August 26, 2011
NIH Podcast Episode #0141
Balintfy: Welcome to episode 141 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 for this episode, our theme is back to school. We’ll learn about new research showing kids can mix-and-match their flu vaccine this season; also we can all start thinking about science-fair projects, and a new way to share them; plus how parents can keep an eye out for autism spectrum disorders, as well as healthy eating, physical activity and diabetes awareness for the school year. But first, this news update. Here’s Craig Fritz.
Fritz: Scientists at the National Institutes of Health teamed with researchers at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, to analyze a sample of suicide deaths among U.S. military personnel on active duty between 2002 and 2008. The researchers compared levels of omega-3 fatty acids of 800 individuals who committed suicide with those of 800 randomly selected service members who were matched with the suicide cases by age, sex, and rank. They found that all the service members had low omega-3 levels, and that suicide risk was greatest among individuals with the lowest levels of DHA, the major omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain. The findings add to an extensive body of research that points to a fundamental role for DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids in protecting against mental health problems and suicide risks. The identification of low DHA status as a significant risk factor for suicide deaths should complement ongoing efforts in the U.S. military to study modifiable risk and protective factors related to mental health and suicide among U.S. military personnel.
A National Institutes of Health-funded computational study analyzed genomic and drug data to predict new uses for medicines that are already on the market. Scientists focused on 100 diseases and 164 drugs. They created a computer program to search through the thousands of possible drug-disease combinations to find drugs and diseases whose gene expression patterns essentially cancelled each other out. For example, if a disease increased the activity of certain genes, the program tried to match it with one or more drugs that decreased the activity of those genes. Many of the drug-disease matches were known, and are already in clinical use, supporting the validity of the approach. Other matches were surprises. An anti-ulcer medicine matched with lung cancer, and an anticonvulsant matched with inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease. Researchers note that bringing a new drug to market typically takes about $1 billion, and many years of research and development. If they can find ways to repurpose drugs that are already approved, they could improve treatments and save time and money.
NIH will fund more than $14 million in grants to develop DNA sequencing technologies that will rapidly sequence a person’s genome for $1000 or less. The grants will enable the everyday use of DNA sequencing technologies by biomedical researchers and health care providers. During the past decade, DNA sequencing costs have fallen dramatically. This has been fueled in large part by tools, technologies and process improvements developed by genomic researchers. In 2004, NIH launched programs to accelerate improvements in DNA sequencing technologies and to drive down the cost. In 2009, the program surpassed its initial goal of producing high-quality genome sequences for $100,000. Today, the cost to sequence a human genome using next-generation DNA sequencing technologies has dipped below $20,000. Scientists note that with advances in a third generation of DNA sequencing technologies, they’re moving closer to the point when researchers and health care providers can routinely and rapidly screen a person’s genome using devices that produce highly accurate data.
For this NIH news update – I’m Craig Fritz
Balintfy: News updates are compiled from information at www.nih.gov/news. Coming up in the program a contest to encourage science is schools; details on autism spectrum disorders; how parents can help their child have a healthy school year, and getting the right dose of flu vaccine for kids just got easier – that’s next on NIH Research Radio.
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Any prime-boost mix of injected or spray flu vaccine shields toddlers
Balintfy: Research funded by NIH shows that protection for children younger than 3-years is the same regardless of whether two doses of flu vaccine are injected by needle, inhaled through a nasal spray or provided through one dose of each in any order. You may know that influenza vaccinations for young children are provided in a two-dose, prime-boost combination. The first vaccine dose is designed to prime the immune system to produce a favorable antibody response; and the second vaccine dose is the "boost" designed to spur an immune response. Currently there are two types of flu vaccines approved as safe and effective for children: what's called a trivalent, inactivated vaccine and a live, attenuated influenza virus vaccine.
Fauci: The inactivated is an injection and the attenuated is a nasal spray.
Balintfy: Dr. Anthony Fauci, an institute director at NIH says, sometimes when a child comes back for the boost, matching the vaccine could be a logistical challenge.
Fauci: Sometimes when children go back it’s difficult to match them with exactly the same one that they had.
Balintfy: He explains that one goal of a recent NIH-funded study involving four groups of children was to determine whether giving two different types of vaccines works as well as giving two of the same.
Fauci: And what this study shows is that the inactivated vs. the attenuated, it doesn’t matter what order you give them in or how you give them — you could go get an inactivated and then an attenuated or vice versa and the response is still fine — so that takes the pressure off from a logistics standpoint.
Balintfy: Dr. Fauci adds that the study also has an interesting scientific message.
Fauci: The other thing that was important is that they showed something which was generally suspected all along, that the live attenuated is a little bit better than the inactivated in the sense that it induces what we call T-cell responses which might give an additional degree of protection against influenza.
Balintfy: Stimulating broad T-cell responses may be important for protection against many diverse flu strains. Researchers point out that in contrast to currently used flu vaccines – which must be given annually because circulating flu viruses change from season to season – a vaccine capable of eliciting broad T-cell responses could potentially provide decades-long protection against many or all flu strains.
