Signs of Autism

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Three Key Factors to assist Children Avoid Social Rejection Identified

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Neurobehavioral researchers at Rush University center have found three key factors during a child’s behavior which will cause social rejection. The studies are an important step in developing scientifically sound screening tests and treatment planning for social-emotional learning difficulties. The results from the studies are published within the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

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Findings from the pair of studies indicate that the power to select abreast of non-verbal cues and social cues in social interaction also as recognize the meaning and respond appropriately to them are key to helping children develop skills to take care of friendships and avoid a number of problems in later life.

A child who experiences social rejection is more likely to suffer from academic failure, drop out of faculty, experience depression or anxiety, and experiment with drugs.

“Children’s ability to develop positive peer relationships is critical to their well-being,” said Dr. Clark McKown, study PI and associate executive and director of research at the push Neurobehavioral Center. “Compared to children who are accepted by their peers, socially rejected children are at substantially elevated risk for later adjustment troubles.”

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Researchers observed two groups of youngsters. One was a random sample of 158 children within the Chicago establishment. the opposite group was a random sample of 126 clinic-referred children.

The studies indicate that some children have difficulty learning on non-verbal or social cues.

According to McKown, “They simply don’t notice the way someone’s shoulders slump with disappointment, or hear the change in someone’s voice once they are excited, or absorb whether a person’s face shows anger or sadness.”

A second major factor is that some children may devour on non-verbal or social cues, but lack the power to connect aiming to them. The third factor is that the ability to reason about social problems.

“Some children may notice social cues and understand what’s happening, but are unable to try to to the social problem solving to behave appropriately,” said McKown.

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A child who can absorb social cues, recognize their meaning and respond appropriately, and who is capable of “self- regulating,” or controlling behavior, is more likely to possess successful relationships.

“The number of youngsters who cannot negotiate of these steps, and who are in danger of social rejection, is startling,” said McKown.

Nearly 13 percent of the varsity age population, or roughly four million children nationwide, have social-emotional learning difficulties.

For some time, behavioral scientists have known the social costs related to this problem. Illinois is one among a couple of states which require school districts to assess and monitor the social-emotional learning needs of its students.

“Because it’s not known exactly which behaviors set a toddler up for failure, or the way to measure these skills, it had been difficult to supply support,” said McKown. “Now, it’ll be possible to pinpoint which abilities a toddler must develop and offer help.”

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According to researchers at Rush, the results of the studies could potentially help develop tests to assess for social-emotional learning that are easy to administer and scientifically sound.

The study was funded by the Dean and Rosemarie Buntrock Foundation and therefore the William T. Grant Foundation.

About Rush University center Rush University Medical Center is a tutorial center that encompasses the quite 600 staffed-bed hospital (including Rush Children’s Hospital), the Johnston R. Bowman clinic and Rush University. Rush University, with quite 1,730 students, is home to at least one of the primary medical schools within the Midwest, and one among the nation’s top-ranked nursing colleges. Rush University also offers graduate programs in allied health and therefore the basic sciences. Rush is noted for bringing together clinical care and research to deal with major health problems, including arthritis and orthopedic disorders, cancer, heart condition, mental disease, neurological disorders and diseases related to aging.

About Rush Neuro Behavioral Center Rush Neuro Behavioral Center (RNBC) serves the medical, psychological and academic needs of youngsters with neuro behavioral issues with a special emphasis on social-emotional learning disorders. .These children have difficulty focusing, forming relationships, regulating behavior, or functioning effectively due to differences within the way their brains receive, process, and manage verbal and nonverbal information. Through research, clinical practice, and education, RNBC seeks to reinforce the understanding of the requirements of these with neuro behavioral disorders, repose on their strengths, and help them achieve their full potential.

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Since 1997, RNBC has treated quite 10,000 children with such problems as Tourette’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and language-based and non-verbal learning disabilities

Visit http://www.RNBC.org or call 847.933.9339 with any questions or additional information on RNBC services and research initiatives.

System Detects & Translates Sarcasm on Social Media

Technion student develops system that interprets sarcasm on Twitter, and translates it into sarcasm-free language

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Researchers in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management have developed a system for interpreting sarcastic statements in social media. The system, developed by graduate student Lotam Peled, under the guidance of Assistant Professor Roi Reichart, is called Sarcasm SIGN (sarcasm Sentimental Interpretation GeNerator).

“There are a lot of systems designed to identify sarcasm, but this is the first that is able to interpret sarcasm in written text,” said Peled. “We hope in the future, it will help people with autism and Asperger’s, who have difficulty interpreting sarcasm, irony and humor.”

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Based on machine translation, the new system turns sarcastic sentences into honest (non-sarcastic) ones. It will, for example, turn a sarcastic sentence such as, “The new ‘Fast and Furious’ movie is awesome. #sarcasm” into the honest sentence, “The new Fast and Furious movie is terrible.”

Despite the vast development in this field, and the successes of sentiment analysis applications on “social media intelligence,” existing applications do not know how to interpret sarcasm, where the writer writes the opposite of what (s)he actually means.

In order to teach the system to produce accurate interpretations, the researchers compiled a database of 3,000 sarcastic tweets that were tagged with #sarcasm, where each tweet was interpreted into a non-sarcastic expression by five human experts. In addition, the system was trained to identify words with strong sarcastic sentiments – for example, the word “best” in the tweet, “best day ever” – and to replace them with strong words that reveal the true meaning of the text. The system was examined by a number of (human) judges, who gave its interpretations high scores of fluency and adequacy, agreeing that in most cases it produced a semantically and linguistically correct sentence.

Automatic identification and analysis of sentiment in text is a very complex challenge being explored by many researchers around the world because of its commercial potential and scientific importance. Sentiment identification could be used in social, commercial, and other applications to improve communication between people and computers, and between social media users.

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The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.

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American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.

New Policy Reduces Anti-Psychotic Medications in Foster Children

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski

Texas strategy reduces prescriptions without compromising care, Rutgers study finds

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Rutgers researchers have found that a Texas strategy to reduce anti-psychotic medication for children can serve as a model for other state Medicaid programs.

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The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

“Youth in the United States foster care system are about five times more likely to take antipsychotic medications, a class of medications to manage their mental and behavioral health, than children in the general public,” said Thomas Mackie, assistant professor at Rutgers School of Public Health. In response, over 31 state Medicaid programs nationally are experimenting with different oversight strategies to ensure safe and judicious use of antipsychotic medications. These Medicaid programs are challenged to address these concerns while also ensuring access to antipsychotic medications in cases where these medications are clinically optimal, especially for those youth with psychosis, autism and other U.S. Food and Drug Administration–approved clinical indications.

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An antipsychotic medication oversight strategy implemented in Texas included four elements: a mental health screening administered within 72 hours of the child being removed from the original caregiver; a health passport drawing on claims-based data; a psychiatric consultation line for child welfare staff, caregivers and judges; and a retrospective review of whether prescribed psychotropic medications met state best practice parameters after the antipsychotic medication was prescribed and dispensed.

The study, sought to examine whether the Texas program was effective in reducing the number of youth in foster care prescribed antipsychotic medications off-label to manage symptoms of conditions such as conduct disorders or attention hyperactivity disorders, while not decreasing use for disorders with FDA indications, such as bipolar disorder or autism spectrum disorders.

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After the strategy started, the Rutgers researchers found the program resulted in roughly a 5 percent to 8 percent reduction in antipsychotic use for youth treated off-label for conditions like conduct or attention hyperactivity disorders, whereas no significant changes were found for youth treated for FDA-indicated conditions.

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These findings show that the Texas program effectively reduced use of antipsychotic medications for off-label conditions where clinical concerns are greatest while not reducing antipsychotic medications for FDA-indicated conditions where stronger evidence exists for antipsychotic use among youth.

“Although the Texas model enrolled only youths in foster care, similar innovations are increasingly being extended to the general population of Medicaid-insured youth,” Mackie said.  “This study provides important new evidence suggesting that states continue to incorporate or renew the inclusion of these additional behavioral health services into Medicaid-managed care arrangements.”

Young girls with autism

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UC Davis research suggests a predictive role to support earlier intervention

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Preschool-age girls with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face greater challenges with emotional and behavioral problems than similar age boys with ASD. These challenges are associated with a larger amygdala, a UC Davis Health study has found. The amygdala is a key part of the brain that helps regulate emotions and detects threats.

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The findings, by Christine Wu Nordahl, associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and colleagues at the UC Davis MIND Institute, suggest that amygdala development may help predict these psychological and behavioral problems that can occur at high rates in girls with ASD. The study was published online Jan. 19 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Credit: UC Davis Health

“A significant number of individuals with autism have co-occurring psychiatric problems like ADHD, anxiety and depression,” said Nordahl, a scientist who specializes in neuroimaging. “There are treatments for these conditions that can reduce the challenges in their lives. But less is known about whether these problems are present in very young kids.

“I was interested in looking for early signs of these symptoms in 3-year-olds with autism and whether girls and boys are affected at the same rates. I also wanted to investigate the underlying brain basis for these symptoms. The amygdala is a likely target because of its role in emotion regulation. Amygdala enlargement has been reported both in autism as well as psychiatric problems like anxiety.”

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Psychopathology symptoms in very young children can include frequent crying, poor eating habits, trouble sleeping, overeating, little interest in daily activities, inability to sleep alone, nervousness, frequent panic, inability to sit still or concentrate and being highly demanding.

Study focused on 3-year-olds diagnosed with autism

This study included 420 children (91 girls and 209 boys with ASD, and 57 girls and 63 boys developing typically who served as the control group). The scientists conducted MRI scans on 346 children as they slept to evaluate amygdala volume. Study participants also were evaluated on their psychopathology symptoms, as reported by a parent, as well as their adaptive functioning, cognitive development (IQ) and autism severity.

Researchers identified three subgroups of children with ASD:

  • Over one quarter of the 3-year-olds with ASD (27%) had very high symptoms of psychopathology with moderate impairments on other measures such as IQ, daily living skills, and autism severity
  • 40% had low levels of psychopathology and low levels of impairment on the other measures
  • 32% had low levels of psychopathology but high levels of impairment on the other measures
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Notably, a surprisingly high proportion of girls with autism (40%) were in the subgroup with very high levels of psychopathology. The remaining 60% of girls with ASD were more evenly split across the two other groups. In contrast, only about 20% of boys with autism were in the subgroup with high levels of psychopathology, and most boys (45%) were in the subgroups with the lowest levels of impairment on all measures. 

When examining associations between amygdala volume and the subgroups of children with ASD, they found amygdala enlargement only in the children who also had high levels of psychopathology. They also found that the size of the amygdala was correlated with the severity of the problems in girls, but not boys.

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“We think the larger amygdala volume is playing a role in these other co-occurring problems,” Nordahl said. “And the amygdala is playing more of a role in these problem behaviors in girls than in boys.”

Study sheds light on biological differences in girls with autism

The research is significant because it begins to explain some of the biological differences in girls with ASD, who are diagnosed with autism much less frequently than boys at a ratio of about 1 girl for every 4 boys, Nordahl said.

“Girls are really underrepresented in autism research, particularly in neuroimaging studies,” she said. “Because there are so many more boys than girls diagnosed with autism, girls are harder to recruit, and most studies do not include enough girls to meaningfully evaluate potential sex differences. The result is that we know very little about how girls with autism may be similar or different from boys, particularly from a neurobiological perspective.”

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The findings are among the first to come out of the Girls with Autism Imaging of Neurodevelopment (GAIN) study at the MIND Institute, which seeks to better understand their brain structure and connectivity patterns. With nearly 100 girls with autism enrolled, it is the largest neuroimaging study ever conducted in very young girls at the time of diagnosis.

“Over the past decade, our research team has spent countless nights at the UC Davis Imaging Research Center working with families to help children feel comfortable enough to fall asleep for an MRI scan. Across several projects, our team has collected over 1,000 MRI scans in more than 450 children.”

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Researchers to continue to follow participants into adolescence

Researchers hope to follow the study participants into middle childhood and adolescence. Those are the years when psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression are typically diagnosed.

“We want to continue to see how the amygdala develops and determine whether it will have a predictive role in the outcomes for these kids,” said Nordahl.

Until then, she said, the current findings may be helpful for parents with young children diagnosed with autism.

“It’s important for parents to be on the lookout for problem behaviors co-occurring with autism, particularly in girls,” said Nordahl. “If we can detect symptoms of psychopathology earlier, we may be able to intervene earlier to help children and their families before psychiatric problems become too debilitating.”

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Other authors on the study include Ana-Maria Iosif, Gregory S. Young, Alexa Hechtman, Brianna Heath, Joshua K. Lee, Breanna Winder-Patel, David G. Amaral, Sally Rogers, Marjorie Solomon and Sally Ozonoff, all of UC Davis Health, and Lauren Libero and Vanessa P. Reinhardt, former post-doctoral researchers at the MIND Institute.

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The research was funded with grants from the National Institutes of Health (RO1MH104438, R01MH103284, R01MH103371) and UC Davis MIND Institute. The project also was supported by the MIND Institute Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (U54HD079125), MIND Institute Autism Center of Excellence (P50 HD093079), the MIND Institute Autism Research Training Program (T32MH073124) and University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Human Brain Protein Associated with Autism

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The human dopamine transporter protein is missing a single amino acid.

Credit: UAB
Aurelio Galli
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A mutant gene that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of fruit flies. Fruit flies hosting that gene produce the variant human brain protein and show abnormal behaviors of fear, repetitive activity and altered social interaction, reminiscent of autism impairments.

The genetic variant was found in the Simon Simplex Collection, which has collected genetic samples from 2,600 simplex families with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. The brain protein is the dopamine transporter, or DAT, whose job is to pump the neurotransmitter dopamine back into nerve cells once the neurotransmitter has been released. The mutant protein is missing a single amino acid.

A study of this variant DAT — from its impaired molecular mechanism to its effect on fruit fly behavior — has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by co-corresponding authors Aurelio Galli, Ph.D., and Eric Gouaux, Ph.D.

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Galli is professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Gouaux is professor in the Vollum Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Researchers found that fruit flies with the human variant DAT, or vDAT, are hyperactive. They had increased locomotor activity in both day and night, as compared with normal fruit flies. They also showed repetitive behavior — the vDAT fruit flies groomed themselves 23 percent of the time, versus 6 percent of the time for normal fruit flies. Repetitive behavior like self-grooming has been observed in animal models of neuropsychiatric disorders.

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The vDAT fruit flies were also more fearful than normal fruit flies. In response to the sound of a predatory wasp, normal flies froze for about 150 milliseconds, and then they fled, as shown by a distinctive and rapid increase in average velocity that was captured by a 1,000-frame per second camera. In contrast, the vDAT fruit flies froze at the sound of the predator and showed little signs of fleeing during 600 milliseconds.

The vDAT fruit flies had impaired social interaction, as measured by changes in grouping. Many animal populations form temporary or permanent groups, such as flocks, schools or herds, that aid survival in the face of predators. Fleeing, in response to a threat, is an escape behavior where the flock size may compress or expand. The researchers found that normal fruit flies expanded their flock size in response to a threat — the sound of the predator wasp. The vDAT fruit flies, in contrast, compressed their flock size.

Besides the fruit fly behavior, the PNAS study is a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach that gets at some root causes of autism to a degree of detail that could make potential therapeutic treatments more realizable in the future.

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Besides vDAT, the labs of Galli and Heinrich Matthies, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Surgery, have identified several other mutations in the human DAT gene that affect DAT function in individuals with ASD. For these people, disruption of dopamine transport appears to be a risk factor that promotes complications associated with ASD.

“The experimental paradigms we describe here,” Galli said, “provide a framework for molecular and behavioral analysis of novel DAT variants that are discovered by genetic analyses of individuals with ASD or related neuropsychiatric illness, as well as other disease-linked mutants that are emerging from precision medicine initiatives.”

Galli and Gouaux’s PNAS research went from human genetics to a basic animal model with simplified behavior, as detected by a new high-powered analysis. It investigated the underlying molecular mechanisms and basic biological functions with ever greater resolution, through studies at the cell level and all the way down to a bacterial system. Each added system was more fundamental with regard to biological complexity and phylogenetic level.

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Details of vDAT structure and function
Besides altered fly behavior caused by the mutant protein, the PNAS study probed the molecular structure and function of vDAT using mutation of a related transporter protein from a thermophilic bacterium as a model. Experiments included X-ray crystallography, spin resonance spectroscopy, molecular modeling, cell culture studies and electrophysiology studies of fruit fly brains expressing the mutant.

The researchers showed that vDAT cells have impaired dopamine transport and impaired DAT-mediated electrical currents. Also, expression of the human vDAT reduced dopamine uptake in the whole brain of fruit flies. These findings support the idea that human DAT dysfunction in ASD stems from specific and yet distinct mechanisms.

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To probe the mechanism of impaired transporter function, researchers used the related bacterial transporter as a model. They removed the single amino acid from the related bacterial transporter that correlates with the single amino acid missing in vDAT. Like DAT, the bacterial transporter protein embeds across the cell membrane and has domains called the extracellular gate and the intracellular gate to receive and release the molecule being transported from outside the cell to inside.

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Deletion of the single amino acid altered conformation of the bacterial protein and appeared to lock its extracellular gate, apparently through disrupted hydrogen bonds between amino acids of the protein that abnormally left the intracellular gate in a conformation called “half-open and inward facing.” Molecular dynamics simulation of vDAT showed similar conformational changes and altered hydrogen bonding.

