Most children shed their “baby fat.” But researchers say that in more and more cases, chubby babies (which are about 30 percent of all babies) are primed for obesity later in life.
“We are certainly not saying that overweight babies are doomed to be obese adults,” study researcher Brian Moss, PhD, of Detroit’s Wayne State University tells WebMD. “But we did find some evidence that being overweight at 9 months of age is a predictor of being overweight or obese later in childhood.” [Web MD]
The study followed a group of 7,500 babies born in 2001, classifying them by their position on the baby growth chart as “at risk” (those falling in the 85th to 95th percentile weight group) or “obese” (the 95th and above percentile). When the babies were nine months old and again at the age of two years, the parents filled out surveys about their child’s length and weight, their socioeconomic status, and race. The researchers found that 32 percent of the 9-month-olds were overweight, and 34 percent of the toddlers were. The study was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
In a remarkable medical feat, researchers used a blood sample from a pregnant woman to work out the entire genome of her unborn fetus. The technique, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, could provide a safer and less invasive way to check a fetus for fatal genetic mutations.
Currently, determining a fetus’s genome requires either amniocentesis, in which a needle is inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the amniotic sac, or chorionic villus sampling, in which a piece of placenta is removed. But both techniques carry a small risk to the baby, and are reserved for cases when there is an increased risk of genetic defects.
“The major advantage of the technique in this paper is that there’s no risk of miscarriage,” said Dr. Diana W. Bianchi, a reproductive geneticist at Tufts University who called the work a “technological tour de force.” Amniocentesis and CVS testing carry about a 1% risk of miscarriage, she said. [LA Times]
The new technique sequences the fetal genome from fragments present in the mother’s blood. In the late 1990s researchers discovered that fragments of fetal DNA are present in maternal plasma, presumably because the DNA gets broken down and crosses over the placental barrier.
Two recent studies are refuting the claims of omega-3 enthusiasts that the fatty acid, which is produced mainly by algae and is found in the animals that eat them (like fish), is the ultimate “brain food.”
Anecdotal reports had suggested that these fatty acids, called omega-3 because they have a kink in their structure three bonds from the end of the carbon chain, could improve brain function for everyone from the elderly to the unborn. Vitamin supplements of fish oil have therefore been flying off the shelves.
People who eat lots of fish are less likely to develop dementia or cognitive problems late in life. Observational studies have also found that taking omega-3s during pregnancy can reduce postpartum depression and improve neurodevelopment in children. What’s more, animals with an Alzheimer’s-like condition are helped by docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of several omega-3 fatty acids. And DHA disappears from the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. [ScienceNOW]
In an Alzheimer’s study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researcher Joseph Quinn gave about 400 patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s 2 grams of either omega-3 DHA or a placebo each day. After 18 months, none of the patients showed improvement of their Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Earlier today we noted that Robert Edwards won a 2010 Nobel Prize for his work developing in vitro fertilization. But more than three decades after Edwards’ work came to fruition with the first IVF child’s birth, the technique is still somewhat haphazard—two-thirds of the time, it doesn’t lead to a live birth. Now, with a new approach to watching the first day or two of an embryo’s existence, scientists may be able to take a leap forward in both their understanding of a life’s first moments and in the success rate of IVF.
In a study published in Nature Biotechnology, Connie Wong and colleagues watched nearly 250 embryos develop over six days. They made the videos like the one seen above using time-lapse photography at the microscopic level, which showed the key differences between successful and failed embryos.
Successful embryos had an initial cytokinesis, or division of the cell’s cytoplasm, lasting between 0 and 33 minutes, a gap between first and second cell divisions lasting 7.8 – 14.3 hours, and an interval between second and third cell divisions of 0 – 5.8 hours. The pattern was so uniform that it was possible to automate the analytical process, using a computer algorithm to predict whether embryos would go on to develop successfully. [Nature]
Robert G. Edwards.
Edwards’ work creating in vitro fertilization led to the birth of four million babies, and now it has garnered him the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Edwards, a physiologist who spent much of his career at Cambridge University in England, spent more than 20 years solving a series of problems in getting eggs and sperm to mature and successfully unite outside the body. His colleague, Dr. [Patrick] Steptoe, was a gynecologist and pioneer of laparoscopic surgery, the method used to extract eggs from the prospective mother. Dr. Steptoe, who presumably would otherwise have shared the prize, died in 1988. [The New York Times]
“Hongerwinter,” or “hunger winter”—that’s what they called the end of 1944 in the Netherlands. As World War II lurched toward its end, Nazi Germany put up a blockade to prevent food from entering the Netherlands. According to a study by Dutch researchers, that famine is still felt all these years later in the brains of people who were born during those years.
