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Cristian Mihon



Researchers from the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom, have started a new study, involving the families from the area who have children that were born prematurely. The research team is trying to better understand the connection between premature birth and the onset of ADHD. Approximately 200 children between the ages of 8 and 10 are needed for the study. Subjects will be picked after the parents complete a questionnaire. Children will be picked according to their level of attention skills, ranging from poor, to average, to good.

The second group of subjects will be selected by the lead author of the study, Jennifer Tellet, a PhD student from the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. She will select prematurely born children who volunteer for the study, based on the reports of local neonatal intensive care units.  According to previous studies, children who are born more than eight weeks earlier than their normal term have a 50% increased risk of being diagnosed with ADHD, when compared to children born at term. Tellet hopes that hew new study, name PATCH (Preterm Birth and Attention in Children) will increase the understanding and diagnosis of ADHD.

Precedent studies have shown that prematurely born children show different symptoms than those most commonly associated with ADHD. They show symptoms such as easy distraction, daydreaming, etc., rather than being hyperactive. These symptoms can have a major impact on their development and academic achievements, while also affecting their social relationships and behavior. Due to the fact that prematurely born children suffer from a less disruptive form of ADHD, they are often overlooked or misdiagnosed.

The research team is planning to assess the attention skills of the subjects in order to better understand exactly what difficulties each children faces. In order to do so, the research team will test the children and identify the specific area of weakness for each subject. These weakness areas include memorizing information and attention span. All of their tests will involve specially designed games. Children will play these games while connected to an EEG (electroencephalography) device that measures the brain’s electrical activity. This method allows both parents and children to view their own brain waves, while also providing important information for the researchers.

The study will be supervised by Dr Lucy Cragg, who is an expert in brain development. She notes that the importance of the study is that it allows researchers and physicians to better understand the difficulties through which children suffering from ADHD have to go through and also reveal some of the causes of the onset of the disorder. Cragg adds that their focus will be on the differences found between prematurely born children and the children born at full term.

The research team says that the results of the study will help understand this less disruptive form of ADHD, while also being able to reduce its negative impact. This will help both the family of the children and their physicians. The long term goal of the study is to discover a way to improve the social performance of the children.


A research team from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, from Israel, discovered that a single dose of a drug that is used to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy is responsible for the improvement of balance control during walking. Administering the drug could possibly reduce the risks of falling among adults and elderly. Researchers show that one dose of MPH (methylphenidate), a psychostimulant drug that is used to treat disorders such as ADHD, narcolepsy and postural tachycardia syndrome, can reduce the number of falling accidents in elderly patients.

Previous studies have established that falling accidents are the leading cause of hip-fractures and other injury-related incidents that reach the emergency rooms. Furthermore, falling accidents are one of the causes of accidental deaths that occur around the world. One of the main causes of falling accidents is the fact that elderly patients suffer from a deterioration of their balance and gait.

According to the new study, recently published in The Journals of Gerontology, the single dose of MPH given to elderly patients managed to reduce the number of stepping errors and the rate of stepping errors in single as well as in dual tasks, thus improving their walking quality.

Professor Itshak Melzer, the lead author of the study, says that the results of their new study show evidence that MPH is responsible for improving gait and reducing falling accidents in elderly patients. Furthermore, he reports that the effect of the drug can be seen during dual-tasking, which is met in the most common circumstances in which a patient finds himself walking. These dual-tasks include focusing attention on both walking and other activities such as talking on the phone or with another person, watching the traffic, etc. Melzer is a member of the Schwarz Movement Analysis & Rehabilitation Laboratory from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The study consisted of 30 healthy subjects, each over the age of 70 and still capable of walking for 20 meters without the help of medical personnel or other assisting devices. Each subject was given a dose of 10 milligrams of MPH. After the dose, each subject was tested in four different task conditions, both in single and combined motor skills and cognitive skills. Meltzer explains that the effect of MPH could be related to the enhanced attention it causes, thus leading to improve balance, particularly in dual-task conditions.

Melzer concludes that the findings of his new study show that MPH does not only improved gait through its effect on the subject’s attention, but also through the direct influence in has on several areas of the brain. MPH affects the areas of the brain that are involved in the control of balance and the areas involved in motor skills.