Co-authors with Galli, Gouaux and Matthies for the paper, “Structural, functional, and behavioral insights of dopamine dysfunction revealed by a deletion in SLC6A3,” are Nicholas G. Campbell, Aparna Shekar, Dungeng Peng, Amanda M. Duran, Brian O’Grady, Ramnarayan Ramachandran, James S. Sutcliffe, Jens Meiler, Leon M. Bellan and Hassane S. Mchaourab, Vanderbilt University; Jenny I. Aguilar and Kevin Erreger, Department of Surgery, UAB School of Medicine; Vikas Navratna and Dongxue Yang, Vollum Institute, Oregon Health and Science University; Alexander N. Morley, Harald H. Sitte and Thomas Stockner, Medical University of Vienna, Austria; and Greta Galli, University School of Nashville, Tennessee.

Mchaourab is co-senior author with Galli, and Greta Galli is daughter of Aurelio Galli.

Support for this work came from National Institutes of Health grants MH070039, GM080403, HL122010, DA35263, DA38058 and NS007491-14.

A Calming Space

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Children’s of Alabama Expands Sensory Pathway For Patients With Sensory Sensitivities

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When Sladen Fisher got a bad cut on his earlobe at school, his mother, Jennifer Fisher, worried the sights and sounds of Children’s of Alabama’s Emergency Department would be too stressful for her son. That’s because Sladen has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder.

At the time of the Sladen’s visit, Children’s of Alabama had just launched its Sensory Pathway, designed for patients with conditions such as ADHD, autism and Down syndrome. In 2016, the pathway began as a pilot project in the Emergency Department; however, it has since expanded to One Day Surgery and several inpatient units at Children’s of Alabama, including the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Pulmonary Care Unit and Special Care Unit. Future plans include expansion to ancillary and outpatient services.

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The pathway made a lasting impact on Sladen. Back at school a few weeks later, he presented a report about someone he considers a hero. He chose Children’s of Alabama Child Life Specialist Shelby Smith, who stayed by his side during his visit, explained his treatment in terms he understood and provided him with an iPad and fidget toys for distraction and comfort.

“In his mind, she was a hero, someone who went above and beyond to help him,” Jennifer said. She made what could have been an incredibly difficult situation so amazing. She really was our hero.”The pathway has been equally impactful on Children’s of Alabama, said Michele Kong, M.D. associate professor in pediatric critical care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Pediatrics.

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“The pathway has been so empowering for our providers,” said Kong, who serves on the Sensory Pathway Task Force, also comprised of nurses, informatics specialists and child life specialists. Unit by unit, the task force provides education and training and is developing an online training module. The task force is also working with information technology specialists to flag patients with sensory sensitivities from the point of admission.

“We tailor education and training to suit each unit’s needs because each unit’s workflow and culture is different,” Kong said. “The success of the pathway is a direct reflection of our providers’ passion to learn. There’s buy-in from our providers because they know it’s good for their patients.”

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As a parent, Kong, too, knows how jarring a hospital visit can be for a child with sensory sensitivities. Her oldest son, Abram, was diagnosed with autism at age 4. The diagnosis inspired Kong and her husband, Julian Maha, M.D., to found KultureCity®, a nonprofit that works to “create acceptance and inclusion for all individuals with unique abilities,” according to its mission statement. In 2019, KultureCity was ranked fourth on Fast Company magazine’s list of the most innovative companies in the world. KultureCity not only partners with local organizations in Birmingham, but also with national organizations such as the NBA and NFL.

“We never imagined it would reach this scale,” Kong said. “It impressed on us that there’s a lot of power when a collective group of people have the same belief and passion for change.”

'Financial infidelity'

What defines it, who is at risk, and what are the consequences?

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Romantic partners aren’t always honest about money in their relationships, but when does hiding purchases, debt and savings constitute “financial infidelity”? Research by professors at four universities, including Indiana University, defines the concept and provides a means for predicting its occurrence within relationships.

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Love, Lies and Money: Financial Infidelity in Romantic Relationships,” in the Journal of Consumer Research, is the first systematic investigation of financial infidelity in committed romantic relationships.

The professors define financial infidelity as “engaging in any financial behavior that is expected to be disapproved of by one’s romantic partner and intentionally failing to disclose this behavior to them.” It involves both the financial “act” and the subsequent concealment.

It differs from secret consumption and merely hiding spending because it involves a broader set of financial behaviors, including seemingly “positive” actions such as saving extra income in a personal bank account.

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“Financial infidelity has the potential to be as harmful for relationship health and longevity as sexual infidelity, as conflicts over money are also a primary reason for divorce,” said co-author Jenny Olson, assistant professor of marketing at the IU Kelley School of Business. “Given the role that finances play in the health of relationships, consumers benefit from being aware of financial infidelity and its consequences.”

Growing in popularity is financial therapy, which combines finance with emotional support to help individuals and couples think, feel and behave with money to improve their overall well-being, make logical spending decisions and face financial challenges.

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“An understanding of financial infidelity can benefit financial services companies and advisors, clinical therapists and relationship counselors, all of whom play a role in promoting consumer well-being,” Olson said. “If couples seek professional financial advice, they must be willing to openly discuss their spending and savings habits, debts and financial goals. It is clear that financial infidelity is a barrier to effective planning, as well as to a healthy relationship.”

The researchers developed a “financial infidelity scale (FI-Scale)” using a dozen lab and field tests. Key findings included:

  • Whether the financial act is expected to elicit any level of disapproval was more important than the degree of disapproval.
  • Consumers more prone to financial infidelity exhibited a stronger preference for secretive purchase options, such as using a personal credit card versus a jointly held card, and cash over credit.
  • A preference for ambiguous packaging and shopping at inconspicuous stores.
  • A greater likelihood of concealing financial information from their partner in a mobile banking app.

Each choice is relevant to marketers. The prevalence of financial infidelity among consumers and variations along the FI-Scale affect purchasing decisions. It is important that companies be aware of certain consumer segments that may be prone to financial infidelity and thus affect their bottom lines.

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For example, the trend of businesses going “cash-free” may affect retailers such as beauty salons and gift shops because of the use of cash to disguise purchases. Consumers strategically using cash may be less willing to make purchases only for their pleasure or personal wants.

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Other authors on the study are Emily Garbinsky, assistant professor of marketing at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame; Joe J. Gladstone, assistant professor of consumer behavior at the School of Management at University College London; and Hristina Nikolova, the Diane Harkins Coughlin and Christopher J. Coughlin Sesquicentennial assistant professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.

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Early Intervention in Autism Improves Language, IQ and Social Skills

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Credit: UC Davis Health
Sally Rogers, PhD works with a child.

Breakthrough research demonstrating that children with autism as young as 18 months can vastly improve their language, cognition and social skills with an early intervention developed by UC Davis Professor Sally Rogers has been replicated in a major new study.

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Rogers, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the MIND Institute, began work on a novel developmental approach to autism in Denver in 1981, and in partnership with her colleague and co-author Geraldine Dawson developed an approach to improving long-term outcomes for very young children. The Early Start Denver Model has since become a method used throughout the U.S. and around the world.

But until now ESDM had not been tested in the most rigorous fashion − a multi-site randomized trial, comparing the approach with community-based autism interventions. The study, which appears today in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, began in 2007 at three university sites around the country. The new research replicates an ESDM study published in 2010. Rogers emphasized that replication studies are rare and costly but critical to validate novel scientific findings.

The new study found that children receiving intensive ESDM in their homes for an average of 15 hours per week made significantly greater language gains than did children in the community interventions, and this was true for both children with more severe delays and those with less.

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In addition to validating the efficacy of ESDM for language development, the study also found that children receiving services in the community settings made large gains in several areas.

“The idea that little children with autism who are getting good treatment can make this much IQ and language gain means we should expect this from quality early-intervention experiences,” Rogers said. “These findings should raise families’ hopes a whole lot.”

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Pioneering autism treatment was a new idea

What distinguishes ESDM from the more traditional, behavioral interventions used with children with autism is that it combines developmental and behavioral approaches and is carried out within in everyday routines. ESDM is built on moment-to-moment interactions that young children typically have with other people, especially their parents, and uses children’s interests and favorite activities to assure that social interaction is interesting and fun.

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“Unlike other approaches popular at the time that the Denver Model began, we used a typical preschool physical environment and focused on the learning opportunities that existed in social interactions between children and adults to accelerate children’s development,” Rogers said. “This was a new idea at the time.”

In 2012, TIME magazine named ESDM one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs because their work demonstrated that brain function among young children with autism can normalize with effective early intervention in profound, enduring ways.

For the current study 118 children with autism, ages 14 months to two years, were enrolled and randomly assigned to either ESDM or community interventions for 27 months. Children assigned to ESDM intervention received three months of weekly parent coaching followed by 24 months of one-on-one treatment about 15 hours per week in homes or daycare settings from supervised therapy assistants. Parents received coaching four hours monthly from a certified ESDM therapist. In the community setting, hours of treatment varied by site.

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What researchers found was that at two of the three sites, children receiving ESDM had significantly more language improvement than the children in the community interventions, and there was no significant difference in language gain at the third site between the two modalities. When results from all three sites were pooled, there was a significant advantage for the children in the ESDM group overall.

“Language is the bridge to learning,” Rogers said. “Language is the door that opens up social communication and education and interactions with people in your community. It’s how you share with people. It’s a main vehicle for social interaction once you pass infancy.”

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Autism treatment in the community greatly improved over time

 The study also found that in terms of cognition and social skills, both the ESDM and community treatment groups made significant gains. Fortunately, Rogers said, laws requiring insurance coverage for early autism intervention and new knowledge about effective treatment have greatly improved community options for families seeking help for young children diagnosed with autism.

Rogers said families with a child diagnosed with autism should take some comfort knowing that the early treatments now widely available do make a difference.

“It says the autism scores at the time of diagnosis are just a starting point,” she said. “It says that the developmental paths and learning capacity of young children with autism are more plastic than we knew, and there are many ways to get learning opportunities to them.”

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In addition to Rogers, UC Davis authors on the study were Marie Rocha, Laurie Vismara and Meagan Talbott. Other co-authors on the study included: Annette Estes and Jessica Greenson of the University of Washington; Catherine Lord and Jamie Winter of Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University; Costanza Colombi of University of Michigan; Geraldine Dawson of Duke University, and Gerhard Hellemann of UCLA.

This study was supported by individual Autism Speaks grants to Annette Estes and to Sally Rogers and by NIMH/NICHD award number R01 081757 as part of the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Treatment Network, clinicaltrials.gov identifier NCT 00698997.

Supporting Individuals With Autism in the Workplace

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In recent days there has been significant coverage surrounding the Boca Raton native becoming the first openly autistic person to be admitted to the Florida bar. This accomplishment being widely accepted is a huge stride for those diagnosed with autism and autism professionals working hard to create inclusive workplaces.

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To help others understand why inclusivity and supporting those with disorders is so important, I’d like to offer Arianna Esposito, Associate Director of Adult & Transition Programs at the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at Saint Joseph’s University. She is able to offer tips to help employers create an inclusive workplace. These tips are not only helpful for individuals with autism, but can benefit all employees. Please see a sampling of her advice below:

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  • Sensory-Friendly Environment
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Fluorescent lights can be extremely bothersome for someone with sensory challenges. Offering dimmer lighting options or access to natural light are good alternatives. Odorless office supplies, cleaning supplies and other products are recommended to have in a supply closet or open areas. Designated, private quiet rooms for employees to take a call in or do work are a great option.

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  • Open communication

Providing clear and specific feedback is important for an inclusive structure. Try putting a positive spin on code of conduct by turning “do not” rules into “can do” rules.

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  • Flexibility

Being flexible with needs such as accepting requests to wear specific clothing items and seating locations (not near crowded areas) will help individuals navigate the social world.

HPV Vaccine: 7 Myths and Facts You Need to Know

Nuvance Health physician dispels common misconceptions about the HPV vaccine and discusses its role in protecting against HPV-related diseases

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January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

By Dr. Linus Chuang, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Nuvance Health

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Summary:

  • A vaccine is available to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can cause diseases such as genital warts and cancer.
  • The HPV vaccine now protects against nine strains of HPV. Research shows that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective.
  • The HPV vaccine is approved for men and women between the ages of 9 to 45. The HPV vaccine can protect adults from HPV-related diseases, however it provides the most protection when it is given in childhood before someone becomes sexually active.
  • Parents should talk with their child’s pediatrician about the HPV vaccine. Adult men should ask their primary care provider about the HPV vaccine, and adult women should speak with their gynecologist.
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In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gardasil, a vaccine to prevent diseases such as cancer and genital warts that are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Within the last five years, improvements have been made to the HPV vaccine and the recommended age range for administration has been expanded, resulting in more robust HPV protection being available to more people.

Although the HPV vaccine has proven to be highly effective at preventing HPV-related diseases and cancers, misconceptions still exist about how it works, who should receive it, and whether it is safe. Here are seven myths about HPV and the HPV vaccine and also the facts you need to know.

Myth #1: I/my child won’t contract HPV.
Fact: HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

Most sexually active people will contract HPV. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 80 million people — or 1 in 4 Americans — are infected with HPV. The CDC further estimates that about 14 million people, including teens, will contract a new HPV infection each year.

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Myth #2: Having HPV doesn’t mean I/my child will get cancer.
Fact: Having HPV increases cancer risk — and HPV-related cancers are on the rise.

According to the CDC, more than 43,000 people developed HPV-associated cancer in 2015, up from 30,000 people in 1999. The HPV vaccine can prevent most types of HPV-related cancers, including anal, cervical, penile, throat, and vaginal cancers.

Myth #3: The HPV vaccine is only for women.
Fact: Men and women should get the HPV vaccine.

HPV affects both men and women. HPV can cause genital warts and anal and oral cancers in both men and women. It can also cause cervical or vaginal cancers in women and penile cancers in men. Because HPV often does not cause symptoms right away and many people are unaware that they have it, it can easily and unknowingly be transmitted to a sex partner.

Myth #4: The HPV vaccine isn’t effective.
Fact: The newest vaccine is effective against nine strains of HPV.

When Gardasil, the original HPV vaccine, was first approved by the FDA in 2006, it only protected against four types of HPV. In 2014, the FDA approved a new vaccine called Gardasil 9 that protects against the same four types of HPV, plus an additional five types.

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Research also shows that the HPV vaccine provided nearly 100 percent protection against persistent cervical infections with HPV types 16 and 18, plus the pre-cancers caused by those persistent infections.

Myth #5: The HPV vaccine is only for children and young adults.
Fact: Children and adults ages 9 to 45 can now get the HPV vaccine.

Gardasil and Gardasil 9 were originally approved for boys and girls ages 9 to 26. In 2018, the FDA expanded the age range for Gardasil 9 to include men and women ages 27 to 45. This expanded approval provides more opportunity to prevent HPV-related diseases and cancers in a broader age range.

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Although the HPV vaccine is most effective when it is given before someone becomes sexually active — ideally in childhood — there is now data that suggests that the vaccine also can benefit adults. Statistics show that many sexually active adults have been exposed to some types of HPV, but most have not been exposed to all nine types covered by the newest vaccine. Even if an adult already has HPV, the vaccine may still help to reduce the risk of developing HPV-related diseases.

Myth #6: The HPV vaccine isn’t safe.
Fact: Extensive testing and research show that the HPV vaccine is safe.

The FDA closely monitors the safety and effectiveness of all vaccines before and after approval, and research shows that the HPV vaccine is safe. However, like any other vaccine or medication, some people may experience mild reactions or side effects to the HPV vaccine, such as fever, dizziness, fatigue, or pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site.

Myth #7: The HPV vaccine encourages sexual promiscuity.
Fact: Research has shown no link between being vaccinated for HPV and an increase in sexual activity.

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Recent research that included 500,000 individuals found that there was no increase in sexual activity after HPV vaccination. Additionally, the research showed that participants who received the HPV vaccine actually engaged in safer sexual practices than unvaccinated participants.

The bottom line: The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to reduce your risk (or your child’s risk) of developing an HPV-related health problem. Parents should ask their child’s pediatrician about the HPV vaccine — ideally before the child becomes sexually active. Adult men should speak with their primary care provider about the HPV vaccine, and adult women should talk with their gynecologist.

About Dr. Linus Chuang

Dr. Linus Chuang is the chair of OB/GYN at Nuvance Health’s Danbury Hospital and Norwalk Hospital. He is a global gynecologic oncology expert and the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) International Affairs Committee Chair. Dr. Chuang has been recognized as an American Cancer Society (ACS) HPV Champion. He is passionate about educating people about the benefits of HPV vaccination and its role in preventing cancer and other HPV-related diseases.

How Healthy is Chicken Noodle Soup?

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You may remember a loved one making you a bowl of chicken noodle soup whenever you were feeling under the weather as a child. Just how healthy is this culinary cure-all?

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“Studies have shown that a hearty bowl of chicken noodle soup may help clear nasal congestion and ease cold symptoms,” says BIDMC clinical dietitian Sandy Allonen, RD. “It’s all about the ingredients.”

So let’s break it down – what’s in your soup?

Broth

If you’re fighting a cold, your doctor will tell you it’s important to stay hydrated. “A clear broth is warm and soothing, making it a great source of hydration while you’re sick, especially if you have a sore throat,” Allonen says.

