, have it go to the cells that you want, the cancer cells, for example, rather than other cells in the body. It can also, I think, be useful in creating new medicines. Like one of the big problems with some of the potentially newer drugs, like ways of silencing RNA, for example, which could be a terrific new kind of therapy. One of the issues with that is getting it, again, into the right cells. And so nanotechnology, again, could be useful in carrying these kinds of new drugs to the cells. And it can also be useful in new imaging agents, for example, new MRI agents and a new diagnostics. So, I think it can be very, very useful in a range of ways.
Balintfy: Would you say nanotechnology is better than current treatments?
Langer: Well, I think it relates to what I said. In other words, I think if, you know, right now, current cancer treatments are fairly nonspecific, in other words, they travel throughout the entire body. So, one of the things that nanotechnology might offer, again, if you could target the nanoparticles correctly, is the ability to target them to the specific cancer cells. And then also, as I mentioned, I think it could be useful for delivering medications that now are not yet here yet. But new kinds of genetic medicines, like ways of silencing RNA, I think that those could offer huge potential advantages because they would offer brand new therapies and safer therapies and more effective therapies, potentially.
Balintfy: When do you think nanotechnology or nanoparticles will be available to treat cancer patients in the clinic?
Langer: Well, nanoparticles have been used clinically, but the targeted nanoparticles have not yet been, though the first clinical trials I expect we’ll see within the next few months. But clinical trials are a long ways away from making them widely clinically available. But I think we’ll start to see the first human proof of principle, you know, over the next year or two because the test will be going on. And there are other nanoparticles that have been developed, for example, by other scientists at Caltech like Mark Davis and others and other companies that could—that are in the clinic now. And so people are starting to see—starting to see results. The idea of delivering sRNA has also started, that’s the small interfering RNAs, that’s also started, though it’s not yet been—that much has not yet been done with nanoparticles, but again I expect to see clinical trials start on that in the next year as well.
Balintfy: You talked earlier about what was it, coloring nanoparticles to get them to do different things. Can you explain what you meant by that?
Langer: Well, I think what I said is decorating them, and what I meant was by decorating that—so what I meant by that was that if you had a nanoparticle and you want it to travel, say, the tumor, what you might do is decorate the outside of it with something that attracts it to the tumor, like it might be, for example, what’s called an antibody or an aptamer which is a piece of RNA that might be directed to a specific cell in the tumor. For example, we have done work on—with Omed Farak Ahzad [spelled phonetically] who’s a clinician, and Phil Kantoff [spelled phonetically], and one of the things we’ve looked at is prostate cancer. So there we have directed nanoparticles to prostate-specific, you know, we have used prostate-specific membrane antigen as a target. And so that’s what I meant by decorating, rather—as opposed to maybe coloring.
Balintfy: Do you think it’s worth emphasizing how tiny these nanoparticles are? What’s a good way to grasp the scale of nanotechnology?
Langer: I think so. I think the way that I usually try to think about nanotechnology is take the thickness of a human hair, and now think about something that might be 1/1,000 or 1/10,000 that size. So something in that range would be in the nano-thickness range, so it is very, very tiny. But that’s important if you want to have it go into cells and things like that. So -- but I think you can think of it, like I say, in terms of the thickness of a human hair and then an awful, awful lot thinner than that.
Balintfy: And these nano-machines are actually doing something.
Langer: Yes, they are, I mean, of course they are doing different things depending on how they are designed, and I think that is what is great about the National Cancer Institute’s funding of this area, that different academic groups and companies are making different designs that might lead to new treatment, new therapies, and in some cases, like I mentioned, new imaging agents, and in some cases new diagnostics.
Balintfy: Dr. Langer, what do you think is most important to emphasize when talking about nanotechnology and cancer?
Langer: Well, I think you think of things into two areas: one, future research, and two, clinical treatments. So the clinical treatments are—they are going to start. I mean, they are starting already, and more of them will start. So I think that we will probably see in the next five years a lot of clinical trials and possibly even some clinical products based on things that the NCI has funded. I think in terms of new future work, I mean, people are working on all kinds of, like you said, nano-machines that could do different things in the body, from better drug targeting to better imaging to better diagnostics.
Balintfy: Thanks to Dr. Robert Langer at MIT. For more information on nanotechnology and cancer, visit the website, nano.cancer.gov. This nanotechnology series will continue next episode when we’ll talk more about nanotechnology and imaging.
“So the hope is that, because nanotechnology solves specific problems, that nanotechnology and nanoparticles coupled with the right imaging instruments, all those will benefit from nanotechnologies in the future.”
For now that’s it for this episode of NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on Friday, December 17 when our next edition will be available. And remember, as mentioned in the break, NIH Research Radio is taking a break: Episode 125 scheduled for Friday, December 31 won’t be available until Friday, January 14. As usual, if you have any questions or comments about this program, our holiday schedule, 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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