According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of New South Wales, in Australia, oxytocin, also known as the ‘trust hormone’, is not responsible for improving the symptoms of children suffering from autism spectrum disorders. The study will be published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. According to the lead author of the study, professor Mark Dadds, there are several previous studies that suggested a connection between oxytocin and the formation of psychosocial bonds. The studies suggested that the effect could be related to the powerful effects that oxytocin has on the activity of the brain.

Professor Dadds reports that many families with children suffering from autism spectrum disorders have purchased nasal sprays containing oxytocin and are already using the sprays on their children. Also, he adds that there are numerous clinical trials started worldwide. However, the effects of oxytocin on the formation of psychosocial bonds is limited. Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by an impairment in the children’s social and communication skills. Children suffering from autism also suffer from repetitive behavioral patterns.

In order to determine the suitability of oxytocin as a general treatment, Dadds and his team performed a controlled randomized clinical trial. There were 38 subjects ranging from 7 to 16 years old that participated in the clinical trial, all of them being previously diagnosed with autism. 19 of the subjects received oxytocin through the use of a nasal spray, over the course of 4 consecutive days. The results of the clinical trial show that oxytocin, when compared to placebo, does not have a significant beneficial effect on the health of the subjects. Researchers show that oxytocin did not improve the social skills, nor the emotional recognition capabilities of the subjects. Furthermore, the repetitive behavioral patterns remained unchanged.

The current study contradicts numerous precedent studies that report the positive effects of oxytocin on the patients’ repetitive behavioral patterns, emotional recognition capabilities and social memory. However, according to professor Dadds, the previous studies had a limited amount of subjects and were only evaluating the effects of single doses of oxytocin on specific behavioral patterns.

Professor Dadds affirms that the results of the current study show that physicians should be cautious when recommending oxytocin nasal sprays for children with autism. Two extensive medical assessments were conducted on the children before they were accepted in the study. During the period of the study, the subjects were tested three more times. Two more extensive medical assessments were conducted on the subjects, one immediately after the study was finished and a second one 3 months later. Multiple factors were observed, such as responsiveness, speech, warmth, repetitive behavioral patterns, parent eye contact, and the emotional recognition capabilities.

Previous studies have shown that oxytocin can increase the level of emotional awareness, trust and eye-gazing in healthy patients. Professor Dadds affirms that patients who suffer from autism might have their oxytocin receptors damaged, thus higher levels of oxytocin have little to no effect on them. However, Dadds does not infirm the possibility that a subgroup of patients suffering from autism could exist, on which oxytocin has a beneficial effect.


Earlier this week, a group of scientists from the Yale University, in the United States, has revealed the real cause of the disease known as typhoid fever. As Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by accident in 1928, so did the researchers from Yale University discover the true cause of typhoid fever. Typhoid fever is a common bacterial disease spread throughout the world. It is transmitted through the ingestion of food and water contaminated with feces containing the bacterium known as Salmonella Typhi. The disease accounts for more than 200 thousand deaths each year, however, its cause remained unknown until a study was published last week in the journal Nature.

According to the author of the study, professor Jorge Galan, typhoid fever is one of the oldest known diseases in the world. The disease is also credited with the devastation of Athens’ population and the winning of the Peloponnesian War by Spartans. Precedent research has shown that the bacterium responsible for the onset of the disease is Salmonella Typhi. However, its pathogenic pathways have not been understood for many years. Professor Galan affirms that researchers have been trying to understand why the bacterium is extremely pathogenic for years, despite the fact that the pathogenic pathways of other Salmonella have already been discovered and understood.

Dr Zulfigar Bhutta from the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, who is the leading typhoid fever expert, explains that one of the reasons why the cause of typhoid fever has remained undiscovered is that there are very few researchers working towards the discovery. Professor Galan and his team have revealed the mechanism through which S. typhi manages to keep its stealthiness for such a long period of time. According to the new paper, the bacterium only releases its toxin when it reaches the inside of the host cells. The reason why researchers haven’t found the toxin yet is because the conventional methods can’t discover it. Current conventional methods for detecting toxins is by growing the bacteria in the laboratory and then grinding them up. However, S. typhi doesn’t release its toxin unless it is inside the host cell.