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Whether it’s vegetable or chicken broth – Allonen says the benefits are similar. “You may think added salt and other seasonings aren’t great for you, but in moderation, these spices can help combat the feeling of dull taste buds,” she says. “A loss of taste is common in a cold, but as with any flavor enhancer, salt is great for getting you to eat more.”

Allonen notes, however, that if your doctor has recommended you limit your sodium intake (whether this be for hypertension, kidney disease, congestive heart failure or another medical condition), then you will want to look for a broth that is low sodium or has no added salt.

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Chicken

Chicken is full of protein that helps support the immune system. It’s also a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, which boost immunity and help regulate digestion.

“Chicken is also high in tryptophan, which helps your body produce serotonin that can enhance your mood and give you the feeling of ‘comfort’ that helps make chicken noodle soup a true comfort food,” Allonen says.

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Noodles

The noodles in chicken noodle soup aren’t just for show. They’re packed with carbohydrates that help you feel full and satisfied.

“Carbs are the preferred source of energy for your body, so getting in a good dose through soup can help you feel less sluggish,” Allonen says.

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Vegetables

All those bits of carrot, celery, and onion commonly found in chicken noodle soup are a great source of vitamins C and K, as well as other antioxidants and minerals. “Not only does this help build a healthy immune system to fight off viruses, it also helps your body recover from illness more quickly,” Allonen says.

Vegetables like carrots are also high in beta-carotene, and can help reduce symptoms due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

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Steam

While steam isn’t an ingredient you’ve mixed in, it’s important to serve your soup warm. Hot steam that comes from your cup of soup can be helpful in reducing nasal congestion.

“Steam can open up airways, making it easier to breathe. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can help relax your muscles and soothe the discomforts of cold symptoms,” Allonen says.

While soup won’t cure your cold completely, it’s a delicious way to load up on nutrients and increase hydration. Make an appointment with your primary care physician if you’re feeling under the weather this winter.

Black Children Tend to be Diagnosed with Autism Later than White Children

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The rate of diagnosis for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is the same among all racial groups — one in 110, according to current estimates. However, a study by a Florida State University researcher has found that African-American children tend to be diagnosed later than white children, which results in a longer and more intensive intervention. The reasons for later diagnoses include a lack of access to quality, affordable, culturally competent health care, according to Martell Teasley, an associate professor in Florida State’s College of Social Work who has conducted a comprehensive review of researchliterature on autism and African-American children. In addition, the stigmaattached to mental health conditions within the black community contribute to misdiagnoses of autism, and underuse of available treatment services.

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“There are no subjective criteria for diagnosing autism. Only brain scans can truly provide appropriate diagnoses, because we are dealing with biological and chemical imbalances in the brain,” Teasley said. “Not every child is going to have access to this kind of medical evaluation, particularly those who are indigent and don’t have health care funding.”

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Teasley examined ASD diagnosis and treatment strategies, and their effect on African-American families, in “Autism and the African-American Community,” a paper published in a special issue of the journal Social Work in Public Health (Vol. 26, Issue 4, 2011) that dealt with health-care policy issues in the black community related to the human genome.

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Associate Professor in Florida State’s College of Social Work

Teasley co-wrote the paper with Ruby Gourdine, a professor of social work at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Tiffany Baffour, an associate professor of social work at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. Because of the social stigma, Teasley says that some African-American families might be resistant to accept a diagnosis and treatment. “Less discussion about autism among African-Americans or between African-Americans and health care providers leads to misdiagnoses, a lack of treatment and a lack of services,” Teasley said.

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“This will lead to greater challenges for families — more stress and anxiety, and poorer developmental outcomes.” African-Americans also might resist a diagnosis and treatment because of a mistrust of mainstream health care providers over past discrimination. “African-Americans are well versed in going to a doctor who might have biases or discriminatory practices, so they may not readily accept what a doctor says,” Teasley said. In addition, a cultural divide between African-Americans and mainstream health care providers can hinder a timely and correct diagnosis.

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“There are not enough health care professionals who understand the cultural norms and attributes of the African-American community,” Teasley said. African-Americans live in all types of settings, but the majority live in urban areas, which have seen a decline in the number of mental-health care agencies since the 1980s. “This lack of accessibility causes a problem for some African-Americans,” Teasley said. Once a child is diagnosed with ASD, Teasley says both the child and the members of his or her family needs to receive appropriate training and counseling. “The children need behavioral counseling so they can develop the skills to live as independently as possible,” he said. “The families need to learn how to work with children who are autistic. “Intervention for any autistic child needs to start around age 3, so we can get the child to begin to learn how to eat right and develop normal, healthy routines, which will result in a better developmental outcome,” Teasley said. “Later intervention will result in a poorer developmental outcome that can have a lasting impact on the child’s and family’s quality of life.”

Martell Teasley, College of Social Work(850) 644-9595; mteasley@fsu.edu

“Could My Child Have Autism?”

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Ten Signs of Possible Autism-Related Delays in 6- to 12-Month-Old Children

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Though autism is often not diagnosed until the age of three, some children begin to show signs of developmental delay before they turn a year old. While not all infants and toddlers with delays will develop autism spectrum disorders (ASD), experts point to early detection of these signs as key to capitalizing on early diagnosis and intervention, which is believed to improve developmental outcomes.

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According to Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Md., parents need to be empowered to identify the warning signs of ASD and other communication delays. “We want to encourage parents to become good observers of their children’s development so that they can see the earliest indicators of delays in a baby’s communication, social and motor skills,” says Dr. Landa, who also cautions that some children who develop ASD don’t show signs until after the second birthday or regress after appearing to develop typically.

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For the past decade, Dr. Landa has followed infant siblings of children with autism to identify red flags of the disorder in their earliest form. Her research has shown that diagnosis is possible in some children as young as 14 months and sparked the development of early intervention models that have been shown to improve outcomes for toddlers showing signs of ASD as young as one and two years old. Dr. Landa recommends that as parents play with their infant (6 – 12 months), they look for the following signs that have been linked to later diagnosis of ASD or other communication disorders: 1. Rarely smiles when approached by caregivers2. Rarely tries to imitate sounds and movements others make, such as smiling and laughing, during simple social exchanges3. Delayed or infrequent babbling4. Does not respond to his or her name with increasing consistency from 6 – 12 months 5. Does not gesture to communicate by 10 months6. Poor eye contact7. Seeks your attention infrequently8. Repeatedly stiffens arms, hands, legs or displays unusual body movements such as rotating the hands on the wrists, uncommon postures or other repetitive behaviors9. Does not reach up toward you when you reach to pick him or her up10. Delays in motor development, including delayed rolling over, pushing up and crawling

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“If parents suspect something is wrong with their child’s development, or that their child is losing skills, they should talk to their pediatrician or another developmental expert,” says Dr. Landa. “Don’t adopt a ‘wait and see’ perspective. We want to identify delays early in development so that intervention can begin when children’s brains are more malleable and still developing their circuitry.”

About the Kennedy Krieger Institute Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain and spinal cord, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD serves more than 16,000 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. For more information on Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit: www.kennedykrieger.org.

Sugar changes the chemistry of your brain

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Anyone who has desperately searched their kitchen cabinets for a piece of forgotten chocolate knows that the desire for palatable food can be hard to control. But is it really addiction?

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The idea of food addiction is a very controversial topic among scientists. Researchers from Aarhus University have delved into this topic and examined what happens in the brains of pigs when they drink sugar water. The conclusion is clear: sugar influences brain reward circuitry in ways similar to those observed when addictive drugs are consumed. The results have just been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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“There is no doubt that sugar has several physiological effects, and there are many reasons why it is not healthy. But I have been in doubt of the effects sugar has on our brain and behaviour, I had hoped to be able to kill a myth. ” says Michael Winterdahl, Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University and one of the main authors of the work.

The publication is based on experiments done using seven pigs receiving two liters of sugar water daily over a 12-day period. To map the consequences of the sugar intake, the researchers imaged the brains of the pigs at the beginning of the experiment, after the first day, and after the 12th day of sugar.

“After just 12 days of sugar intake, we could see major changes in the brain’s dopamine and opioid systems. In fact, the opioid system, which is that part of the brain’s chemistry that is associated with well-being and pleasure, was already activated after the very first intake,” says Winterdahl.

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When we experience something meaningful, the brain rewards us with a sense of enjoyment, happiness and well-being. It can happen as a result of natural stimuli, such as sex or socializing, or from learning something new. Both “natural” and “artificial” stimuli, like drugs, activate the brain’s reward system, where neurotransmitters like dopamine and opioids are released, Winterdahl explains.

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We chase the rush

“If sugar can change the brain’s reward system after only twelve days, as we saw in the case of the pigs, you can imagine that natural stimuli such as learning or social interaction are pushed into the background and replaced by sugar and/or other ‘artificial’ stimuli. We’re all looking for the rush from dopamine, and if something gives us a better or bigger kick, then that’s what we choose” explains the researcher.

When examining whether a substance like sugar is addictive, one typically studies the effects on the rodent brain. ¨It would, of course, be ideal if the studies could be done in humans themselves, but humans are hard to control and dopamine levels can be modulated by a number of different factors. They are influenced by what we eat, whether we play games on our phones or if we enter a new romantic relationship in the middle of the trial, with potential for great variation in the data. The pig is a good alternative because its brain is more complex than a rodent and gyrated like human and large enough for imaging deep brain structures using human brain scanners. The current study in minipigs introduced a well-controlled set-up with the only variable being the absence or presence of sugar in the diet.

Background for the results:

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  • The study involved imaging the pig brain before and after sugar intake.
  • Partners involved in the study: Michael Winterdahl, Ove Noer, Dariusz Orlowski, Anna C. Schacht, Steen Jakobsen, Aage K. O. Alstrup, Albert Gjedde and Anne M. Landau.
  • The study was financed by a grant from AUFF to Anne Landau.
  • The scientific article has been published in Scientific Reports and is freely available online: doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-53430-9

The 69 genes that increase the risk for autism

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UCLA-led team compares DNA of children with the disorder to that of their siblings and parents

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A UCLA-led research team has identified dozens of genes, including 16 new genes, that increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder. The findings, published in the journal Cell, were based on a study of families with at least two children with autism.

Researchers from UCLA, Stanford University and three other institutions used a technique called whole genome sequencing to map the DNA of 2,300 people from nearly 500 families. They found 69 genes that increase the risk for autism spectrum disorder; 16 of those genes were not previously suspected to be associated with a risk for autism.

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Researchers also identified several hundred genes they suspect may increase the risk of autism based on their proximity to genes previously identified to carry an increased risk.  The study analyses further revealed several new biological pathways not previously identified in studies of autism.

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The findings shed light on how genetic variants or mutations — the differences that make each person’s genome unique — are passed from parents to children affected with autism, said the study’s co-lead author Elizabeth Ruzzo, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. Former UCLA postdoctoral scholar Laura Pérez-Cano is the study’s other co-lead author.

“When we look at parents of autistic children and compare them to individuals without autism, we find that those parents carry significantly more, rare and highly damaging gene variants,” Ruzzo said. “Interestingly, these variants are frequently passed from the parents to all of the affected children but none of the unaffected children, which tells us that they are significantly increasing the risk of autism.”

Of the children in the study, 960 have autism and 217 children do not. That enabled researchers to analyze the genetic differences between children with and without autism across different families.

“Studying families with multiple children affected with autism increased our ability to detect inherited mutations in autism spectrum disorder,” said Dr. Daniel Geschwind, senior, corresponding author of the study and the Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics, Neurology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine of UCLA.

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“We show a substantial difference between the types of mutations that occur in different types of families, such as those that have more than one affected child versus those having only one child with ASD,” said Geschwind, who also was the study’s co-principal investigator and director of the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment and director of the Institute of Precision Health at UCLA.

The research also found that the 16 genes newly determined to be associated with an increased risk for autism form a network with previously identified ASD risk genes. The way they interact with one another further heightens the risk, said the study’s co-senior author and co-principal investigator Dennis Wall, a Stanford University School of Medicine associate professor of pediatrics and of biomedical data science.

“They associate with each other more tightly than we’d expect by chance,” he said. “These genes are talking to each other, and those interactions appear to be an important link to autism spectrum disorder.”

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The nearly 600 genes researchers suspect as carrying an increased risk of autism were identified through “guilt by association,” or through their interactions with other genes that already have been shown to carry an increased autism risk, Ruzzo said.

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“And although not all of those genes will be found to increase the risk for autism, our analysis indicates that future studies will provide support for many of these genes,” she said.

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The families studied are part of the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), which was originally developed nearly two decades ago by researchers and the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with Cure Autism Now, which is now a program of Autism Speaks.

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Autism is a spectrum of neurological disorders characterized by difficulties with communication and social interaction. Geschwind has been working to identify the genetic causes and biological mechanisms of the disorder for more than a decade, and led the original development of the AGRE resource that was used in this study in the late 1990s. In 2018, he and colleagues at UCLA received their second, five-year grant from the NIH to expand autism research by studying genetic causes of autism in African American families.

Higher rates of post-natal depression among autistic mothers

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Autistic mothers are more likely to report post-natal depression compared to non-autistic mothers, according to a new study of mothers of autistic children carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge

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A better understanding of the experiences of autistic mothers during pregnancy and the post-natal period is critical to improving wellbeing. The results are published in Molecular Autism.

The team recruited an advisory panel of autistic mothers with whom they co-developed an anonymous, online survey. After matching, this was completed by 355 autistic and 132 non-autistic mothers, each of whom had at least one autistic child.

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Sixty percent of autistic mothers in the study reported they had experienced post-natal depression. By comparison, only 12% of women in the general population experience post-natal depression. In addition, autistic mothers had more difficulties in multi-tasking, coping with domestic responsibilities, and creating social opportunities for their child.

The study also found that when autistic mothers disclosed their autism diagnosis to a professional, they were not believed the majority of the time. Autistic women felt misunderstood by professionals more frequently during pre- and post-natal appointments and found motherhood an isolating experience. Despite these challenges, autistic mothers reported they were able to act in the best interest of their child, putting their child’s needs first and seeking opportunities to boost their child’s self-confidence.

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Dr Alexa Pohl, who led the study, said: “Autistic mothers face unique challenges during the perinatal period and parenthood. Despite these challenges, an overwhelming majority of autistic mothers reported that parenting overall was a rewarding experience. This research highlights the need for increased awareness of the experiences of motherhood for autistic women and the need for more tailored support.”

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Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, and part of the team, said: “This worryingly high number of autistic mothers who experience post-natal depression means we are failing them and their infants at a critical point in their lives. We now need more research into why the rates are so much higher, whether they are seeking help and not getting it, or if they are not seeking help and for what reasons. A new research priority is to develop autism-relevant screening tools and interventions for post-natal depression in these mothers.”

Monique Blakemore, an autistic advocate and member of the team, said: “This vital study was initiated by the autistic community, who collaborated as equal partners with researchers in the design, dissemination and interpretation of the survey. This is an excellent example of what can be achieved through such partnership.”

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The study was supported by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC), East of England, at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, the Autism Research Trust, the MRC, the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, and Autistica.

Reference

A comparative study of autistic and nonautistic women’s experience of motherhood by Alexa Pohl, Sarah Crockford, Monique Blakemore, Carrie Allison and Simon Baron-Cohen. Molecular Autism. DOI: 10.1186/s13229-019-0304-2

When should a young girl visit a gynecologist?

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According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, girls should have their first gynecologic visit between the ages of 13 and 15 years old.

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Parents of young teenage girls are probably thinking about how to help them navigate social media, classwork, and their social lives. However, as young teenagers begin to go through puberty, it is also important to help them understand how to manage their changing bodies. Scheduling an appointment with a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist is one way to do this.

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According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, girls should have their first gynecologic visit between the ages of 13 and 15 years old. Pediatric and adolescent gynecology is a subspecialty of gynecology that provides comprehensive care for girls from birth to early adulthood. Pediatric and adolescent gynecologists take special care of the emotional needs of their patients and families while providing the unique care that’s necessary to foster the child’s transition from pediatrics to adult gynecology.

We spoke with pediatric gynecologist Amber Truehart, MD, about other reasons a girl should visit a gynecologist before she becomes an adult.

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Education and Examinations

Patient education is one highlight of building a relationship with a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist. During the first visit, the doctor will help reinforce an understanding of healthy body weight and good habits for healthy bones. This is also an opportunity for young patients to learn about basic female hygiene, normal versus abnormal vaginal discharge, and puberty. Additionally, depending on the patient’s individual needs, their physical and emotional development, and medical history, the doctor may perform a basic physical exam, possibly including a breast exam.

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Menstrual Cycle

Most girls get their first period when they are between 10 and 15 years old. So, it’s likely that a young girl is beginning to think about her period around this time. A visit with a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist will help her learn about the menstrual cycle and what is considered normal or abnormal. She can also learn how to manage her cycle, pain relief, and how to deal with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

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Vaccinations

Young girls are able to get the HPV vaccine at their gynecologist’s office. The HPV vaccine helps protect children from developing the human papillomavirus, which can lead to six types of cancers later in life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine, the first at age 11 and then six months later. If the child waits until age 15, they’ll need three doses of the vaccine.

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Sex Talks

Let’s face it — it may be difficult for a young girl to talk to a parent about sex. Yet, it’s important that she have an avenue for these conversations. Getting her in front of an expert she trusts will help her get accurate information and learn about sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and pregnancy prevention. She can also talk with her gynecologist about safe and healthy intimate relationships, LGBTQ topics and having sex for the first time.

