Posts tagged with "Northwestern University"

Biden signs law that makes sesame the ninth major food allergen

April 29, 2021

President Joe Biden has signed into law a new measure that designates sesame as the ninth major food allergy and ramps up allergy research—enacting a bipartisan attempt to address marked growth in certain deadly allergies, The Washington Post reports.

The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (Faster) Act (H.R. 2117) passed the Senate in March and the House of Representatives this month.

According to the Post, the need is clear: In the past two decades, life-threatening childhood food allergies have risen steadily, growing by about 4% per year to afflict 32 million Americans, according to research by Northwestern University, McKinsey & Company, and Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a nonprofit.

Studies estimate that the costs borne by American families—for medical bills, buying special foods, or forgoing full-time employment to care for a child with a food allergy — total $24.8 billion annually.

There are several strong theories to explain the uptick, Jonathan Spergel, chief of the Allergies Department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells the post—but one stands out: In 2000, a small study suggested that if parents delayed the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, kids were less likely to develop those allergies.

That guidance was wrong, with subsequent studies revealing the exact opposite: Early, careful introduction of these foods lessens the risk of serious allergy. But the damage was done, as the American Academy of Pediatrics, parenting magazines; and parents, themselves, advocated for postponing the introduction of these potentially dangerous foods.

Even in the face of strong new evidence, a 2020 survey of pediatricians found that only 29% were implementing early introduction of allergens.

The new law attempts to change that. According to Lisa Gable, chief executive of FARE, 1.6 million Americans have sesame allergies. This law will require foods containing sesame to be clearly labeled by January 2023.

But perhaps more significant, the Globe reports, the legislation says the Department of Health and Human Services must prioritize regular reviews of promising food allergy treatments and research.

And this research will, for the first time, have an outlet for wide dissemination via the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Agriculture Department have issued the dietary guidelines every five years since 1980, but about babies and toddlers they’ve been mum until 2020. The guidelines are the road map for how the government administers school lunches and food assistance programs, and they often influence how food manufacturers formulate their products so they can participate in those programs, which buy $100 billion worth of food a year.

The 2020 guidelines contained three paragraphs about introducing infants to potentially allergenic foods — babies at high risk of peanut allergy should be introduced at 4 to 6 months; cow’s milk as a beverage by one year—and stated that “there is no evidence that delaying introduction of allergenic foods, beyond when other complementary foods are introduced, helps to prevent food allergy.”

Previous dietary guidelines did not contain suggestions for the introduction of allergenic foods.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

‘Sensational’ study: Coffee’s bitter taste gives drinkers a ‘buzz’

November 19, 2018

While the aroma of coffee is enticing and pleasurable, most people find the taste to be bitter. However, a study published in Scientific Reports this month—and covered in a report by NPR—has found that, the more sensitive you are to the bitter taste of coffee, the more of it you tend to drink.

A team of researchers from the Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States conducted the investigation using data stored in the UK Biobank, a major global health resource established over a decade ago by the Wellcome Trust medical charity, Medical Research Council, Department of Health, and the Scottish Government—and supported by the National Health Service..

More than 500,000 residents of England , Scotland, and Wales between the ages of 37 and 73 contributed blood, urine, and saliva samples to the Biobank between 2006 and 2010—and agreed to have their health status tracked, in order to determine which diseases and health conditions they would develop during the remainder of their lives.

The same volunteers also filled out questionnaires asking a variety of health-related questions—including how much coffee, tea, and alcohol they drank on a daily basis.

Since most of us inherit our taste preferences from our parents, the researchers used genetic analysis of samples from the Biobank to find people who were more or less sensitive to three bitter substances: caffeine, quinine (think tonic water) and a chemical called propylthiouracil that is frequently used in genetic tests of people’s ability to taste bitter compounds.

The objective was to determine whether people sensitive to one or more of these three substances drank more or less coffee than other drinkers. Surprising, NPR reports, people who exhibited greater sensitivity to caffeine reported higher coffee consumption, compared with people who did not strongly perceive the bitter taste. Strangely enough, the researchers said, “opposite relationships were observed for tea consumption.”

Conversely, those who were sensitive to quinine and propylthiouracil—neither of which is in coffee—tended to drink less coffee on a daily basis. For alcohol, a higher perceived intensity of propylthiouracil (bitterness) was associated with lower overall consumption.

How to explain these results? NPR reports that Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the study authors, says people may “learn to associate that bitter taste with the stimulation that coffee can provide.” In other words, they get hooked on the buzz.

And it turns out those who drink two or three cups a day just might live longer, too.

Research contact: @joesbigidea

What time is it in your body?

November 14, 2018

Do you take medicine at a certain time of day? If so, those pharmacy instructions may be about to change: The first simple blood test to identify your body’s precise internal time clock as compared to the external time has been developed by scientists at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

The test, called TimeSignature— which requires only two blood draws— can tell physicians and researchers the time in your body, no matter what global time zone you live in or might be visiting. For instance, even if it’s 8 a.m. in the external world, it might be 6 a.m. in your body.  

“This is a much more precise and sophisticated measurement than identifying whether you are a morning lark or a night owl,” said the study’s lead author, Rosemary Braun, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine (Biostatistics) at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “We can assess a person’s biological clock to within 1.5 hours.

Previously, measurements this precise could only be achieved through a costly and laborious process of taking samples every hour over a span of multiple hours.  “Various groups have tried to get at internal circadian time from a blood test, but nothing has been as accurate or as easy to use as TimeSignature,” Braun said.

Processes in nearly every tissue and organ system in the body are orchestrated by an internal biological clock, which directs circadian rhythm, such as the sleep-wake cycle. Some people’s internal clocks are in sync with external time— but others are out of sync and considered “misaligned.”

The new test for the first time will offer researchers the opportunity to easily examine the impact of misaligned circadian clocks in a range of diseases from heart disease to diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. When the blood test eventually becomes clinically available, it also will provide doctors with a measurement of an individual’s internal biological clock to guide medication dosing at the most effective time for his or her body.

The software and algorithm are available for free to other researchers so they can assess physiological time in a person’s body. Northwestern has filed for a patent on the blood test.

“This is really an integral part of personalized medicine,” said coauthor Dr. Phyllis Zee, chief of Sleep Medicine in Neurology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine neurologist. “So many drugs have optimal times for dosing. Knowing what time it is in your body is critical to getting the most effective benefits. The best time for you to take the blood pressure drug or the chemotherapy or radiation may be different from somebody else.”

The test measures 40 different gene expression markers in the blood and can be taken any time of day, regardless of whether the patient had a good night’s sleep or was up all night with a baby.

A link between circadian misalignment and diabetes, obesity, depression, heart disease, and asthma has been identified in preclinical research by scientist Joe Bass, chief of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Molecular Medicine at Feinberg.

The study was published on September 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research contact: rbraun@northwestern.edu