However, Galan and his research team worked around the protocol when he wanted to observe the bacterium after infecting the host cells. According to Galan, his research team was investigating the interactions between human cells and S. typhi, nowise trying to find the S. typhi toxin. Once the bacterium penetrates the host cell, it begins to synthesize the toxin, releasing it into carrier vessels. The carrier vessels exit the cells and enter the blood system, where the toxin is released.

Subsequently after finding the compound that he thought would be the toxin of S. typhi, Galan isolated it and purified it. Further, he injected the compound into laboratory mice. All the laboratory mice that were injected with the newly purified compound developed typhoid disease symptoms, except fever, which is a symptom related to the presence of the bacterium inside the organism, rather than a symptom related to the actual toxin.

Dr. Bhutta affirms that Galan’s paper is fascinating. However, he believes that it is only the first step towards the correct direction. He says that further research is needed due to the fact that Galan’s study used mutant strains to S. typhi. Dr. Bhutta concludes that other research teams need to replicate Galan’s results before an official announcement regarding the cause of typhoid fever can be made.

Professor Galan says that an effective vaccine against the tested version of the toxin is trivial to synthesize. Current therapies against typhoid fever include a series of antibiotics that target the bacterium, and not the toxin.


Researchers Reveal New Cancer Imaging Technology

A research team from the URMC (University of Rochester Medical Center), in the United States have revealed a new cancer imaging technique. Their new discovery uses a combination of ultrasound and laser technology in order to be highly sensible in detecting prostate cancer. Researchers say that in the near future, their new invention could be improved in order to be capable of detecting other types of cancer, such as thyroid, breast, kidney, liver and even skin cancer.

Their discovery was named Multispectral Photoacoustic Imaging (MSPI). The creators of the new imaging technology are professor Vikram Dogra, from the Imaging Sciences Department, and professor Naval Rao, from the Center for Imaging Technology, both being departments of URMC.

There are several diagnosis techniques capable of detecting prostate cancer. Physicians from all around the world currently use techniques such as digital rectal examination, transrectal ultrasound and the monitoring of PSA levels. The technique considered to be the current gold standard for the diagnosis of prostate cancer is the prostate biopsy. However, a prostate biopsy is an invasive technique capable of detecting prostate cancer only in 70% of the cases, while also being uncomfortable and having several side effects.

Professor Dogra saw the need for a new, non-invasive imaging technique that would be more effective than a prostate biopsy. Dogra and his research team started experimenting with a hybrid technology that brings together ultrasounds and laser technology. The new technology uses a nanosecond-long burst of laser targeted at the suspected cancer tissue. This procedure heats the tissue, allowing the heat waves to be detected through ultrasound. Further, the images acquired are used to recreate a digital image of the suspected tissue, allowing scientists to analyze the differences in light absorption caused by the different wave lengths. Researchers used an acoustic lens in order to complete their new invention. An acoustic lens is more cost effective than the already available electronic focus technology.

The new system allows scientists to detect different levels of water, lipids and hemoglobin. These 3 compounds each respond to different wave lengths sent from the laser unit. If there is fluctuation in the levels of these 3 compounds, the status of the tumor can be assessed. The compound that raises the biggest interest is hemoglobin. This is due to the fact that hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen to the tissues. An increase in the levels of deoxyhemoglobin (the form of hemoglobin that doesn’t contain oxygen) shows a higher probability that the tissue is malignant.

The first findings of the research team were revealed earlier this year, during a conference held by the American Roentgen Ray Society. According to the study from then, the new technology was capable of discovering 12 of the 16 cancerous prostates and 25 of the  26 healthy prostates. This translates to a success rate of 81%, respectively 96%.

Dogra and his research team are currently trying to create a prototype version of their new imaging technique. They believe that clinical trials will start in less than two years from now. Furthermore, they expect the new system to be significantly less expensive than biopsies, both in terms of cost per test and equipment cost.