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Special Assessments

For girls and young women who need complex gynecologic care, forming a doctor-patient relationship connects them with an expert who is poised to provide a full range of specialized services. Pediatric and adolescent gynecologists are trained to care for the intricate needs of children and teens who have physical or mental disabilities, congenital gynecologic abnormalities (present since birth), and underlying chronic health problems.

Dinosaur Embryos

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Eggs Took 3 to 6 Months to Hatch

Research on the teeth of fossilized dinosaur embryos indicates that the eggs of non-avian dinosaurs took a long time to hatch–between about three and six months. The study, led by scientists at Florida State University, the American Museum of Natural History, and the University of Calgary, was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and finds that contrary to previous assumptions, dinosaur incubation is more similar to that of typical reptiles than of birds. The work suggests that prolonged incubation may have affected dinosaurs’ ability to compete with more rapidly generating populations of birds, reptiles, and mammals following the mass extinction event that occurred 65 million years ago.

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Credit: © AMNH/M. Ellison
This is a photo of a hatchling Protoceratops andrewsi fossil from the Gobi Desert Ukhaa Tolgod, Mongolia.
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“We know very little about dinosaur embryology, yet it relates to so many aspects of development, life history, and evolution,” said study co-author Mark Norell, Macaulay Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. “But with the help of advanced tools like CT scanners and high-resolution microscopy, we’re making discoveries that we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. This work is a great example of how new technology and new ideas can be brought to old problems.”

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Because birds are living dinosaurs, scientists have long assumed that the duration of dinosaur incubation was similar to birds, whose eggs hatch within 11 to 85 days. The research team tested this theory by looking at the fossilized teeth of two extremely well-preserved ornithischian dinosaur embryos on each end of the size spectrum: Protoceratops–a pig-sized dinosaur found by Norell and colleagues in the Mongolian Gobi Desert, whose eggs were quite small at 194 grams, or a little less than half of a pound–and Hypacrosaurus, a very large duck-billed dinosaur found in Alberta, Canada, with eggs weighing more than 4 kilograms, or nearly 9 pounds. First, the researchers scanned the embryonic jaws of the two dinosaurs with computed tomography (CT) at the Museum’s Microscopy and Imaging Facility to visualize the forming dentitions. Then they used an advanced microscope to look for and analyze the pattern of “von Ebner” lines–growth lines that are present in the teeth of all animals, humans included. This study marks the first time that these growth lines have been identified in dinosaur embryos.

“These are the lines that are laid down when any animal’s teeth develops,” said lead author and Florida State University professor Gregory Erickson. “They’re kind of like tree rings, but they’re put down daily. And so we could literally count them to see how long each dinosaur had been developing.”

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Using this method, the scientists determined that the Protoceratops embryos were about three months old when they died and the Hypacrosaurus embryos were about six months old. This places non-avian dinosaur incubation more in line with that of their reptilian cousins, whose eggs typically take twice as long as bird eggs to hatch–weeks to many months. The work implies that birds likely evolved more rapid incubation rates after they branched off from the rest of the dinosaurs. The authors note that the results might be quite different if they were able to analyze a more “bird-like” dinosaur, like Velociraptor. But unfortunately, very few fossilized dinosaur embryos have been discovered.

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“A lot is known about growth in dinosaurs in their juvenile to adult years,” said co-author Darla Zelenitsky, from the University of Calgary. “Time within the egg is a crucial part of development with major biological ramifications, but is poorly understood because dinosaur embryos are rare.”

The study also has implications for dinosaur extinction. Prolonged incubation exposed non-avian dinosaur eggs and attending parents to predators, starvation, and environmental disruptions such as flooding. In addition, slower embryonic development might have put them at a disadvantage compared to other animals that survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event.

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Florida State University graduate student David Kay also is an author on this paper.

This work was funded, in part, by the U.S. National Science Foundation, grant # EAR 0959029, the Macaulay Family, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, grant # 327513-09.

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (AMNH.ORG)

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The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation. The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 33 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and the Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Annual attendance has grown to approximately 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows can be seen in venues on five continents. The Museum’s website and collection of apps for mobile devices extend its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond its walls. Visit amnh.org for more information.

Fire-Ravaged Kangaroo Island?

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“The bushfire crisis on Kangaroo Island is heart-breaking,” Professor Higgins-Desbiolles says, “and for a holiday destination that relies on tourism, the summer-holiday fires could not have come at a worse time.

Credit: Gary Jenkins
Fire on Kangaroo Island
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Kangaroo Island is one of South Australia’s most iconic tourism destinations, but as fires continue to rage across the once pristine environment, many holidaymakers are questioning whether to keep or cancel their travel plans.

While tourism authorities are calling for people to continue to visit Kangaroo Island, sustainable tourism expert, UniSA’s Dr Freya Higgins-Desbiolles says the situation is far more complex than boosting tourist numbers.

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“The bushfire crisis on Kangaroo Island is heart-breaking,” Professor Higgins-Desbiolles says, “and for a holiday destination that relies on tourism, the summer-holiday fires could not have come at a worse time.

“Kangaroo Island is a tourism dependent economy, and while tourism operators and authorities are calling for people to keep visiting Kangaroo Island, the fires are not yet out, CFS volunteers and defence personal are still being deployed, and infrastructure like the water treatment facilities are damaged.

“Additionally, critical services like the Kangaroo Island ferry are needed to transport emergency service personnel and equipment. I just think it’s too soon at this moment.”

Dr Higgins-Desbiolles says while it’s strategically important to plan the recovery of Kangaroo Island’s tourism businesses and primary producers, immediate tourist visits may not be the answer.

“While it is still be possible to visit Kangaroo Island at this time, it may not be the most viable or ethical decision under the current circumstances,” Dr Higgins-Desbiolles says.

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“For those of us who love Kangaroo Island and want to see its economy recover and thrive, the advice for the short term is provide donations if you can, buy Kangaroo Island produce and products, and when the time is right, book your holidays there and plan to consciously direct your spending to support the local economy.

“This is an incredibly emotional and confronting time for the 4500-plus residents of Kangaroo Island who are still reeling from the devastation and loss form the fires. They’re only just beginning a long road to recovery.

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“For those with later bookings on KI, please don’t cancel those just yet. If the local authorities give the greenlight, your holiday bookings may be just what helps Islanders get back on their feet.

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 “The grassroots campaign – #gowithemptyeskies – perhaps says it best: ‘When these fires have stopped, and the towns impacted are safe and trying to regain some sense of ‘normal’….plan a road trip. Go with empty eskies, empty cars and low fuel…(and) buy from their shops…empty eskies make, more of a difference that you could ever imagine.”

“It’s a small step, but one to which we can all safely contribute beyond the devastation of the fires.”

The Columbus' cannibal claims

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Study puts the ‘Carib’ in ‘Caribbean,’ boosting credibility of Columbus’ cannibal claims

image from history.com

Christopher Columbus’ accounts of the Caribbean include harrowing descriptions of fierce raiders who abducted women and cannibalized men – stories long dismissed as myths.

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But a new study suggests Columbus may have been telling the truth.

Using the equivalent of facial recognition technology, researchers analyzed the skulls of early Caribbean inhabitants, uncovering relationships between people groups and upending longstanding hypotheses about how the islands were first colonized.

One surprising finding was that the Caribs, marauders from South America and rumored cannibals, invaded Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Bahamas, overturning half a century of assumptions that they never made it farther north than Guadeloupe.

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“I’ve spent years trying to prove Columbus wrong when he was right: There were Caribs in the northern Caribbean when he arrived,” said William Keegan, Florida Museum of Natural History curator of Caribbean archaeology. “We’re going to have to reinterpret everything we thought we knew.”

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Columbus had recounted how peaceful Arawaks in modern-day Bahamas were terrorized by pillagers he mistakenly described as “Caniba,” the Asiatic subjects of the Grand Khan. His Spanish successors corrected the name to “Caribe” a few decades later, but the similar-sounding names led most archaeologists to chalk up the references to a mix-up: How could Caribs have been in the Bahamas when their closest outpost was nearly 1,000 miles to the south?

Credit: Ann Ross/North Carolina State University
Researchers analyzed the skulls of early Caribbean inhabitants, using 3D facial “landmarks” as a genetic proxy for determining how closely people groups were related to one another.

But skulls reveal the Carib presence in the Caribbean was far more prominent than previously thought, giving credence to Columbus’ claims.

Face to face with the Caribbean’s earliest inhabitants

Previous studies relied on artifacts such as tools and pottery to trace the geographical origin and movement of people through the Caribbean over time. Adding a biological component brings the region’s history into sharper focus, said Ann Ross, a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University and the study’s lead author.

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Ross used 3D facial “landmarks,” such as the size of an eye socket or length of a nose, to analyze more than 100 skulls dating from about A.D. 800 to 1542. These landmarks can act as a genetic proxy for determining how closely people are related to one another.

The analysis not only revealed three distinct Caribbean people groups, but also their migration routes, which was “really stunning,” Ross said.

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Looking at ancient faces shows the Caribbean’s earliest settlers came from the Yucatan, moving into Cuba and the Northern Antilles, which supports a previous hypothesis based on similarities in stone tools. Arawak speakers from coastal Colombia and Venezuela migrated to Puerto Rico between 800 and 200 B.C., a journey also documented in pottery.

The earliest inhabitants of the Bahamas and Hispaniola, however, were not from Cuba as commonly thought, but the Northwest Amazon – the Caribs. Around A.D. 800, they pushed north into Hispaniola and Jamaica and then the Bahamas where they were well established by the time Columbus arrived.

“I had been stumped for years because I didn’t have this Bahamian component,” Ross said. “Those remains were so key. This will change the perspective on the people and peopling of the Caribbean.”

For Keegan, the discovery lays to rest a puzzle that pestered him for years: why a type of pottery known as Meillacoid appears in Hispaniola by A.D. 800, Jamaica around 900 and the Bahamas around 1000.

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“Why was this pottery so different from everything else we see? That had bothered me,” he said. “It makes sense that Meillacoid pottery is associated with the Carib expansion.”

The sudden appearance of Meillacoid pottery also corresponds with a general reshuffling of people in the Caribbean after a 1,000-year period of tranquility, further evidence that “Carib invaders were on the move,” Keegan said.

Raiders of the lost Arawaks

So, was there any substance to the tales of cannibalism?

Possibly, Keegan said.

Arawaks and Caribs were enemies, but they often lived side by side with occasional intermarriage before blood feuds erupted, he said.

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“It’s almost a ‘Hatfields and McCoys’ kind of situation,” Keegan said. “Maybe there was some cannibalism involved. If you need to frighten your enemies, that’s a really good way to do it.”

Whether or not it was accurate, the European perception that Caribs were cannibals had a tremendous impact on the region’s history, he said. The Spanish monarchy initially insisted that indigenous people be paid for work and treated with respect, but reversed its position after receiving reports that they refused to convert to Christianity and ate human flesh.

“The crown said, ‘Well, if they’re going to behave that way, they can be enslaved,'” Keegan said. “All of a sudden, every native person in the entire Caribbean became a Carib as far as the colonists were concerned.”

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Michael Pateman of the Turks and Caicos National Museum and Colleen Young of the University of Missouri also co-authored the study.

Exercise and Anxiety Reduction in Children with Autism

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An Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health grant supports the research

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The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders will begin a research study using physical exercise to reduce anxiety in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) among underserved populations.

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This initiative is made possible through a grant from the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P). Jean Gehricke, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at UC Irvine and a licensed clinical psychologist with The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, is the principal investigator of the study. The four-year study is receiving $103,125 for its initial year, with the potential overall total of $790,625. Gehricke expects to enroll participants by early fall.

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“We are excited to be chosen as the only site nationwide to receive this AIR-P grant to study the impact of exercise on anxiety, which is very common and can lead to poor outcomes in children with autism,” Gehricke said. “The grant will allow us to collect valuable data that could significantly improve long-term physical and mental health, particularly in underserved communities.”

A growing international body of research is confirming the wide-ranging benefits of exercise in reducing stress and improving the long-term health of children and adults alike. This study will determine the potential benefits of exercise in underserved children with ASD.

“We often tell our families to encourage their children with autism to get out and exercise,” said Kelly McKinnon, M.A., BCBA, co-investigator on the project. “It’s exciting to be able to study its impact and share the results with our families.”

The physical exercise research program is being designed to incorporate comprehensive new guidelines for physical exercise in children developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers will measure impact based on several key factors, including compliance, anxiety and salivary cortisol levels measured before and after completion of the exercise and control group interventions. Cortisol is a frequently used biomarker for stress, Gehricke explained.

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Collecting this data will aid in the development of an evidence-based physical exercise intervention toolkit for the treatment of anxiety as well as other behaviors and improvement of physical health in children with ASD from underserved populations.

“Research is one of the core pillars of our mission,” said Catherine Brock, M.A., executive director of The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “With this grant and Jean Gehricke’s pioneering research efforts, we will be better able to help parents and families overcome obstacles they face and assist children in reaching their optimal potential.”

For more information, please visit http://www.thecenter4autism.org.

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About The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental DisordersFounded in 2001 (originally as For OC Kids), The Center is home to a team of experts in the field of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. Since its opening, The Center has been a leader in clinical services, research, education, and outreach, serving clients from birth through 22 years old.

In late 2012, a catalytic investment by the Thompson Family Foundation and the Children and Families Commission of Orange County provided $14.8 million to expand The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

The Center was established to provide help and hope to children, adolescents, young adults and their families challenged by autism spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disorders through excellent clinical care, innovative research, quality education, and community engagement. For more information, please visit http://www.thecenter4autism.org.

Tyrannosaurus rex

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Researchers learn more about teen-age T.Rex

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Without a doubt, Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous dinosaur in the world. The 40-foot-long predator with bone crushing teeth inside a five-foot long head are the stuff of legend. Now, a look within the bones of two mid-sized, immature T. rex allow scientists to learn about the tyrant king’s terrible teens as well.

In the early 2000s, the fossil skeletons of two comparatively small T. rex were collected from Carter County, Montana, by Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois. Nicknamed “Jane” and “Petey,” the tyrannosaurs would have been slightly taller than a draft horse and twice as long.

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The team led by Holly Woodward, Ph.D., from Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences studied Jane and Petey to better understand T. rex life history.

The study “Growing up Tyrannosaurus rex: histology refutes pygmy ‘Nanotyrannus’ and supports ontogenetic niche partitioning in juvenile Tyrannosaurus” appears in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.

Co-authors include Jack Horner, presidential fellow at Chapman University; Nathan Myhrvold, founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures; Katie Tremaine, graduate student at Montana State University; Scott Williams, paleontology lab and field specialist at Museum of the Rockies; and Lindsay Zanno, division head of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Supplemental histological work was conducted at the Diane Gabriel Histology Labs at Museum of the Rockies/Montana State University.

“Historically, many museums would collect the biggest, most impressive fossils of a dinosaur species for display and ignore the others,” said Woodward. “The problem is that those smaller fossils may be from younger animals. So, for a long while we’ve had large gaps in our understanding of how dinosaurs grew up, and T. rex is no exception.”

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The smaller size of Jane and Petey is what make them so incredibly important. Not only can scientists now study how the bones and proportions changed as T. rex matured, but they can also utilize paleohistology– the study of fossil bone microstructure– to learn about juvenile growth rates and ages. Woodward and her team removed thin slices from the leg bones of Jane and Petey and examined them at high magnification.

“To me, it’s always amazing to find that if you have something like a huge fossilized dinosaur bone, it’s fossilized on the microscopic level as well,” Woodward said. “And by comparing these fossilized microstructures to similar features found in modern bone, we know they provide clues to metabolism, growth rate, and age.”

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The team determined that the small T. rex were growing as fast as modern-day warm-blooded animals such as mammals and birds. Woodward and her colleagues also found that by counting the annual rings within the bone, much like counting tree rings, Jane and Petey were teenaged T.rex when they died; 13 and 15 years old, respectively.

There had been speculation that the two small skeletons weren’t T. rex at all, but a smaller pygmy relative Nanotyrannus. Study of the bones using histology led the researchers to the conclusion that the skeletons were juvenile T. rex and not a new pygmy species.

Instead, Woodward points out, because it took T. rex up to twenty years to reach adult size, the tyrant king probably underwent drastic changes as it matured. Juveniles such as Jane and Petey were fast, fleet footed, and had knife-like teeth for cutting, whereas adults were lumbering bone crushers. Not only that, but Woodward’s team discovered that growing T. rex could do a neat trick: if its food source was scarce during a particular year, it just didn’t grow as much. And if food was plentiful, it grew a lot.

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“The spacing between annual growth rings record how much an individual grows from one year to the next. The spacing between the rings within Jane, Petey, and even older individuals is inconsistent – some years the spacing is close together, and other years it’s spread apart,” said Woodward.

The research by Woodward and her team writes a new chapter in the early years of the world’s most famous dinosaur, providing evidence that it assumed the crown of tyrant king long before it reached adult size.

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###

About Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences educates osteopathic physicians, scientists, allied health professionals and health care administrators for Oklahoma with an emphasis on serving rural and underserved Oklahoma. OSU-CHS offers graduate and professional degrees with over 1,000 students enrolled in academic programs in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, the School of Allied Health, the School of Health Care Administration, the School of Biomedical Sciences, and the School of Forensic Sciences. OSU Medicine operates a network of clinics in the Tulsa area offering a multitude of specialty services including addiction medicine, cardiology, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and women’s health. Learn more at https://health.okstate.edu.