Fauci: So you have a practical message that you can mix and match, you can give one and then the other, both it doesn't matter; you then have an interesting thing for reflection in the future that the live attenuated gives a much better t-cell response.
Balintfy: Researchers add that this trial suggests the best regimen for kids younger than 24 months may be an inactivated or injected vaccine, followed by an attenuated or spray vaccine. And Dr. Fauci reminds that severe complications from seasonal influenza can be devastating to young children. The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season. For more information on influenza and this study, visit www.niaid.nih.gov.
NIH develops program to encourage science in schools around the country
Balintfy: The NIH K–12 LAB Challenge is a call to the nation to help the NIH bring engaging hands-on science into the classroom — so everyone can enjoy doing science! Wally Akisno reports that NIH is asking people to send their best experiments for kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.
Akinso: The National Institutes of Health has developed a program geared to promote science in classrooms.
Easter: The official name is the NIH K-12 Lab Challenge.
Akinso: Dr. Carla Easter is a science education specialist at the NIH.
Easter: This is a program that we’ve been working on for the past couple of months to encourage the public to provide their best on hands on experiments that folks on K-12 education, so that we can collect these. And basically hand them out to anybody who’s interested in having them free of charge. So they’ll be available in written form and also on a website as well.
Akinso: Individuals submitting experiments must be at least 13 years old. The entry deadline is December 1, 2011, 11:59 p.m. CST. Dr. Easter explains the process and requirements of this program.
Easter: So the requirements are very simple. We are looking for individuals who are within the United States, who can provide us with these actual activities. And we have a website which basically has all of the information that one would need for the challenge. So they can find all of the relevant information on how to enter and the requirements along with a fun video that gives an overview of the challenge as well.
Akinso: A panel of classroom teachers, students, scientists, and NIH science education personnel will select the winners.
Easter: The way winners are selected is that we have a wonderful group of judges who run the gamut from educators to scientists around the country, who will take these written proposals that people will have sent to us. And we’ll actually go through them. And we have a rubric which you can also find at the website that gives you a sense of exactly what we’re looking for in the challenge. Once the activities have been judged and deemed the best ones, we will then provide the winners with an electronic badge—which they can put on their website or their Facebook page.
Akinso: The winning procedures will be announced March 1, 2012. The winning submissions will be available for free in print, online, and on mobile devices from the NIH Office of Science Education Web site. If you are interested in submitting an experiment, just visit www.science.education.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the NIH, Bethesda, Maryland.
Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children
Balintfy: Children with an autism spectrum disorder do not follow the typical patterns of child development. They may have problems with social interaction, and verbal and nonverbal communication, or have repetitive behaviors or interests. Oftentimes between 12 and 36 months old, the differences in the way they react to people, and other unusual behaviors, become apparent. An expert tells Jim McElroy that early diagnosis is very important because it enables parents or caregivers to begin intervention services early-on in the child's life.
McElroy: Autism Spectrum Disorders are usually first diagnosed in early childhood and range in severity. Parents and caregivers are usually the first to notice unusual behavior in children...
Gilotty: The first thing a parent should do if they suspect their child may have an autism spectrum disorder is to contact their child's pediatrician to request a screening.
McElroy: Dr. Lisa Gilotty is with the Research Program on Autism Spectrum Disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Gilotty: Often a pediatrician will conduct an initial screening in their office and then refer the family to a specialist who is trained to diagnose ASD or alternately to a nearby clinic that specializes in ASD and related disorders.
McElroy: There is no single best treatment package for all children with ASD. Parents and caregivers should work with a trusted, expert diagnostic team in making treatment decisions. Also of vital importance for families, is finding local mental health services in your area.
Gilotty: Families should seek out local programs that offer intervention services for children with ASD as well as determine what services the school system will offer. Parents often need to work with a child's school to figure out the best classroom fit and other related services.
McElroy: We hear so much about children and autism but what adults?
Gilotty: For adults with ASD the most important considerations are employment and independent living as well as continued access to high quality medical and educational or vocational services. People with ASD or their caregivers should look at both the state and the local levels for resources that can assist with this transition to independence.
NIMH is currently funding studies to improve diagnostics and early intervention, studies that look at the developmental course of ASD from infancy all the way through young adulthood as well as research on interventions for adults such as one which teaches appropriate job related skills like how to apply and interview for a job.
It can be hard to navigate that social sphere in employment situations for individuals with autism, so studies like this one are highly relevant and highly important and we're really thrilled about it actually.
McElroy: Dr. Lisa Gilotty. For more information about Autism Spectrum Disorders go to the NIMH website at nimh.nih.gov.
Balintfy: That’s Jim McElroy reporting. Up next on NIH Research Radio, how parents can help their kids either with, or without diabetes this school year.
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Parents can help their child have a healthy school year
Balintfy: The start of the school year can mean lots of changes to the daily routine. Dr. Griffin Rodgers, an institute director at NIH, discusses the importance of good eating and physical activity habits, as well as helping make preparations for kids who have diabetes. So Dr. Rodgers, in general, why is it important for parents to help their children have a healthy school year?