Researchers Shed Light on Screening Practices Benefits

A recent study shows that the community-wide screening efforts for dementia offer no economic, emotional of clinical benefits. According to professor Carol Brayne, the author of the study, there is no evidence that the screening efforts for dementia lead to better clinical evolution or better psychological and social outcomes. Furthermore, Brayne says that the screening doesn’t bring any new medical knowledge of the disorder. Brayne and her research team are from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, from the United Kingdom. Their research was presented at an annual Alzheimer’s conference, held in Boston, in the United States.

There have been numerous debates among policymakers and health advocacy groups regarding the benefit of community-wide dementia screening and its economic and medical implication. Due to the fact that Alzheimer’s is currently an incurable disease, most people argue that community-wide screening isn’t needed. However, some researchers affirm that almost 50% of people suffering from dementia are undiagnosed. Professor Brayne affirmed during the conference that there is a major lack of evidence that supports the benefits of community-wide screening.

In order to fulfill the current study, the research team analyzed and reviewed all of the available studies regarding community-wide dementia screening. Of all the studies analyzed, only 6 presented information about the cost of screening and its economic implications. However, there were no studies regarding the psychological and social outcomes. According to the results of the study, community-wide screening requires vast amounts of economic resources, while it offer little to no value compared to the current screening methods.

The author of the book The Alzheimer’s Action Plan, professor Murali Doraiswamy from the Duke University Medical Center, believes that professor Brayne’s study brings empowering information. According to Doraiswamy, screening practices should meet two important criteria. The first criteria is a high degree of accuracy. The second criteria is that the results of the screening practice should bring benefits to the outcome of an individual’s disease.

Doraiswamy affirms that the value of most screening tests if overrated. Researchers are beginning to understand the impact screening practices have on individual patients – leading the to undergo unnecessary procedures and raising  their anxiety levels. However, he adds that the current study doesn’t suggest that  troubling symptoms should be ignored. According to the research team, the families and friends who suspect that their loved ones suffer from symptoms related to dementia should consult their physician. Furthermore, people who have a member of their family suffering from dementia are also at high risk.

According to professor Heather Snyder, the director of Medical and Scientific Operations at Alzheimer’s Association, there are numerous disorders that can cause dementia-like symptoms. Disorders such as hormone imbalances, the use of many drugs for treatment, and nutrition deficits can also cause memory problems. However, these disorders can be treated, unlike Alzheimer’s.

Professor Brayne concludes that her future research will focus on groups with higher-risk.


Novel Therapy Against Cystic Fibrosis Discovered by Researchers

A new study led by Dr Gergely Lukacs, from the Physiology Department at McGill University, in Canada, reveals new information about the disease known as cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis (CF), also known as mucoviscidosis, is a life threatening disease that severely affects the digestive system and the lungs. CF is a caused by a genetic disorder that leads to an abnormal transport of sodium and chloride across the epithelium of mucus, sweat, and digestive juices producing cells. This causes the aforementioned secretions to be thick and viscous. According to precedent studies, CF is caused by a mutation in a gene that encodes the protein known as CFTR (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator). Even though the discovery of the disease and its cause were made more than 25 years ago, there is no cure for it to this day.

The research team from McGill University reveals novel information about the cause of the CFTR gene mutation, thus offering new potential drug targets. In order to achieve their results, the research team had to first understand the composition of the CFTR protein. The CFTR protein is made up of almost 1,500 amino acids linked together through five domains. Professor Lukacs notes that the quest for discovering an efficient treatment is as hard as trying to repair a tear in a braided rug. Researchers must first identify the origin of the mutation, and then they must discover a way to correct that mutation. “It’s a monumental task”, said Lukacs.

One side of the quest is already complete. Even though there are approximately 2,000 genetic mutations that are associated with the CFTR gene, one of them is more common. Accounting for over 90% of the cases, the genetic mutation known as F508del, involves the deletion of an amino acid found in position 508 of the CFTR protein. According to researchers, this mutation causes the weakening of the protein structure, thus causing it to malfunction.