Facebook deepfake ban

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Notre Dame Expert: Host of problems with Facebook deepfake ban

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Tim Weninger, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, says Facebook’s newly announced ban on deepfakes is good news for democracy but presents a number of challenges in the fight against the spread of misinformation.

Weninger is an expert in disinformation and fake news, web and social media, data mining and machine learning.

“This is good news for democracy and a good business policy for Facebook, whose users don’t want to be lied to by the content they see,” Weninger said. “If Facebook becomes flooded by fake or misleading content, then users will abandon the site.”

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But, Weninger adds, the policy presents a host of problems and challenges.

“Most obvious is the technological question of how will Facebook determine which content is AI faked and which is not. It’s clear that deepfake technology will soon be usable by the masses. And when that happens, Facebook won’t have the capacity to filter fake videos manually. Notre Dame and others are working on deepfake detectors, but these automatic detectors won’t catch everything. 

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“Second is the actual effect that this deepfake ban will have on the actual problem. It’s often said that ‘a lie can travel around the world before the truth can get its pants on.’ So, if a deepfake is created, shared and quickly taken down, the damage is done — it will live forever. And there is little that a maligned political candidate or brand can do to fix it.

“In my opinion, deepfakes are some mix of identity theft and slander. And there ought to be a legal remedy or judicial recourse available to the victims of deepfakes.”

Asperger’s Syndrome

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Credit: Deborah Mann Lake, UTHealth
Paula Ong talks about her journey with Asperger’s syndrome, which often can escape diagnosis until adulthood. A new clinic at UTHealth is reaching out to Aspies.

Paula Ong will chat away about her childhood, dropping out of college and the 13 jobs she has held in the past two decades. But ask how she “feels” about living with Asperger’s syndrome and she will give you a lengthy pause.

“Feels” is not a concept she can verbalize clearly.

“Feeling is abstract and at times broad,” she explains. “Many people with Asperger’s syndrome have a hard time grasping and verbalizing abstractness.”

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Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum that causes impairment in social and communication skills. It is sometimes thought of as being a high functioning form of autism because “Aspies,” as they call themselves, are people of average or higher intellectual level.

Symptoms include repetitive routines or rituals; peculiarities in speech and language; socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior; difficulty interacting successfully with peers; problems with non-verbal communication; and uncoordinated motor movements. They also may have limited interests or an unusual preoccupation with a particular subject to the exclusion of other activities.

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“They are high on systemizing and low on empathizing,” says Katherine Loveland, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, which has just opened a new clinic for patients with Asperger’s. Changing Lives through Autism Spectrum Services (CLASS) will serve intellectually able people age 16 and older with Asperger’s or another autism spectrum disorder. “Systemizing is the kind of thinking we do when we organize things, solve concrete problems and think in terms of how things work as opposed to empathizing, where we are attuned to and concerned with the feelings of other people.”

It wasn’t until 1992 that Asperger’s was recognized as a distinct disorder by the World Health Organization and not until 1994 that it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic reference book.

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So like many people who have Asperger’s syndrome, Ong’s ability to put a name to her idiosyncrasies didn’t come until she was well into adulthood. Ong, 41, was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2006 during treatment for a mood disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although current DSM criteria do not permit the diagnosis of ADHD together with an autism spectrum disorder, recent research including a major study at UTHealth has revealed that a majority of people with autism spectrum disorders have some form of ADHD as well.

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“We’re only now getting good at detecting Asperger’s in young people and there is a cohort of adults from when we were not so good at detecting it,” says Loveland, director of the CLASS Clinic.

“Either it’s never been diagnosed or it’s been misdiagnosed,” Loveland says. “One of the reasons it might be missed is because they are intellectually able. They are bright and verbal and good at school work, but they have continuing social problems, such as forming relationships with peers, being accepted, and dealing with emotions.”

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Ong is a good example. She is sharp with a keen sense of humor. She made As and Bs in school and excelled in history and science, the subjects that most interested her. She admits she wasn’t as good in math, which led to her decision to drop out of college, a decision her parents weren’t happy about. Her mother has degrees in journalism and business; her father is an aerospace engineer.

“My mom always suspected that I had something like autism despite what the schools told her when I was growing up,” says Ong, whose good grades disguised the severity of her disorder.

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As she grew older, Asperger’s syndrome affected Ong’s ability to sustain a career. The longest job she held was from 1997 to 2006. She began the position working in a parking booth and the limited contact with customers played to her advantage. But when parking tickets went electronic and the booths went away, she had to interact more with customers and sometimes it didn’t go well. She was written up after chasing down a car and banging on its rear window because the driver followed another car through the gate arm without paying.

“Some Asperger’s people don’t think and feel at the same time,” she says. “With some Aspies, you think and then you feel or you feel and then you think. My thinking is visual. I’m impulsive. Customer service is not my thing despite the fact I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. The only time my experience in customer relations comes in handy is when I’m ‘translating’ for other people with Asperger’s. I have to know body language and stuff and I think I have a good idea of what others are expressing.”

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Ong has been under a doctor’s care since she was in her mid-20s for stress management and mood disorders, which includes depression.

“There are emotional issues… if people think you are odd, it affects how they treat you, and so you have a lot of stress,” Loveland says. “People on the autism spectrum have more trouble regulating their emotions. Their resources for coping with stress are less developed and they can become upset very easily. Over time, the stress and the emotional upset can lead to anxiety and depression. That’s not good for the developing brain and as a result, they often develop secondary psychopathologies.”

Specialists such as those at the UTHealth psychiatry CLASS Clinic can determine whether the problems an individual is experiencing are related to Asperger’s syndrome. Co-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety can be treated with medication or psychotherapy.

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“I really feel there is an unmet need in the community. There are people out there who are struggling and need a place to go. We want people to access the support they need,” Loveland says. “They will be able to meet people on a similar journey and know they are not alone. Group and individual training will help them develop skills that they need to feel successful in stressful situations.”

Ong has learned many skills, including using her favorite stuffed animal, Boo, to help her through stressful situations.

“I had to make presentations about Asperger’s in Corpus Christi and Fort Worth and Boo came. I didn’t know any of these people or what they would think of us. Boo takes away my fears. He handles my emotional burden,” Ong says.

Autism Effects May Be Reversible

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A new study by researchers at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology highlights a mechanism for significant disruption of gene activity in autism that may be reversible. Published in the journal Genome Medicine on April 7, the study focuses on the differential expression of microRNA and addresses the issue of higher level regulation of gene expression in autism.

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MicroRNA are recently discovered snippets of RNA (ribonucleic acid), each of which can inhibit the expression (and thus activity) of hundreds to more than a thousand genes. The effects of microRNA are also reversible by treatment with complementary “anti-sense” RNA.

Valerie Hu, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, with a GW graduate student and collaborators at the National Institute of Mental Health, identified changes in the profile of microRNAs between identical twins and sibling pairs, discordant for diagnosis of autism. They discovered that, despite using cells derived originally from blood, brain-specific and brain-related microRNAs were found to be differentially expressed in the autistic samples, and that these microRNAs could potentially regulate genes that control many processes known to be disrupted in autism. For example, differentially expressed microRNAs were found to regulate genes highly involved in neurological functions and disorders in addition to genes involved in gastrointestinal diseases, circadian rhythm signaling, and steroid hormone metabolism.

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The study further shows that by treating the cells with “anti-sense” RNA antagonists (inhibitors) to specific microRNA or by employing mimics of a particular microRNA, one can reverse the pattern of expression of a given target gene regulated by that microRNA.

This study, titled “Investigation of post-transcriptional gene regulatory networks associated with autism spectrum disorders by microRNA expression profiling of lymphoblastoid cell lines” was highlighted as an “Editor’s pick” in Genome Medicine. It is available online at: http://genomemedicine.com/content/2/4/23.

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When paired with another recently published study regarding “DNA tagging” by methylation, Dr. Hu’s research illustrates two different “epigenetic” mechanisms controlling gene activity in autism that lie beyond genetic mutations. While methylation inhibits gene expression at the level of DNA, microRNA inhibits at the level of RNA. By integrating both DNA methylation and microRNA expression studies with gene expression data, Dr. Hu and her team are applying a systems biology approach to understanding this complex disorder.

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“It is becoming increasingly clear that many factors, genetic as well as epigenetic, contribute to the manifestation of autism spectrum disorders,” said Dr. Hu. “Epigenetic factors are particularly interesting as they provide potential mechanisms for introducing environmental effects into this complex disorder.”

About The George Washington University Medical CenterThe George Washington University Medical Center is an internationally recognized interdisciplinary academic health center that has consistently provided high-quality medical care in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area since 1824. The Medical Center comprises the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the 11th oldest medical school in the country; the School of Public Health and Health Services, the only such school in the nation’s capital; GW Hospital, jointly owned and operated by a partnership between The George Washington University and a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.; and The GW Medical Faculty Associates, an independent medical practice with nearly 350 physicians in 42 clinical specialties. For more information on GWUMC, visit www.gwumc.edu.

One-Fourth of Children with Autism Are Undiagnosed

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Black and Hispanic children are most at risk for missed autism diagnosis, according to a Rutgers researcher

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One-fourth of children under age 8 with autism spectrum disorder — most of them black or Hispanic — are not being diagnosed, which is critical for improving quality of life.

The findings, published in the journal Autism Research, show that despite growing awareness about autism, it is still under-diagnosed, particularly in black and Hispanic people, said study co-author Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and director of the New Jersey Autism Study, which contributed to the research.

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Researchers analyzed the education and medical records of 266,000 children who were 8 years old in 2014, seeking to determine how many of those who showed symptoms of the disorder  were not clinically diagnosed or receiving services.

Of the nearly 4,500 children identified, 25 percent were not diagnosed.  Most were black or Hispanic males with deficits in mental abilities, social skills and activities of daily living who were not considered disabled.

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“There may be various reasons for the disparity, from communication or cultural barriers between minority parents and physicians to anxiety about the complicated diagnostic process and fear of stigma,” Zahorodny said, “Also, many parents whose children are diagnosed later often attribute their first concerns to a behavioral or medical issue rather than a developmental problem.” 

Screening all toddlers, preschool and school-age children for autism could help reduce the disparities in diagnosis, Zahorodny said. In addition, clinicians can overcome communication barriers by using pictures and/or employing patient navigators to help families understand the diagnosis process, test results and treatment recommendations.

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States can help improve access to care by requiring insurance companies to cover early intervention services when a child is first determined to be at risk rather than waiting for a diagnosis, he said.

The research was conducted through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, a surveillance program funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracks the prevalence of the developmental disorder in 11 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy Increases Risk of Autism by 87%

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Ground breaking study published in JAMA Pediatrics looks at outcomes of 145,456 pregnancies after antidepressant use

Credit: Hepingting, CC BY SA 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/95h8gu
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Using antidepressants during pregnancy greatly increases the risk of autism, Professor Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital revealed today. Prof. Bérard, an internationally renowned expert in the fields of pharmaceutical safety during pregnancy, came to her conclusions after reviewing data covering 145,456 pregnancies. “The variety of causes of autism remain unclear, but studies have shown that both genetics and environment can play a role,” she explained. “Our study has established that taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age 7, especially if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often known by its acronym SSRIs.” Her findings were published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

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Using antidepressants during pregnancy greatly increases the risk of autism, Professor Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital revealed today. Prof. Bérard, an internationally renowned expert in the fields of pharmaceutical safety during pregnancy, came to her conclusions after reviewing data covering 145,456 pregnancies. “The variety of causes of autism remain unclear, but studies have shown that both genetics and environment can play a role,” she explained. “Our study has established that taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age 7, especially if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often known by its acronym SSRIs.” Her findings were published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

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Bérard and her colleagues worked with data from the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort and studied 145,456 children between the time of their conception up to age ten. In addition to information about the mother’s use of antidepressants and the child’s eventual diagnosis of autism, the data included a wealth of details that enabled the team to tease out the specific impact of the antidepressant drugs. For example, some people are genetically predisposed to autism (i.e., a family history of it.) Maternal age, and depression are known to be associated with the development of autism, as are certain socio-economic factors such as being exposed to poverty, and the team was able to take all of these into consideration. “We defined exposure to antidepressants as the mother having had one or more prescription for antidepressants filled during the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. This period was chosen as the infant’s critical brain development occurs during this time,” Prof. Bérard said. “Amongst all the children in the study, we then identified which children had been diagnosed with a form of autism by looking at hospital records indicating diagnosed childhood autism, atypical autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or a pervasive developmental disorder. Finally, we looked for a statistical association between the two groups, and found a very significant one: an 87% increased risk.” The results remained unchanged when only considering children who had been diagnosed by specialists such as psychiatrists and neurologists.

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The findings are hugely important as six to ten percent of pregnant women are currently being treated for depression with antidepressants. In the current study, 1,054 children were diagnosed with autism (0.72% of the children in the study), on average at 4.5 years of age. Moreover, the prevalence of autism amongst children has increased from 4 in 10,000 children in 1966 to 100 in 10,000 today. While that increase can be attributed to both better detection and widening criteria for diagnosis, researchers believe that environmental factors are also playing a part. “It is biologically plausible that anti-depressants are causing autism if used at the time of brain development in the womb, as serotonin is involved in numerous pre- and postnatal developmental processes, including cell division, the migration of neuros, cell differentiation and synaptogenesis – the creation of links between brain cells,” Prof. Bérard explained. “Some classes of anti-depressants work by inhibiting serotonin (SSRIs and some other antidepressant classes), which will have a negative impact on the ability of the brain to fully develop and adapt in-utero”

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The World Health Organization indicates that depression will be the second leading cause of death by 2020, which leads the researchers to believe that antidepressants will likely to remain widely prescribed, including during pregnancy. “Our work contributes to a better understanding of the long-term neurodevelopmental effects of anti-depressants on children when they are used during gestation. Uncovering the outcomes of these drugs is a public health priority, given their widespread use,” Prof. Bérard said.

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About this study:Takoua Boukhris, Odile Sheehy, Laurent Mottron, MD, PhD, and Anick Bérard, PhD, published “Antidepressant use during pregnancy and the risk of autism spectrum disorder in children” in JAMA Pediatrics on December 14, 2015.

Anick Bérard, PhD, is a professor at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Pharmacy and a researcher at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre.

This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Reseach (CIHR) “Quebec Training Network in Perinatal Research”, and the Fonds de la recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQ-S).,

Dr. Bérard is the recipient of a FRQ-S research Chair on Medications and Pregnancy. Dr Bérard is a consultant for plaintiffs in litigations involving antidepressants and birth defects.

The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal.

Minute Movements of Autistic Children and Their Parents Provide Clue to Severity of Disorder

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Researchers measured minute movements as participants repetitively touched a spot on a touch screen.
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Imperceptible variations in movement patterns among individuals with autism spectrum disorder are important indicators of the severity of the disorder in children and adults, according to a report presented at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in November.

For the first time, researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University report developing a quantitative way to assess these otherwise ignored variations in movement and link those variations to a diagnosis.

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“This is the first time we have been able to explicitly characterize subtypes of severity in autism spectrum disorder,” said Jorge V. José, Ph.D., vice president of research at Indiana University and the James H. Rudy Professor of Physics in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. “We also have determined that a pattern exists in the movement variations in some cases between children with autism and their parents, leading us to surmise that genetics plays a role in movement patterns.”

Positional trajectories show the variations in speed and random movement of (from top) low functioning, non-verbal ASD, age 22; high functioning, verbal ASD, age 25; and adult control, age 22.

In a blinded study, José, who also is a professor of cellular and integrative physiology at the IU School of Medicine, and co-principal investigator Elizabeth B. Torres, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University, attached high-sensitivity movement sensors to the arms of study participants to track their micro-movements as they extended and retracted their hand to touch a specific spot on a touch screen.

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Using analytics they developed, Drs. José and Torres, together with Di Wu, a Ph.D. graduate student in José’s lab in the physics department at IU Bloomington, evaluated the local spikes in speed — traditionally considered as noise in the data. The sensors recorded 240 movements per second for the 30 people with autism, eight healthy adults and 21 parents of children with autism tested. The participants were asked to touch a spot on a screen moving continuously about 100 consecutive times.

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“These variations in the hand’s movement speed produced a pattern that clustered in specific regions of a graph that produced metrics we could use — not only in children with autism but in their parents,” Dr. Torres said. “People with autism are known to have problems with sensing their body motions and sensing their body in general. Our earlier research proved that the random patterns of their speed were significant. What we did not expect was to find random, minute speed fluctuations during the intentional action itself, much less identify this form of intentional tremor in some of their parents.”

That finding was part of the report presented by Wu at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience meeting in November attended by more than 32,000 scientists.

“In healthy adults, the minute fluctuations in the speed of their movements, which we call peripheral spikes or p-spikes, normally occur at the onset or at the end of the arm extension exercise,” Wu said. “They show very few p-spikes during the actual action, as the hand speeds up or slows down en route to the target. However, healthy children in the 3-to-5-year-old range have random patterns of p-spikes, as do adults and children with autism spectrum disorder.”

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What this suggests, the researchers said, is that p-spikes normally become more organized with age in typically developing individuals. But, in children and adults with autism, the p-spikes remained random. The researchers tested people with autism between the ages of 3 and 30 and identified an absence of transition that typically developing children undergo after 4 or 5 years of age.

The researchers also tested 14 mothers and seven fathers who have a child with autism. When evaluating the noise from the data produced from the parents, the researchers were surprised to find that some of the parents had random p-spikes clustering in the graph similar to that of their children.

