Headlines: March 10, 2010
by Meg Larkin
A new study out of Canada has found that vaccinating school age children may protect an entire community against disease. The study was conducted in 49 remote Hutterite villages in Western Canada. Like the Amish in America, the Hutterites live in closed communities and attend their own schools, which makes their villages ideal for studying the effects of vaccination on populations. The study, conducted by “scientists from several Canadian universities and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee,” was published Tuesday in JAMA. In some communities, all of the children were vaccinated against seasonal flu, while in other villages, they were vaccinated against Hepatitis A. The Hep A vaccine was used in place of a placebo because it preserved the double blind nature of the study while still providing some benefit to the community. According to the New York Times, in towns where the children were vaccinated against the seasonal flu, “there was a 60 percent “protective effect” for the whole community.” While it is still a good idea for high-risk populations, like the elderly, to receive flu vaccines, the Canadian study confirms the theory that vaccinating the children may be just as good at protecting populations.
New research from Harvard suggests that a protein called A-beta, long associated with Alzheimer’s disease may in fact be a part of the brain’s natural immune system. In Alzheimer’s patients, A-beta becomes a tough plaque on the inflamed brain that can destroy nerve signals. The Harvard researchers found numerous similarities between A-beta and “a well-known protein of the innate immune system, LL-37.” However, it is unclear how this development may affect Alzheimer’s research in the future. Researchers have long known that A-beta buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but the new findings call into question some of the traditional approaches to Alzheimer’s research that focused on eliminating the plaque entirely.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a way to use rapid DNA sequencing to monitor cancer patients’ progress in combating their disease. Although the testing is currently prohibitively expensive, the Johns Hopkins researchers are able to detect the genetic mutations associated with cancerous cells by testing the blood of patients. According to the New York Times, “A cell becomes cancerous when the genes that stop runaway growth are sabotaged by mutations. Once the cell’s anticancer defenses are destroyed, genetic mayhem ensues, with further mutations and wholesale rearrangements of DNA in the chromosomes.” The two tests developed by Johns Hopkins look for different types of DNA mutations and vary in their application and relative difficulty and expense. The findings appeared in this month’s edition of the journal Nature.
In other research news, a new study has found that 1 in 4 parents continue to believe that vaccines cause autism in healthy children. The study, from researchers at the University of Michigan, found that most parents were still vaccinating their children, but the author of the paper expressed concern about parents’ misconceptions about the risks of vaccination. This paper comes in the wake of the retraction by the Lancet last month of a controversial 1998 study that linked the MMR vaccine to autism.
Finally, a paper in the journal Pediatrics identified a number of risk factors that occur between gestation and age five and can affect a child’s risk of later obesity. Risk factors include things like the mother’s weight gain during pregnancy, and the infant’s rate of weight gain during their first year of life. Pediatricians interviewed by the LA Times emphasized that parents should not approach their child’s weight with a diet-mindset, but should instead focus on healthy eating habits that can become a way of life.
Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.