At the moment, the best drug that could be used to treat cystic fibrosis is called Vertex VX-809. It is currently undergoing clinical trials. However, for the majority of the population that suffers from cystic fibrosis, Vertex VX-809 is a very ineffective drug. Its ineffectiveness is due to the drug only being able to restore the inter-domain communication, whilst being unable to strengthen the domain itself.

Dr Lukacs’ previous studies suggest that the structural effect of the F508del mutation is not restricted to the domain of origin. The mutation also negatively impacts the other four domains of the protein. This translates into a compromise in structural appearance of the protein. To continue the rug analogy, the mutation seems to affect the strength of the rug as a whole, rather than just the strength of a few braids.

In the current study, the research team combined the drug known as Vertex VX-809 with a chemical compound that targeted two structural defects found in the protein. The results of the combination were extraordinary. Through the combination of the two compounds, the efficiency of the drug reached a startling 70%, as compared to the 15% efficiency previously reported in cell cultures.

Dr Lukacs reports that their findings are important because they offer a new way of choosing drug candidates against cystic fibrosis. Moreover, the study shows that the combination of two chemical compounds which target complementary structural defects can increase the effectiveness of drug therapies against cystic fibrosis.


Researchers Discover Novel Cancer Therapy Targets Through Screening

Researchers from the Cancer Research Institute from the United Kingdom reveal a new effective screening method that is able to identify genetic mutations in the cancerous cells found in one of the most common forms of lung cancer. Their discovery could lead to the development of new anti-cancer drugs. The study was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team from the Cancer Research Institute from the University of Manchester studied the cell lines of 6 different NSCLCs (non-small cell lung cancer) that were previously grown in laboratory conditions. Each of the studied cell lines is known to have at least 60 genetic mutations. In order to precisely detect which of the mutations were responsible for the onset of cancer, the research team turned off each mutation in turn. This allowed them to determine the exact genetic mutations that  cause the cells to proliferate.

According to their results, the research team reports finding 3 key genes involved in the production of proteins that cause the cells to proliferate out of control. More importantly, these proteins can be used as drug targets for specific anti-cancer drug therapies. In the UK alone, lung cancer has been shown to be the 2nd most common type of cancer, following breast cancer. Approximately 42,000 cases are diagnosed each year, accounting for 13% of diagnosed cancer types. Furthermore, lung cancer also has one of the lowest survival rates. Less than 10% of all lung cancer patients survive for more than 5 years after being diagnosed.

The leader of the study, Dr John Brognard affirms that his new study is able to provide a new approach towards cancer drugs that could be personalized for each individual, thus increasing their efficacy. The results of the study still leave the genetic mutations of almost 50% of NSCLCs undiscovered. Researchers say that lung cancer is one of the most difficult to study types of cancer, thus all the possible genetic markers are already targeted by current therapies. However, the new discovery of the research team allows for further development of drugs according to the genetic mutations that are most likely to cause the proliferation of the cancerous cells.

According to professor Richard Marais, the direct of the Cancer Research Institute, the improvement of lung cancer survivability is their priority, and this study is a major step forward towards the development of cancer therapy that is effective for each patient due to the possibility of personalizing the therapy for each patient. He concludes that if the genetic mutations that cause the cancerous proliferation will be discovered and understood, cancer therapies will be able to be very specific and effective. Professor Marais says that the direction to which this study leads is the direction he wants for the new Manchester Cancer Research Center.


Study Reveals Cosmetic Surgery Unable to Boost Women’s Self-Esteem

A new study conducted by a research team from Dartmouth College, from the United States, reveals that black, brown, or racially mixed women from Venezuela are undergoing nose plastic surgeries in order to greater resemble white women. The research team finds that these cosmetic surgeries only help the patients for a limited amount of time, improving their self-esteem and body-image.

Plastic surgery is becoming an increasing trend in Venezuela and other countries, where the social need for a better physical appearance is increasing. Besides nose surgery, women undergo face lifts, breast implants, liposuction and other cosmetic surgeries. However, the new trend has caused controversy. According to a comment made by the former President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the cosmetic surgery trend is to be blamed for the pressuring of Venezuelan women into getting cosmetic surgeries that they don’t need, nor afford.