“This finding suggests that genetics may play a role in p-spike patterns,” Wu said. “We will need to further explore this result in other populations with neurodevelopmental disorders of known genetic origins and their family to better understand the surprising findings.”

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Drs. José and Torres said the p-spike patterns are useful in determining severity of the disorder.

“Normally, children get more coordinated as they age, but we found that the young children with autism and the adults with autism all produced random p-spikes showing that they do not transition as they develop,” Dr. José said. “We also found a correlation between the randomness of the p-spikes and the severity of the autism disorder. Among those with autism, the more random their p-spikes, the lower spoken language ability they had overall.”

This research was funded by National Science Foundation Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation Type I (Idea), grant number 0941587 — “A novel quantitative framework to study lack of social interactions in Autism Spectrum Disorders” — and by the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism, grant number CAUT14APL018 — “New objective autism inventory to quantify peripheral plasticity during standard ADOS-2 social exchange.”

Trump’s Threat to Iranian Cultural Sites

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In the aftermath of Qasem Soleimani’s killing, President Trump on Twitter threatened to attack 52 Iranian sites that are important to “the Iranian culture,” a threat that has drawn criticism and condemnation as “cultural cleansing” and an action in violation of international law.

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Seema Golestaneh, professor of near Eastern studies at Cornell University, studies the anthropology of Islam and culture of Iran. She says threatening to attack cultural sites shows a lack of understanding of the Iranian peoples’ day-to-day lives.

Bio: https://as.cornell.edu/seema-golestaneh

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Golestaneh says:

“The threat to attack Iranian cultural sites is akin to threatening to bomb Notre Dame or the Sistine chapel.  And to make such claims so cavalierly, without any regard for the deep emotional ties that people have with these sites, seems especially cruel.

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“Some of these sites are not just tourist destinations but are still in heavy use and are woven into the fabric of their respective cities. For example, the bazaar of the Imam’s Square and the Khaju Bridge of Isfahan, which were built nearly four hundred years ago, are used by hundreds of thousands of people every day. 

“The term ‘cultural heritage sites’ in a way seems to fall short to describe these places and things and their role in the popular imagination. They are ways of life, ways of understanding the self.  The United States is a young country and perhaps it is hard to understand this deep affection. But outside of the loss of life, for Iranians, nothing could be more painful.”AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to Print

Marijuana Detector

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Forensic Chemist Detects Marijuana-Use Based on Sweat Test

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Forensic chemist Jan Halámek is proving that our own perspiration not only gives away how drunk we are – but if we are high, too.

Through new research, published in December’s edition of ACS Sensors, the Halámek lab has captured the ability to detect a person’s marijuana-use based on contents in a small skin secretion that can be taken from fingerprints or any other sweat glands.

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This discovery builds on the lab’s concept for a roadside testing kit to be used by law enforcement. In November, Halámek introduced a prototype for a color-changing test strip that detects blood alcohol content (BAC) based on ethanol levels in sweat.

“Currently there is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to marijuana use and operating machinery,” said Halámek, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University at Albany. “While many states are moving to various stages of legalization, the focus is mostly on possession and in-home use. There are no reliable roadside devices being used to test for marijuana-impaired driving.”

“What makes the use of sweat as a biometric unique is that it is non-invasive. No blood needs to be drawn for a sample,” Halámek added. “Our test can be done instantaneously, on the side of the road, which eliminates any possibility of tampering.”

How It Works

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Similar to the alcohol test strip, Halámek’s analysis to detect marijuana relies on a color change. However, instead of ethanol levels in the sweat sample, this test reacts to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the main psychoactive component found in marijuana plants and its extracted forms including liquids (THC oils) and edibles (brownies, cookies, gummies, etc.) 

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The analysis works by using an antibody that quantifies the THC metabolite.  When less of a color change is observed, this means a higher amount of THC metabolite is present in the sweat sample.

To put their discovery to the test, Halámek, along with his team of UAlbany graduate students, surveyed eight volunteers on their recent marijuana use. Four were users; four were non-users. The group then provided their fingerprints on a plastic wrap that was cut out and subject to analysis.

Results showed a clear difference in observed color change between the two groups.

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“While drugs are a new topic for the Halámek lab, it is something we plan to continue diving into,” Halámek said. “Much of the fundamentals are the same as our previous research in terms of the collection, extraction, and use of sweat as a biometric.”

The Halámek Lab

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Along with its roadside testing kit research, the Halámek lab has published a number of other groundbreaking forensics discoveries. In 2017, his team released a concept paper for a sweat-based authentication to unlock mobile and wearable devices. The lab has also released numerous studies on the use of physical crime scene evidence, such as fingerprints or blood residue, to quickly identify key characteristics of culprits.

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Halámek joined UAlbany in 2013 and has been funded through numerous fellowships and a three-year grant from the Department of Justice and National Institute of Justice to develop non-invasive sensing concepts.

You can learn more about Halámek by visiting his research website and expert page.

IRANIAN CULTURAL SITES

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Cultural heritage expert available to discuss threats against Iranian cultural sites

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Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, assistant professor of community and regional planning at Iowa State University, is available to comment on threats against Iranian cultural sites. He is an expert on cultural heritage and historic preservation.

Credit: Iowa State University

Grevstad-Nordbrock has drawn parallels between the threats against Iranian cultural sites and the “Baedeker Raids” by Nazi Germany in 1941-2. During these raids, German war planners used popular European travel guides (“Baedekers”) to identify cultural sites in UK cities for aerial bombardment. This was intended to shock and demoralize the British population. It was also a reprisal for the British bombing of historic cities in Germany’s north.

Grevstad-Nordbrock has conducted research of historic sites during times of armed conflict, in particular exploring how Allied governments protected historic sites in Europe from destruction during World War II, focusing on immoveable cultural heritage (historic buildings, archaeological sites) as opposed to moveable art objects (paintings, sculptures, etc.). 

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He has a Ph.D. in geography from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University, a master’s degree in art history from the University of Wiconsin-Madison and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW-Madison. He had 25 years professional experience in historic preservation before coming to Iowa State.

For interviews, please contact Chelsea Davis at chelsead@iastate.edu or 515-294-4778.

Families of Children With Autism Face Physical, Mental and Social Burdens

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Caregivers face increased social isolation and emotional burnout .

Families of children with autism face high physical, mental and emotional burdens, are sometimes ridiculed and even accused of child abuse, according to a Rutgers study.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Autism & Related Disabilities.

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The study surveyed 25 caregivers of 16 children ages 2 to 20 with autism spectrum disorder to evaluate how their care affected their family dynamics, physical and mental health, and social functioning. The researchers also asked about the caregivers’ worries, daily activities, family relationships and insurance.

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“While the understanding of how autism spectrum disorders impact individuals has grown, the awareness of the burden on families who care for these individuals is less established,” said Xue Ming, a professor of neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “Caring for loved ones with autism spectrum disorder is emotionally and physically taxing.”

The study found:

  • Emotional burnout was more likely in families with a child with low-functioning autism spectrum disorder and simultaneous conditions.
  • Social isolation was greater in families who reported significant emotional burnout.
  • Families with more than one caregiver experienced less emotional burnout and social isolation.
  • Families with a higher socioeconomic status tended to spend more money on medical treatments outside of their health insurance policy.
  • Families with an aggressive and irritable child tended to experience more social isolation and emotional burnout.
  • Simultaneous medical and behavioral disorders were common in these children.
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Nine of the 16 families in the study reported being ridiculed or accused of child abuse, which they said limited them from attending social events, visiting public places such as churches, supermarkets and restaurants, and using mass transportation.

“This suggests that communities need to improve their inclusiveness for families with children with autism spectrum disorder,” Ming said. “The study shows there is a need to raise public awareness of the burdens faced by these families and to alert medical providers to provide them with more support.”

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The findings also can be used to advocate for better resources for these children and families to improve their quality of life and reduce stress, she said.  

Other Rutgers co-authors included Binhao Wu, Max Yang and Apoorva Polavarapu.

Song for our times: War is Hell.

Charly Chiarelli futured on “I’M Italian Magazine

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Charly Chiarelli

One Step Closer to Newborn Screening for Autism

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Photo by Isaac Quesada

Simple blood test would identify key biomarkers

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Because early detection of autism is linked to significantly improved outcomes, the discovery of early predictors could make all the difference in a child’s development.

Dr. Ray Bahado-Singh, a geneticist and Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology for Beaumont Health and the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and his research team, identified key biomarkers for predicting autism in newborns.

The preliminary, collaborative study used Artificial Intelligence, a computer-based technology which scans a map of the human genome.

The team’s findings could lead to an accessible, standardized newborn screening tool which uses a simple blood test, Dr. Bahado-Singh said, enabling earlier intervention, reducing disability and improving outcomes.

The project compared DNA from 14 known cases of autism to 10 control cases and featured researchers from the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, Albion College and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

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Results appeared in the journal Brain Research.

“Compared to what is currently available, these findings provide a more direct method which could be employed earlier on, shortly after birth,” Dr. Bahado-Singh said. “It’s been shown that children who are treated earlier do better in life.”

Symptoms of autism include sensory processing difficulties, anxiety, irritability, sleep dysfunction, seizures and gastrointestinal disorders.

According to Autism Speaks, nearly half of 25-year-olds diagnosed with autism have never held a paying job. In the United States, the majority of costs associated with autism are for adult services – an estimated $175 to $196 billion a year, compared to $61 to $66 billion a year for children. 

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Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be screened between 18-24 months, children in large portions of the U.S. do not receive recommended clinical screenings.

Lori Warner, Ph.D., director of the Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center which treats children with autism at Beaumont Children’s called the findings optimistic.

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“We are always looking for new ways to make a difference in the lives of our patients,” Dr. Warner said. “Getting them into therapy early on is a proven way to make their path, and that of their families, easier and more meaningful.”

Dr. David Aughton, Genetics Chief for Beaumont Children’s, said he looks forward to additional, larger follow-up studies.

“Although it has been thought for many years that the underlying cause of a significant proportion of autism is likely to be nongenetic in nature, this study takes a very pragmatic and important first step toward investigating the epigenome — the inheritable changes in gene expression — and identifying those underlying nongenetic influences. The authors call for larger follow-up studies to validate their findings, and I eagerly look forward to learning the outcome of those validation studies.”

Bravest woman that ever lived

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Erica Armstrong Dunbar enlists students’ help to tell untold stories of the “bravest woman that ever lived”

Credit: Glen Wilson/Focus Features
Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman

In an iconic image, Harriet Tubman stands calmly wrapped in a shawl. But the picture that most people associate with Tubman doesn’t scratch the surface of the strength and determination it took leading 60 to 70 slaves to safety through the Underground Railroad.

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With the release of the film Harriet, Rutgers scholar Erica Armstrong Dunbar said it’s a good time to shed light on Tubman’s life not only as the famed Underground Railroad conductor, but as a sister, a daughter, a wife, a mother and a woman. 

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“What we know about Tubman’s life from history books really only consists of 10 years of her life, and I wanted to present her in a way that is fresh,’ said Dunbar, a Rutgers University–New Brunswick Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History and the author of She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman. “The point was to be accessible and have it be modern and contemporary, so it connects to readers across generations to make a story that is over 100 years old feel relevant today.”

Credit: Glen Wilson/Focus Features
Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman

Dunbar began with Tubman’s grandmother, a woman named Modesty, who endured the Middle Passage and arrived in colonial Maryland in the late eighteenth century. Tubman’s parents, Harriet “Rit” Green and Ben Ross were enslaved by different families on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Tubman was born with the name Araminta Ross, and her family was separated as many others were during the slave trade, with her three sisters sold to different plantation owners.

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“I wanted to start at the very beginning and talk about the things we don’t often hear,” Dunbar said. “I explore her teenage years and her marriage to John Tubman, who actually left her for another woman once she escaped to Philadelphia. I discuss her adopted child Gertie through her second marriage to Nelson Davis, a man 20 years her junior. A decade later, Tubman led a military expedition during the Civil War and rescued close to 750 enslaved people. After the war ended, she continued to fight for 53 years as an activist for the elderly and women’s rights. It’s important that we see all these different sides, so we can begin to look at her as a whole person.” 

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To offer this perspective, Dunbar enlisted research associates from various universities, including Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Ashley Council, a second-year graduate student focused on African-American history. Council spent months digging through the Freedmen’s Bureau Archives, 19th century newspapers, census data, civil war letters, black abolitionist papers, speeches and many other historical sources. She faced the complex task of uncovering slave history, much of it told through the lens of white supremacy. 

Credit: Erica Armstrong Dunba
Erica Armstrong Dunbar

“I researched portions of Tubman’s history like the Combahee River Raid, and I started constructing narratives that challenged me to write in a more accessible way, to touch on the humanity of the reader,” said Council, who plans to become a professor of African-American history. “There is not a lot of archival material about Tubman and the history of the enslaved . Archives weren’t made to make the enslaved visible. So, I had to take history based in white supremacy and find the narratives that were hidden beneath. It isn’t something our discipline always allows and this was an amazing opportunity to be a part of a new way of telling her story.”

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Dunbar was invited to attend pre-screenings of the film Harriet, which she invited her graduate student associates to join. Students also discussed Tubman’s life in conjunction with the film release during live podcasts and Twitter chats. While there are some differences between her book and the film, there were moments that shed light on the militant side of Tubman, which Dunbar was happy to see on screen. 

“She was a fierce black woman — and certainly one of the bravest women that ever lived,” Dunbar said. “She made 13 trips along the Underground Railroad, traveling more than 100 miles and never lost one single person. She reminds us of the importance of the strength of leadership in the darkest of times and to stand up for social injustice. Her story offers hope and encouragement in battling the issues happening today.”

Dunbar said it was important to involve students in her research. 

“I want students to have the opportunity to work in the archives and uncover the fragments of history that are untold. It helps them see possibilities in the field of history and the prominence of the Department of History at Rutgers. We are the number one program in African American history in the nation for a reason.”

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###

Broadcast interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews with Rutgers experts. For more information, contact Cynthia Medina c.medina@rutgers.edu

ABOUT RUTGERS—NEW BRUNSWICK

Rutgers University–New Brunswick is where Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, began more than 250 years ago. Ranked among the world’s top 60 universities, Rutgers’s flagship university is a leading public research institution and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It is home to internationally acclaimed faculty and has 12 degree-granting schools and a Division I Athletics program. It is the Big Ten Conference’s most diverse university. Through its community of teachers, scholars, artists, scientists, and healers, Rutgers is equipped as never before to transform lives.

Unattainable Standards of Beauty for Today's Woman

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Victoria Secret models shrink while average US women’s dress size increases

Photo by Tamara Bellis
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While the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased over the past 20 years, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become more slender, with a decrease in bust, waist, hips and dress size, though their waist to hip ratio (WHR) has remained constant.

These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman.

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Quantifying female body attractiveness is complex. Perceived attractiveness is influenced by physical and nonphysical traits and is further guided by media exposure and sociocultural standards of the time. One of the more established parameters to evaluate female body attractiveness is the WHR, which measures body fat distribution. Interestingly, WHR has continued to be an ideal beauty trait that has stayed constant over time and cross-culterally.

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In order to evaluate trends of physical body attributes, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) measured and compared Victoria’s Secret models from 1995 to 2018. The first Victoria’s Secret runway show debuted 23 years ago and since then has been viewed by millions annually, making it the most watched fashion show worldwide.

The data showed that over time, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become thinner, with smaller busts, waist, hips and dress size, whereas their WHR remained constant. “Conversely, the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased and varies between a misses size 16 and 18,” explained corresponding author Neelam Vashi, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at BUSM.

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According to the researchers, in parallel with this trend, the percentage of women seeking cosmetic surgical procedures has dramatically increased and may be due to the desire to achieve the ideal WHR, which is a narrow waist set against fuller hips. Buttock and lower body lift has increased by 4,295 percent and 256 percent, respectively since 2000.

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“Our results represent a potentially changing weight ideal of beauty that is moving farther away from the characteristics of the average American woman; however, a constant idealized WHR remains intact,” added Vashi, who also is director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center.

Kids with autism develop life skills through dance

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A University of Delaware team uses dance to teach social communication skills to children with autism.

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A study at the University of Delaware is exploring how dance can help kids with autism enhance their social communication skills as well as their motor skills.

Brain Enlargement in Autism

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Brain Enlargement in Autism Due to Brain Changes Occurring Before Age 2

Credit: Image created by Clement Vachet, Neuro Image Research and Analysis Laboratories, UNC Department of Psychiatry.
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In 2005, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 2-year-old children with autism have brains up to 10 percent larger than children of the same age without autism.

Now a follow-up study by UNC researchers has found that the children who had enlarged brains at age 2 continued to have enlarged brains at ages 4 and 5, but the amount of the enlargement was to the same degree found at age 2. This increased brain growth did not continue beyond 2 years of age and the changes detected at age 2 were due to overgrowth prior to that time point. In addition, the study found that the cortical enlargement was associated with increased folding on the surface of the brain (or increased surface area) and not an increase in the thickness of outer layer of the brain (or gray matter).

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“Brain enlargement resulting from increased folding on the surface of the brain is most likely genetic in origin and a result of an increase in the proliferation of neurons in the developing brain,” said Heather Cody Hazlett, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry, who is the lead author of the new study, which is published in the May 2011 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

In both the 2005 study and the new study, Hazlett and colleagues analyzed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the children’s brains using computer software developed for that purpose by Martin Styner, PhD, an assistant professor of computer science and psychiatry at UNC, and Guido Gerig, PhD, formerly at UNC and now at the University of Utah.