Susanne de Rooij and colleagues looked at more than 700 people born during those years, 300 of whom experienced famine in utero, to see if that experience changed their brains.
In the study, 64 seniors who were exposed to famine in the early stages of gestation did worse on cognitive-function tests that required them to do tasks like name the color of the word “blue” when it was printed in yellow ink, than seniors who were exposed later or not at all to hunger in utero. The researchers also found that exposure to famine at any stage of the mother’s pregnancy resulted in a smaller head circumference at ages 56-59.”Head size is related to brain size and reduced size has been associated with decreased cognitive abilities in the elderly,” they wrote. [AFP]
Chronic fatigue syndrome’s headaches, muscle aches, tiredness, and concentration problems have no known cause, so a paper published online yesterday, in which researchers report finding a type of virus in 87 percent of 37 chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients tested, seems a promising step. But in statements to the media the researchers stress caution in interpreting results. The group also noted that it had delayed publishing the paper, originally meant to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May, due to conflicting reports from other scientists.
The National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Harvey Alter, senior author of the paper, said in a conference call with reporters, “It’s an association, but that’s all it is.” He was careful to say the findings don’t prove that a virus causes CFS. [NPR]
Alter’s caution is understandable, especially given recent CFS research history:
October 2009: A virus, XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia virus–related virus), is found in 68 of 101 CFS patients.
January 2010: XMRV is not found in a British study that tested CFS patients.
July 2010: XMRV is not found in a Center for Disease Control study testing CFS patients.
A new device may one day save those with diabetes from the frequent finger-pricking and cumbersome external monitors required to check glucose levels–by instead keeping tabs from inside their torsos. In a study published online today in Science Translational Medicine, researchers report that an implantable glucose sensor has worked in pigs. Ultimately, clinical trials and FDA approval will determine if the device holds any promise for humans, but researchers say this animal test is an important first step.
“You can run the device for a year or more with it constantly working, and recording glucose quite satisfactorily. Now, we are focused on getting the human clinical trials going. We hope to begin the first human trial within in a few months,” said [lead author, David Gough.] “If all goes well with the human clinical trials, we anticipate that in several years, this device could be purchased under prescription from a physician,” said Gough.[University of California - San Diego]
As Popular Science reports, the device is “just a bit smaller than a Double-Stuf Oreo”–around 1.5 inches wide and half an inch thick. Gough and colleagues implanted the device in two pigs: one for 222 and and another for 520 days. It works by monitoring oxygen consumed in a chemical reaction with the enzyme glucose oxidase–the amount of oxygen consumed is proportional to the amount of glucose in the user’s blood. Though some already use similar sensors, none have lasted this long.
When you hear mention of BPA, or bisphenol-A, plastic bottles and food containers likely come to mind. Now, a report presented by activists at the Environmental Working Group says the chemical is also in some paper store receipts.
In the study, which has not been peer reviewed, the environmental group looked for BPA in 36 sales receipts. They found that about forty percent used thermal paper (which has a chemical coating that changes colors when heated) that contained 0.8 to nearly 3 percent pure BPA by weight, 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula. Other research, their report says, shows that BPA can transfer from receipts to a person’s skin, but how much BPA transfers or if it penetrates into the bloodstream remains uncertain. A chemical-industry trade group says the amount transferred is low:
“Available data suggests that BPA is not readily absorbed through the skin,” a spokeswoman from [The American Chemistry Council] said. “Biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that exposure to BPA from all sources, which would include typical exposure from receipts, is extremely low.”[Washington Post]
Replacing a traditional needle with a fingernail-sized patch may one day make some immunizations painless and possibly more effective. A study published in Nature earlier this week shows that a patch–a square of “microneedles” that are too short to register a typical shot’s sting and that dissolve in the skin–effectively immunized mice against a strain of the flu virus.
The researchers have yet to test the patch on humans, and that next step could take a few years; the move from a successful animal trial to a human trial isn’t a small feat. Still, many see this patch’s promise. As Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says:
“The caveat is, this needs to be extended to humans…. It’s not uncommon for vaccines or vaccine delivery systems to look very promising in experimental animals, then fail in humans. But there is every reason to believe this kind of technology could be applicable to children and adults.” [HealthDay News]
If the patch proves successful in human studies, here are some reasons it might quickly catch on.