Assistant Professor of anthropology, Lauren Gulbas, the leader of the study investigated the aesthetic ideals that are being promoted by the plastic surgery industry. She focused her studies on women from Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, that underwent rhinoplasty, a plastic surgery procedure that targets the nose of patients. Her study was recently published in the journal Qualitative Health. A total of 63 women, regarding their race, participated in the study. 24 of the subjects had already completed a rhinoplasty procedure, whilst the other 39 were thinking about undergoing the procedure. Gulbas discovered that all the subjects wanted a “well-formed nose”, also known in Venezuela as nariz perfilada. According to the subjects, nariz perfilada is most commonly associated with being white, thus it is considered the gold standard of rhinoplasty. Gulbas affirms that the subjects of her study, which had African inherited broad, flat noses, wanted plastic surgery in order to improve their self-esteem by looking whiter.

In Venezuela, people are spread into racial categories that are defined by skin color. This categorization is made possible through a system called mestizaje – racial mixing. This is defined by the continuous promotion of racial equality and cultural fusion with Indians, Africans and Europeans. However, according to professor Gulbas’ study, the European culture and physical appearance are the most prized. Thus, cosmetic surgeons provide a large range of rhinoplastic surgeries. This further leads to a low self-esteem and dissatisfaction, due to the belief that the promoted looks are better than their own.

Professor Gulbas links cosmetic surgery to the racial marginalization that occurs in Venezuela and other countries around the world. Due to the high offer of cosmetic surgery, patients believe it to be a solution to the racial marginalization. She concludes that cosmetic surgery only helps patients for a limited amount of time, heightening their body image and self-esteem. However, the social effects of cosmetic surgery are not long-lasting and diminish in time.


Research Suggests Public Reporting Unlikely to Detect Poorly Performing Surgeons

A new study conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, published in the online journal The Lancet reveals that the recent decision taken by England’s NHS (National Health Service) to publish the mortality rates of each surgeon is very unlikely to identify the poorly performing surgeons due to the fact that certain surgery specialties have only a low number of surgeries that can be taken into consideration. The surgical branch is only one of the 10 medical branches targeted by the NHS.

According to Jenny Neuburger, one of the lead authors of the study, the mortality rates of procedures such as bowel cancer resection can’t be accurate due to the uncommon nature of the procedure. However, regarding procedures that are more common, such as cardiac surgeries, the individual performance of surgeons can be assessed through this method. According to Neuburger, the low number of surgery procedures means that the performance of individuals surgeons could be overwhelmed by chance factors that are responsible for the death of patients.

The research team analyzed the nationwide mortality rates for 5 different types of surgical procedures. These procedures are cardiac surgery, gastrectomy, oesophagectomy, hip fracture surgery and bowel cancer resection. Based on the collected data, researchers calculated the amount of surgical procedures needed to create a reliable detection of poor individual performance. Furthermore, the research team analyzed the number of procedures conducted in England’s NHS-affiliated hospitals. The results show that the actual number required for a correct assessment of poor individual performance exceeds the number of annual surgical procedures conducted by surgeons.

As an example, in order to achieve a statistical power of over 60% (meaning that 6 of 10 poorly performing surgeons would be detected through the method) for bowel cancer surgical procedures, researchers estimate that there need to be at least 10 times more bowel cancer surgeries performed annually. After analyzing data collected from the past 3 years, researchers determined that cardiac surgeons and hip-fracture surgeons were performing enough surgical procedures annually, thus poor performing individuals could be detected. However, for the other procedures, analyzed data reveals that less than 20% of the needed surgical procedures are performed.

The NHS aims towards higher transparency regarding individual performance of English surgeons, in order to help patients chose the best available surgeons. However, such public disclosure could only be useful if the data is accurate. Dr. Neuburger concludes that only data collected from surgeons who perform enough surgical procedures every year could be introduced into the database. However, she adds that these reports should contain data that is based on frequent outcomes of surgery, not mortality. Thus, surgeons who do not perform enough surgical procedures can also be included into the database based on the outcomes of their procedures. Dr. Neuburger also affirms that these reports should be aimed towards the performance of surgical teams and/or hospitals, instead of being focused on the surgeon as an individual.