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“From earlier work by our group on head circumference or head size in children with autism, we think that brain overgrowth in many children with autism may actually be happening around the first birthday. Together these findings suggest that we should be searching for genes that may underlie the over-proliferation of neurons in this early post-natal period,” said Joseph Piven, MD, senior author of the new study and director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities.

UNC is currently leading two separate studies aimed at that goal. Hazlett leads the Brain Development in School Age Children with Autism study, which is funded by Autism Speaks. “It was important to continue to follow these children to track their brain development to see if the brain and behavioral differences we observed were maintained as the children matured,” said Hazlett.

UNC is also leading the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), a National Institutes of Health-funded multi-center study which includes four sites around the U.S. “We are studying infant children at high genetic risk for autism, by virtue of their having an older brother or sister with autism – somewhere around 20 percent of those children will develop autism. We are doing brain scans and behavior assessments on those children at 6, 12 and 24 months of age to look at how the brain develops in the subgroup that develop autism before they have symptoms of autism at 6 months of age and over the interval that they develop autism – between 6 and 24 months of age, in most cases,” Piven said. “We are also looking at whether specific gene alterations may be responsible.”

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More information about IBIS is available at http://www.ibisnetwork.org/.

Authors of the May 2011 article in Archives of General Psychiatry, in addition to Hazlett, are Michele Poe, PhD, Guido Gerig, PhD, Martin Styner, PhD, Chad Chappell, Rachel Gimpel Smith, Clement Vachet, MS, and Piven.

The UNC authors are all affiliated with one or more of the following: The Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and the Department of Computer Science in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Autism Changes Molecular Structure of the Brain

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Credit: UCLA/Geschwind lab

UCLA scientists measured the expression levels of more than 20,000 genes in tissue samples from autistic and healthy brains. When the samples were grouped by expression patterns, most autistic brains (red bar at top, left) showed a striking overlap.

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For decades, autism researchers have faced a baffling riddle: how to unravel a disorder that leaves no known physical trace as it develops in the brain.

Now a UCLA study is the first to reveal how the disorder makes its mark at the molecular level, resulting in an autistic brain that differs dramatically in structure from a healthy one. Published May 25 in the advance online edition of Nature, the findings provide new insight into how genes and proteins go awry in autism to alter the mind.

The discovery also identifies a new line of attack for researchers, who currently face a vast array of potential fronts for tackling the neurological disease and identifying its diverse causes.

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“If you randomly pick 20 people with autism, the cause of each person’s disease will be unique,” said principal investigator Dr. Daniel Geschwind, the Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Chair in Human Genetics and a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Yet when we examined how genes and proteins interact in autistic people’s brains, we saw well-defined shared patterns. This common thread could hold the key to pinpointing the disorder’s origins.”

The research team, led by Geschwind, included scientists from the University of Toronto and King’s College London. They compared brain tissue samples obtained after death from 19 autism patients and 17 healthy volunteers. After profiling three brain areas previously linked to autism, the group zeroed in on the cerebral cortex, the most evolved part of the human brain.

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The researchers focused on gene expression — how a gene’s DNA sequence is copied into RNA, which directs the synthesis of cellular molecules called proteins. Each protein is assigned a specific task by the gene to perform in the cell.

By measuring gene-expression levels in the cerebral cortex, the team uncovered consistent differences in how genes in autistic and healthy brains encode information.

“We were surprised to see similar gene expression patterns in most of the autistic brains we studied,” said first author Irina Voineagu, a UCLA postdoctoral fellow in neurology. “From a molecular perspective, half of these brains shared a common genetic signature. Given autism’s numerous causes, this was an unexpected and exciting finding.”

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The researchers’ next step was to identify the common patterns. To do this, they looked at the cerebral cortex’s frontal lobe, which plays a role in judgment, creativity, emotions and speech, and at its temporal lobes, which regulate hearing, language and the processing and interpreting of sounds.

When the scientists compared the frontal and temporal lobes in the healthy brains, they saw that more than 500 genes were expressed at different levels in the two regions.

In the autistic brains, these differences were virtually non-existent.

“In a healthy brain, hundreds of genes behave differently from region to region, and the frontal and temporal lobes are easy to tell apart,” Geschwind said. “We didn’t see this in the autistic brain. Instead, the frontal lobe closely resembles the temporal lobe. Most of the features that normally distinguish the two regions had disappeared.”

Two other clear-cut patterns emerged when the scientists compared the autistic and healthy brains. First, the autistic brain showed a drop in the levels of genes responsible for neuron function and communication. Second, the autistic brain displayed a jump in the levels of genes involved in immune function and inflammatory response.

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“Several of the genes that cropped up in these shared patterns were previously linked to autism,” said Geschwind. “By demonstrating that this pathology is passed from the genes to the RNA to the cellular proteins, we provide evidence that the common molecular changes in neuron function and communication are a cause, not an effect, of the disease.”

The next step will be for the research team to expand its search for the genetic and related causes of autism to other regions of the brain.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that strikes in early childhood. The disease disrupts a child’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships and is often accompanied by acute behavioral challenges. In the United States, autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 110 children — and one in 70 boys. Diagnoses have expanded tenfold in the last decade.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and Genome Canada. Tissue samples were provided by the Autism Tissue Project, the Harvard Brain Bank and the Medical Research Council’s London Brain Bank for Neurodegenerative Disease.

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Geschwind’s and Voineagu’s co-authors included Jennifer Lowe, Yuan Tian, Steve Horvath, Jonathan Mill and Rita Cantor of UCLA; Benjamin Blencowe and Xinchen Wang of the University of Toronto; and Patrick Johnston of King’s College London.

The UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment provides diagnosis, family counseling, clinical trials and treatment for patients with autism. UCLA is one of eight centers in the National Institutes of Health–funded Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment network and one of 10 original Collaborative Programs for Excellence in Autism.

Autistic Young Adults

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Autistic Young Adults Missing Out on Much-Needed Services

What happens to young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) once they graduate high school and are no longer entitled to services?

“National, state and local policy makers have been working hard to meet the needs of the growing numbers of young children identified as having an ASD,” says Paul Shattuck, PhD, professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. “However, there has been no effort of a corresponding magnitude to plan for ensuring continuity of supports and services as these children age into adulthood.”

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In a first-of-its-kind study, Shattuck looked at rates of service use among young adults with an ASD during their first few years after leaving high school. He found that 39.1 percent of these youths received no speech therapy, mental health, medical diagnostics or case management services.

Shattuck also found that the odds of not receiving any services were more than three times higher for African-American young adults compared with white young adults and more than five times higher for those with incomes of $25,000 or less relative to those with incomes over $75,000.

In his study, published in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Shattuck looked at medical, mental health, speech therapy and case management services.

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He found that overall rates of service use were 23.5 percent for medical services, 35 percent for mental health services, 41.9 percent for case management and 9.1 percent for speech therapy.

This compares with service use while in high school: 46.2 percent received mental health services, 46.9 percent had medical services, 74.6 percent were getting speech therapy and 63.6 percent had a case manager.

Shattuck says that the years immediately following the age at which students typically exit from high school are pivotal for all youths.

“A positive transition creates a solid foundation for an adaptive adult life course and a negative transition can set the stage for a pathway fraught with developmental, health and social difficulties,” he says.

“Youths with ASDs are especially vulnerable during this period because of their challenges with communication and social interaction, greater reliance on others for aid and high rates of health and mental health problems.”

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Shattuck notes that there is a dearth of nationally representative data on the prevalence and correlates of service use among young adults with ASDs.

“Basic descriptive data on the prevalence and patterns of service use are necessary for planning by policy makers and administrators,” Shattuck says. “Knowledge of service use can help identify underserved populations and plan targeted services.

“Estimates of service use and correlates will help clinicians, service providers and family members be more informed and better prepared as they try to help teens with ASDs navigate the transition from adolescence to young adulthood,” he says.

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Data for this report came from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a 10-year study conducted from 2000-2010 by SRI International for the U.S. Department of Education that followed more than 11,000 youths enrolled in special education as they aged into adulthood.

The study included 920 youths enrolled in the special education autism category at the start of data collection in May 2001.

The study’s co-authors are Mary Wagner, PhD, principal scientist in the Center for Education and Human Services at SRI International, and Sarah Narendorf, Paul Sterzing and Melissa Hensley of Washington University in St. Louis.

Some Learning is A Whole-Brain Affair

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Credit: Richard Roth and Richard Huganir
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AMPA receptors in green on neurons in magenta at one time point in a live mouse.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have successfully used a laser-assisted imaging tool to “see” what happens in brain cells of mice learning to reach out and grab a pellet of food. Their experiments, they say, add to evidence that such motor-based learning can occur in multiple areas of the brain, even ones not typically associated with motor control.

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“Scientists should be looking at the entire brain to understand specific types of learning,” says Richard Huganir, Ph.D., Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Director of the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Different parts of the brain contribute to learning in different ways, and studying brain cell receptors can help us decipher how this works.”

The work, say the researchers, may ultimately inform efforts to develop treatments for learning-based and neurocognitive disorders.

In a report on the work, appearing online Dec. 31 in Neuron, Huganir and his research team say they focused on AMPA-type glutamate receptors, or AMPARs, key molecules that help send messages between brain cells called neurons. AMPARs function like antennas that form along the surface of a particular spot on neurons called a synapse, where it receives molecular signals from other neurons.

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To monitor and measure AMPAR levels in mouse brains, scientists previously had to dissect the organ before and after a learning experiment and compare differences. Now, scientists have ways to directly view the brain during learning, recording thousands of synapses at a time.

In the new experiments, scientists injected DNA-encoding AMPARs carrying a fluorescent tag into the brains of mice, and used an electrical pulse to get neurons to absorb the AMPAR DNA. Next, with a tool called two-photon microscopy, the scientists used a laser — essentially an intensely focused beam of light — to detect and measure the amount of fluorescence coming from the tagged AMPARs.

More fluorescence is an indication of increased AMPAR activity and messaging between neurons, a good sign that learning and memory building is taking place in those neurons, Huganir says.

To “see” what learning looked like in the test animals’ neurons, Huganir’s team trained mice to reach for and grab a food pellet placed just outside their cage using their paws. Normally, mice get pellets with their mouths.

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While the mice were learning how to reach for the pellet, the scientists found an approximately 20% increase in the activity of AMPARs in an area of the brain known as the motor cortex, which is known for controlling and precisely moving muscles. On neurons, the AMPARs look like lights on a Christmas tree and glow brighter with increasing activity.

But the experiments also showed the same increase in AMPAR activity levels in the visual cortex too.

“This made sense because vision is very important for motor control,” says Richard Roth, Ph.D., currently a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, but who performed experiments for this study as a graduate student in Huganir’s laboratory.

“So, we did the same experiment again, but with the lights switched off,” says Roth.

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Using infrared light, which the mice couldn’t see, the mice eventually learned to successfully grab the food, but there was a smaller increase (10%) in the activity of AMPARs in the visual cortex.

“We believe the mice brains are using different sets of sensory cues in the dark to learn the motor task, including touch and smell, enabling these other senses to take over,” says Roth.

Next, the research team repeated the experiments using specialized light-activated modulators to shut down neurons in either the motor or visual cortex.

If the mice were trained to get the pellet with the room lights on, the mice could not complete the task if their visual cortex was shut down. “Clearly, these mice relied on learning centralized in their visual cortex to reach the pellet,” says Roth.

However, mice initially trained to grab the pellet in the dark could still complete the task, even if their visual cortex was shut down.

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“We’ve traditionally thought that motor-based learning happens solely in the motor part of the brain, but our studies and others now show that it’s not as specific as we had thought. There is more of a brainwide effect in learning,” says Roth.

Huganir notes that among the genes that control neuronal receptors involved in learning is SYNGAP. His and others’ research has shown that when the gene is mutated, it contributes to conditions including intellectual disability, autism and schizophrenia — all conditions marked in part by disrupted thinking and learning.

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This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01NS036715 and P50MH100024).

Other scientists who contributed to this research include Robert H. Cudmore from the University of California School of Medicine, Davis; Han Tan and Ingie Hong from Johns Hopkins; and Yong Zhang from Peking University, Beijing.

DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.12.005

Autism and Divorce

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Study Details Autism’s Heavy Toll Beyond Childhood on Marriages

Photo by Eric Ward

The parents of grown children with autism are more likely to divorce than couples with typically developing children, according to new data from a large longitudinal study of families of adolescents and adults with autism.The study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Family Psychology by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center, paints a new picture of the prospects of long-term marital success for parents raising a child with autism.

The study is the first to track marital history of parents of adult children with autism. It reveals that, in contrast to previous assumptions, parents do not have a greater risk of divorce when their son or daughter with autism is young.

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However, as the child with autism grows into adolescence and adulthood, parents are more likely to divorce than are parents of typically developing children. Although findings reveal diminished prospects for a lasting marriage for parents raising a child with autism, the majority of marriages in this study survived. The study compared the marital fates of 391 couples — the parents of adolescent and adult children with autism — to a sample drawn from another large longitudinal study, the National Survey of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS). The goal of the study was to document the rate and timing of divorce of parents of children with autism, explains Sigan Hartley, a UW-Madison assistant professor of human development and family studies and lead author of the report.

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The study revealed that the divorce rate for parents of children with autism mirrors the divorce rate of the parents of children without disabilities until the child reaches 8 years of age. After that, the divorce rate goes down for parents of children without disabilities but remains high for parents of children with autism.“There seems to be a prolonged vulnerability for divorce in parents of children with autism,” says Hartley. “Typically, if couples can survive the early child-rearing years, parenting demands decrease and there is often less strain on the marriage. However, parents of children with autism often continue to live with and experience high parenting demands into their child’s adulthood, and thus marital strain may remain high in these later years.”

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Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD, has symptoms that vary considerably in severity between individuals, but core characteristics of the disorder include difficulty establishing and maintaining social relationships, delayed communication skills, and repetitive motions such as rocking back and forth and hand flapping. Children with autism frequently require high levels of care and continue to live with parents as adults.

“There is a lifelong profile of challenging behaviors and symptoms associated with autism,” Hartley notes. “Few developmental disabilities appear to be more taxing on parents and there is a great need for support services for families when the child is an adolescent and adult. Providing support for couples to help them work on their marriages is an obvious step. If we can get information and support to these families, we hope to be able to support lasting marriages.”

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The new study compares data from two large longitudinal studies, the Adolescents and Adults with Autism Study, directed by Marsha Mailick Seltzer, a UW-Madison professor of social work and director of the Waisman Center, and MIDUS, directed by UW-Madison psychology professor Carol Ryff. Both studies are funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Abnormal Eye Movements

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Relatives of Individuals With Autism Tend to Display Abnormal Eye Movements

Photo by v2osk

Abnormal eye movements and other sensorimotor and neurobehavioral impairments appear common in unaffected family members of individuals with autism, according to a report in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

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“Autism is a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder with considerable genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity,” the authors write as background information in the article. “Its core behavioral features include social and communication impairments, behavioral inflexibility and executive dysfunction.” Several sensorimotor features have also been shown to be abnormal in some patients with autism. Common impairments include deficits in saccades, or rapid eye movements that shift between objects in the field of vision, and smooth-pursuit eye movements, in which the gaze is stabilized on a slowly moving object.

Matthew W. Mosconi, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted eye movement testing and other assessments of neurobehavioral function in 57 first-degree relatives of individuals with autism. Their results were compared with those of 40 individuals who were the same age, sex and had the same IQ but did not have a family member with the condition.

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When compared with controls, family members of individuals with autism tended to perform more slowly and less accurately on eye movement tasks, including those assessing saccades and smooth-pursuit eye movements. “The present findings document that first-degree relatives of individuals with autism demonstrate a unique pattern of oculomotor impairments similar to that previously reported in independent samples of individuals with autism, suggesting that these alterations within sensorimotor and cognitive brain circuitry may be familial traits,” the authors write.

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“Family members also demonstrated executive dysfunction on neuropsychological tests, communication abnormalities and increased rates of obsessive and compulsive behaviors, but these were independent from one another and from oculomotor impairments,” they continue.

The abnormalities were associated with several brain pathways—including the cerebellar, frontotemporal, striatal and prefrontal circuits—that have been linked to autism, some of which are important for language skills, motor control and executive function, or the control and regulation of behavior. The results suggest that these potentially familial deficits could be “useful for studies of neurophysiological and genetic mechanisms in autism,” the authors conclude. “Further work is needed by way of replication of our findings, quantitative evaluation of the familiality of these traits in family trios and efforts to demonstrate association of oculomotor and other phenotypes with genetic mechanisms.”(Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67[8]:830-840. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://www.jamamedia.org.)

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Editor’s Note: This study was supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism, a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health Autism Center of Excellence, the National Alliance for Autism Research and an Autism Speaks fellowship. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Audi bets on new trends

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By cutting workforce, Audi bets on new trends, upscale customers

This week, Audi announced it would cut up to 9,500 jobs, roughly one in ten of its total staff, to focus more efforts and funding toward electric vehicle production. The company has also announced that it will add 2,000 positions in the areas of electric mobility and digitalization.

Thomas Jungbauer, professor of economics in the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, studies tech firms and high-skilled labor markets. He says that by changing its work force, Audi is attempting to create a competitive advantage within a highly disrupted industry.