Rodgers: A new school year signals time for kids to be with friends, study new subjects, and get involved in after-school activities. With so many demands on you and your child during the school year, it is easy for healthy eating and physical activity habits to take a back seat. We want to remind parents and their children that they don’t have to let school days lead to skipped meals and inactivity. In fact, healthy eating and regular physical activity may help the whole family meet the challenges of a hectic school year.
Balintfy: How can parents help their children stick with healthy eating habits during the school year?
Rodgers: Healthy eating and regular physical activity are two very important ways to help your child feel energized, learn better and stay alert during the school year.
Whether your child eats breakfast and lunch at school or you pack these meals for him or her, these meals should provide your child with about two-thirds of the nutrients they need for the day.
When your child buys meals at school, encourage him or her to make healthier choices like a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread. Low-fat yogurt topped with fruit or pre-cut vegetables with low-fat dip or salsa are also healthy options.
Encourage your child to think about what he or she drinks, too. Choose water, fat-free, or low-fat milk instead of soda or other sweetened drinks or juices.
Balintfy: And what about physical activity, Dr. Rodgers?
Rodgers: Children should be active every day, whether they play sports, take P.E. or get from place to place by walking or bicycling.
Make sure your child gets at least 60 minutes or more of physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. If your child is not used to being active, encourage him or her to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day. Your child may enjoy jumping rope, playing volleyball or playing catch.
Replace after-school TV watching and video game use with physical activity. Help your child get involved with activities at school or in your community. Volunteer as a family to clean up a local park or playground, for example.
Balintfy: What can a parent do if his or her child is overweight or obese?
Rodgers: Children grow at different rates at different times, so it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight or obese.
We know that overweight and obesity tend to run in families. In addition to genes, the world in which children and their families live and work and play may contribute to overweight and obesity.
If your child is overweight or obese, he or she is at greater risk for developing serious health problems such as diabetes.
If you think that your child is overweight or obese, talk to your health care provider. He or she may tell you if your child’s weight and height are in a healthy range.
Balintfy: You mentioned diabetes, why is back to school time important for parents of a child with diabetes?
Rodgers: Well, back-to-school time is a very important time for parents of a child with diabetes. Diabetes needs to be managed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—in school, on field trips, and at extracurricular activities. Parents of a child with diabetes know how important it is to maintain safe blood glucose levels. And, they know the warning signs when their child needs help.
With summer over and their child going back to school, parents want to be sure that the school nurse, teachers, and other school staff are prepared to help their child manage their diabetes and respond to emergencies.
Balintfy: How can parents ensure that their child with diabetes is safe at school?
Rodgers: There is a comprehensive guide for school personnel, parents, and health care providers to help ensure that students with diabetes are safe at school. This guide is called “Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed,” and it can literally be a lifesaver. Parents and schools can order a free copy of the guide by calling the toll-free number 1-888-693-6337 or by visiting the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) website, www.YourDiabetesInfo.org.
Balintfy: So are there some tips from this school guide you can offer parents to help them work with their child’s school?
Rodgers: Here are some practical tips from the School Guide to help parents work with their child’s school:
Take action. Notify the school right away that your child has diabetes. Allow your child’s health care team to share medical information with the school. Provide up-to-date emergency contact numbers to the school.
Second, work with your child’s health care team to develop a “Diabetes Medical Management Plan.” This plan contains the medical orders for your child. It should be signed by the health care team and given to the school nurse at the start of the year. You can find a sample plan in the School Guide.
Next, meet with the school nurse to go over your child’s health care plans. The school nurse will use the medical orders to prepare your child’s routine and emergency diabetes care plan. The school nurse will distribute the emergency plans to all school personnel so they know what to do in case your child shows symptoms of low or high blood glucose. Sample emergency plans are also found in the School Guide.
Now, also provide the school with all the supplies and medicines needed to carry out your child’s health care and emergency plans. This includes blood glucose testing items, supplies for taking insulin and urine and blood ketone testing, snacks, quick-acting glucose products, and a glucagon kit.
Finally, be an active member of the school’s healthcare team. The School Guide includes action checklists for school personnel, parents, and older students that lay out each person’s responsibilities. Go over these checklists with your child so both of you know what you need to do and are prepared to work as a team with school staff throughout the school year.
Balintfy: What other resources are available to help parents keep their child healthy during the school year?
Rodgers: The NIH has many resources to help parents keep their child healthy and safe during the school year.
For more information in English and Spanish on children, healthy eating and physical activity, visit the Weight-control Information Network at www.win.niddk.nih.gov.
To learn more about managing diabetes in youth, visit the National Diabetes Education Program at www.yourdiabetesinfo.org.
Balintfy: Thank you very much Dr. Rodgers. Those resources again are the National Diabetes Awareness Program or NDEP. They have a toll free number: 1-888-693-6337 and website, www.YourDiabetesInfo.org. And for healthy eating and physical activity information, visit the Weight-control Information Network at www.win.niddk.nih.gov.
And that’s it for this episode of NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on Friday, September 9th 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm your host, Joe Balintfy. Thanks for listening.
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