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Jungbauer says:

“Audi is well known for its craftsmanship and the power of its engines. The company has been a frontrunner in the world of motor sports and when it comes to new trends, be it about style or technology. Audi has to focus on the next generation’s upscale car customer as opposed to the masses. These customers are likely to demand an electric car that combines an elegant interior with the engine power and overall product quality the company is known for.

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“This is where employees enter the equation. Being a benefit leader focusing on an upscale niche market segment, especially in times of increased automation, does not require many, but the right employees. In a fundamentally changing car industry that quite likely may lead to fewer car sales for Audi in general and may see the company struggle to keep up with their rivals BMW and Mercedes, it is of utmost importance for Audi to gain market share in this segment by developing the car for tomorrow’s upscale customer. Audi needs engineers that are trained in automation and electrically powered engines and a lean company to be able to offer exceptional cars at competitive prices.

“Firing up to 10,000 employees, however, clearly leaves a bad taste, especially in Audi’s home country, Germany, a market that is enormously important for the company, not only in terms of direct sales but also as an indicator or accelerator for other markets. There is no question that this move represents a gamble for Audi as a company. Nevertheless, it appears to be a bet that the company has to take.”  

Cybersecurity trends for 2020?

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Photo by vipul uthaiah

What are the top cybersecurity threats and trends you should watch out for in 2020?

Tulane University expert Joseph Dalessandro predicts hackers will continue to focus on what works best and augment it with new and novel methods of attack.

Joseph Dalessandro, an expert and professor in information technology in Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement, breaks down the top cybersecurity threats and trends in 2020.

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Dalessandro predicts hackers will continue to focus on what works best and augment it with new and novel methods of attack. Here are his top five cybersecurity trends to watch in 2020. 

  1. The cybercriminal has become a mainstream occupation, and America is finally waking up to this fact, even though many countries have known this for several years. Many Americans wake up each day, dress and head off to work. Cybercriminals are no different. Around the world, these individuals do the same thing. They head off to an office where they spend all day trying to steal data and find ways to access bank accounts. It is now a “regular” job in some countries, including the U.S., and is currently very profitable employment. This trend will continue to grow and become more accepted in the future. This will impact new areas that have not previously had cybersecurity problems. 
  2. Phishing and whaling will reach the next level. Phishing is when criminals use fraudulent emails in an attempt to steal usernames and passwords or to plant a virus or ransomware on computers. Whaling is the same thing, except the target is a specific executive or executive type or business owner. Criminals are targeting specific emails because it is one of the most common forms of business and personal communication. Malicious emails are very successful, and criminals are well-versed with what to say, how to follow-up, and in some cases, have 800 numbers for these victims to call. 
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Some statistics to know about this trend:     

  • 48% of all malicious email attachments are Microsoft Office files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
  • Top 5 scams in order: bill notices, email delivery failure, package delivery, legal/law enforcement, scanned document.
  • 55% of email is spam (and potentially dangerous)
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  1. Connected devices (watches, wearables, appliances, toys, cameras, smart home automation) will continue to present both opportunities for businesses and problems for businesses and consumers. Twenty years ago, I had high-speed (1.5 Mbps at the time) bandwidth in my home, and I had a total of three devices connected: a laptop personal computer and two servers.  I controlled everything, and security was tight, and I still had problems. Today I do not run a business from my home, and my bandwidth speed averages 30Mbps and I now have 19 devices connected at all times, most of which I have little or no control over. Many businesses are no different. This increased attack surface will present more significant problems in 2020 with attackers looking to leverage these in-home aids, medical devices and smart-home appliances to steal data
  2. Website attacks. The No. 1 attack method is still SQLi (pronounced Sequel-injection or S-Q-L-i). SQLi recently reached a milestone, celebrating a successful 20 years of existence. It is a sad commentary on cybersecurity. Website attacks will continue to rise in 2020 because they still work. Criminals are nothing if not consistent. If it works, they use it and rely on it.
  3. Cryptocurrency will continue to grow with more “regular” people moving toward cryptocurrency use in 2020.  We will hear more about Bitcoin and Libra (Facebook’s cryptocurrency) and other “stablecoin” (backed by what we today call “real assets”) players in 2020 with more mainstream acceptability.  This will present opportunities for both consumers and criminals.

Seeing the new Star Wars?

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Photo by Cade Roberts

Be careful what you wish for, study surveyed people before and after they saw The Last Jedi

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – How much you enjoy the new Star Wars movie will depend a lot on your expectations going in, a new study suggests.

Researchers surveyed 441 people before and after they saw the last episode in the popular franchise, Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, released in 2017.  They wanted to see how audiences’ expectations affected their actual enjoyment of the movie.

The findings suggest that it is probably best not to go into Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker thinking you’re really going to love it or really going to hate it, said James Alex Bonus, co-author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

As you might expect, people who had the highest expectations for The Last Jedi but were disappointed in the movie had the lowest enjoyment of anyone taking the survey.

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But what was most interesting, Bonus said, were people who expected very little from the movie but ended up feeling intensely happy after seeing the film.  Their overall enjoyment was lower than those who felt similarly joyful but who went into the movie with higher expectations.

“It wasn’t really helping people to go in with those low expectations,” Bonus said.

“The negative bias going in dragged them down and even if they were pleasantly surprised by the movie, they still didn’t like it as much as other people did.”

The study was published online this month in the Journal of Media Psychology.

The results show how much our expectations can influence our enjoyment of a movie, particularly one in a franchise like Star Wars, where audiences have a history with the characters or storyline.

“It becomes a lot less about what is in the movie and a lot more about what you expected it to be,” Bonus said.

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In this study, online participants recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk were interviewed three weeks before the release of The Last Jedi in 2017.  They were asked to rate on a 7-point scale how happy, sad and nostalgic they thought the film would make them feel.

Three weeks later, those who had seen the movie were asked how happy, sad and nostalgic seeing the movie had made them feel. They also rated their enjoyment and appreciation of the movie.

Results showed that many people weren’t very accurate at predicting how they would react to seeing The Last Jedi, Bonus said.  That goes along with other research that shows people are bad at predicting how various experiences will make them feel.

In this study, about 55 percent of participants did not accurately predict how the movie would make them feel. Most of them didn’t get their prediction entirely wrong, such as saying the movie would make them happy when it didn’t.

But many were off in the strength of their feelings, predicting, for example, the movie would make them very happy when it made them only somewhat happy.

“We are really bad at predicting how future events will make us feel,” Bonus said.

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One other interesting fact from the study: People who in the first survey expected that The Last Jedi would make them feel nostalgic were more likely to have seen the movie when re-interviewed three weeks later. Expectations about how happy they would feel did not predict viewing behavior.

“That shows the important role nostalgia plays for audiences of established franchises like Star Wars,” Bonus said.

Study co-authors were Nicholas Matthews, a visiting assistant professor of communication at Ohio State, and Tim Wulf, a postdoctoral researcher at LMU Munich in Germany.

#

Contact: James Alex Bonus, Bonus.1@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

‘Lost crops’ could have fed as many as maize

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Experimental cultivation of seed crops lost to history reveals much higher yields than expected

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Natalie Mueller grew and calculated yield estimates for two annual plants that were cultivated in eastern North America for thousands of years — and then abandoned.

Make some room in the garden, you storied three sisters: the winter squash, climbing beans and the vegetable we know as corn. Grown together, newly examined “lost crops” could have produced enough seed to feed as many indigenous people as traditionally grown maize, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

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But there are no written or oral histories to describe them. The domesticated forms of the lost crops are thought to be extinct.

Writing in the Journal of Ethnobiology, Natalie Mueller, assistant professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences, describes how she painstakingly grew and calculated yield estimates for two annual plants that were cultivated in eastern North America for thousands of years — and then abandoned.

Growing goosefoot (Chenopodium sp.) and erect knotweed (Polygonum erectum) together is more productive than growing either one alone, Mueller discovered. Planted in tandem, along with the other known lost crops, they could have fed thousands.

Archaeologists found the first evidence of the lost crops in rock shelters in Kentucky and Arkansas in the 1930s. Seed caches and dried leaves were their only clues. Over the past 25 years, pioneering research by Gayle Fritz, ​professor emerita of archaeology at Washington University, helped to establish the fact that a previously unknown crop complex had supported local societies for millennia before maize — a.k.a. corn — was adopted as a staple crop.

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But how, exactly, to grow them?

The lost crops include a small but diverse group of native grasses, seed plants, squashes and sunflowers — of which only the squashes and sunflowers are still cultivated. For the rest, there is plenty of evidence that the lost crops were purposefully tended — not just harvested from free-living stands in the wild — but there are no instructions left.

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“There are many Native American practitioners of ethnobotanical knowledge: farmers and people who know about medicinal plants, and people who know about wild foods. Their knowledge is really important,” Mueller said. “But as far as we know, there aren’t any people who hold knowledge about the lost crops and how they were grown.

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“It’s possible that there are communities or individuals who have knowledge about these plants, and it just isn’t published or known by the academic community,” she said. “But the way that I look at it, we can’t talk to the people who grew these crops.

“So our group of people who are working with the living plants is trying to participate in the same kind of ecosystem that they participated in — and trying to reconstruct their experience that way.”

That means no greenhouse, no pesticides and no special fertilizers.

“You have not just the plants but also everything else that comes along with them, like the bugs that are pollinating them and the pests that are eating them. The diseases that affect them. The animals that they attract, and the seed dispersers,” Mueller said. “There are all of these different kinds of ecological elements to the system, and we can interact with all of them.”

Her new paper reported on two experiments designed to investigate germination requirements and yields for the lost crops.

Mueller discovered that a polyculture of goosefoot and erect knotweed is more productive than either grown separately as a monoculture. Grown together, the two plants have higher yields than global averages for closely related domesticated crops (think: quinoa and buckwheat), and they are within the range of those for traditionally grown maize.

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“The main reason that I’m really interested in yield is because there’s a debate within archeology about why these plants were abandoned,” Mueller said. “We haven’t had a lot of evidence about it one way or the other. But a lot of people have just kind of assumed that maize would be a lot more productive because we grow maize now, and it’s known to be one of the most productive crops in the world per unit area.”

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Mueller wanted to quantify yield in this experiment so that she could directly compare yield for these plants to maize for the first time.

But it didn’t work out perfectly. She was only able to obtain yield estimates for two of the five lost crops that she tried to grow — but not for the plants known as maygrass, little barley and sumpweed.

Reporting on the partial batch was still important to her.

“My colleagues and I, we’re motivated from the standpoint of wanting to see more diverse agricultural systems, wanting to see the knowledge and management of indigenous people recognized and curiosity about what the ecosystems of North America were like before we had this industrial agricultural system,” Mueller said.

Marijuana Use in E-Cigarettes Increases Among Youth

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Photo by Kimzy Nanney

A study published today online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found marijuana use in electronic cigarettes has been increasing among U.S. middle and high school students from 2017 to 2018.

In the observational study, Hongying “Daisy” Dai, Ph.D., associate professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health used the National Youth Tobacco Survey to analyze responses from 38,000 students, grades 6-12. Dr. Dai, who has been studying e-cigarette use for five years, said e-cigarettes recently have increased very quickly among adolescents.

Among all students, the proportion who reported ever using marijuana in an e-cigarette increased from 11.1% in 2017 to 14.7% in 2018. The increases were seen among some demographic groups, including adolescents age 13 to 17 and Caucasian and Hispanic students.

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“These statistics are very concerning as marijuana use in adolescence could lead to adverse effects in brain development, mental health and academic performance,” said Dr. Dai, a biostatistician. “Our other concern is e-cigarette use has also been related to severe respiratory diseases.

As of Nov. 20, Dr. Dai noted there had been 2,290 vaping-related lung injury cases and 47 deaths. About 77% of the cases were in people with a history of vaping products containing THC, the mind-altering ingredient found in the cannabis plant.

In 2018, the number of students using marijuana in e-cigarettes included:

  • 42.7% of students who ever used e-cigarettes;
  • 53.5% of current e-cigarette users; and
  • 71.6% of multiple tobacco product users. 

Dr. Dai said the increase in marijuana use in e-cigarettes could be attributable to:

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  • the increase of “pod mod” e-cigarette products – small, easy-to-conceal devices that aerosolize liquid solutions containing nicotine, flavoring and other contents;
  • access to marijuana through informal sources such as friends, family members and illicit dealers; and
  • reduced perception among adolescents of the harms of marijuana use.

“Parents really need to raise their awareness about vaping. E-cigarette products look much like school supplies, so it’s hard for parents to know if their child is using e-cigarettes,” she said. “Even for me, it’s hard to distinguish between school supplies and e-cigarette products.”

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She said a limitation of the study is that the information was self-reported. She added that studies about the short- and long-term health effects of using marijuana in e-cigarettes need to be done.

The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products.

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Pregnant women with HIV often not given recommended treatment

Photo by Jonathan Borba

Chicago…Pregnant women living with HIV don’t always receive antiretroviral medications recommended for use in pregnancy, according to a recent study published in Jama Network Open this week.  Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago’s researchers collaborated in the multi-site  Surveillance Monitoring for ART Toxicities (SMARTT) study of the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS) network.

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“Among over 1500 pregnant women living with HIV studied, more than 30% were prescribed drugs to treat HIV that were not recommended or had insufficient evidence for use during pregnancy by national guidelines,” said senior author Ellen Chadwick, MD, infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children’s and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

 Since 1994, the US Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Treatment of Pregnant Women with HIV Infection and Prevention of Perinatal Transmission has published guidelines on what drugs should be used to treat pregnant women living with HIV. The guidelines are routinely amended to reflect new drugs and clinical trials.

 “Every year new drugs to treat HIV are developed, but to protect the fetus, pregnant women are typically excluded from clinical trials of newer medications until they have been tested in non-pregnant adults,” said Dr. Chadwick who has been working with children and adolescents with HIV for more than 30 years. “As a result, data in pregnancy are delayed and often lag behind published guidelines. Doctors may then prescribe drugs ahead of recommendations based on promising effectiveness in the general HIV population, before safety in pregnancy has been confirmed.”

*The PHACS SMARTT study is a United States-based study funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 220,000 children from 48 states and 49 countries.

Levels of autism in China

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Joint Chinese-UK study shows Levels similar to the West

The first large-scale study of autism in China has revealed that around one in a hundred people in the country has an autism spectrum condition – the same figure as found in the West.

The research was carried out by an international team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, UK, and the China Disabled Persons’ Federation and Chinese University of Hong Kong. It is the result of an international partnership launched in 2013.

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Autism spectrum conditions – which include autism and Asperger’s syndrome – are characterised by impairments in social interaction and communication, alongside the presence of unusually repetitive behaviour and narrow interests, difficulties adjusting to unexpected change, and sensory hyper-sensitivity.

Autism was first described in Western cultures, and only later recognised in Asian countries. Around one in 100 school age children in the UK is autistic, but autism prevalence in China has been reported to be lower than in the West. The reasons for this difference are that most studies in China have only included the special school population, overlooking the mainstream school population; and that most studies in China have not used validated and reliable screening and diagnostic methods.

“Understanding the prevalence of autism is important because of its relevance to planning services to support those living with the condition, as well as their families,” said Professor Carol Brayne from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health.

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Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge (ARC) added: “We need to study autism outside Western populations, since most of the research to date has only been carried out in the West. This collaboration with colleagues in China is so valuable to help us understand what is universal and what is culture-specific in autism research.”

To address the gap in understanding autism in China, the researchers tested the total autism prevalence in mainstream and special schools in Jilin City, and mainstream school autism prevalence in Jiamusi and Shenzhen cities. They screened children aged 6 to 10?years old in the three cities using the Childhood Autism Screening Test (or CAST), a 37-item questionnaire, completed by parents, and developed and validated by the Cambridge team. The questionnaire gives a score of 0 to 31, and children scoring 15 or above were then given a clinical assessment. The results are published in the journal Molecular Autism.

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In Jilin City, from a total population of 7,258, the team identified 77 cases of autism, equating to a prevalence of 108 per 10,000, very similar to that found in the West.

In Shenzhen and Jiamusi cities, only data for children in mainstream education was available; in Shenzhen City, 42 out of every 10,000 children in mainstream education had autism, and in Jiamusi City this figure was 19 per 10,000. In all three cities, the researchers identified new cases of autism in mainstream schools, confirming that there is under-diagnosis of autism in China.

“Contrary to previous studies, we have shown that the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in China is in line with that found in the West,” said Dr Sophia Xiang Sun, who conducted this study as part of her PhD at Cambridge University and who is now based in the Star Kay Bridge Research Centre for Children with Autism in Xiamen, China.

Professor Patrick Leung, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: “Previous research into the autism spectrum in China has mainly focused on the most severe subtype, childhood autism. We have been able to use a standardised screening methodology, allowing us to compare the results with Western countries to show that autism occurs broadly at the same rate, irrespective of culture.”

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Dr Carrie Allison, from the Cambridge Autism Research Centre, commented: “Completing this study with colleagues in China has been nothing short of remarkable. It has involved translating Western autism screening instruments into Chinese, training Chinese clinicians in autism diagnosis, and working with national Chinese agencies, screening in three Chinese cities.”

Professor Fiona Matthews, the statistician on the Cambridge team and now based in Newcastle University, noted: “A strength of this study is the near universal response rate that is possible in China, which we rarely achieve in the West, making the epidemiology far more representative.”

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The research was funded by the Autism Research Trust, the NIHR CLAHRC for East of England, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and the Medical Research Council UK.