Posts tagged with "Study Finds"

Eyes wide shut: Mammals dream about the world they’re entering before birth

July 27, 2021

Whether it’s a human, a dog, or a rat, newborn mammals have the incredible capacity to understand and make “visual sense” of the world upon opening their eyes for the very first time. How, though, is this possible if they’ve never actually seen anything up until that moment?

Researchers from Yale University are offering up an explanation: Before birth, they say, mammals dream about the world they’ll eventually enter.

According to a report by Study Finds, the Yale scientists conceived the fascinating and thought-provoking theory after observing waves of activity within the neonatal retinas of a group of mice who hadn’t opened their eyes for the first time yet. Upon birth, this activity ceases quickly and a more mature network of visual stimuli begins transmitting to the brain, where mammals further encode and store the information.

“At eye opening, mammals are capable of pretty sophisticated behavior,” says senior study author Michael Crair, the William Ziegler III Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, in a university release. “But how do the circuits form that allow us to perceive motion and navigate the world? It turns out we are born capable of many of these behaviors, at least in rudimentary form.”

To investigate the origins of these pre-birth waves of activity, study authors scanned the brains of mice right after birth but before their eyes opened for the first time. Incredibly, this led to the discovery that the retinal waves flow in a pattern that essentially mimics the activity that an animal would see if they were really moving forward through a physical environment.

“This early dream-like activity makes evolutionary sense because it allows a mouse to anticipate what it will experience after opening its eyes, and be prepared to respond immediately to environmental threats,” Crair notes.

Next, researchers analyzed more closely the cells and circuits responsible for the production of the retinal waves observed in neonatal mice. When they blocked the function of starburst amacrine cells, which are retina cells responsible for the release of neurotransmitters, the retinal waves could not flow in a way that recreated forward motion. Consequently, those mice weren’t as adept at responding to visual motion after birth.

Even among adult mice, those same cells play a big role in retina function and environmental cue responses.

There are, of course, many differences between mice and humans. Mice are much better at responding to visual cues immediately after birth, but human babies are still quite capable of identifying objects and detecting movement.

“These brain circuits are self-organized at birth and some of the early teaching is already done,” Crair concludes. “It’s like dreaming about what you are going to see before you even open your eyes.”

The study appears in the journal Science.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

‘Bite me’: Deadly spider venom can help heart attack survivors recover

July 26, 2021

Fear of spiders, or arachnophobia, is one of the most common phobias. According to a new study, however, at least one of our eight-legged friends may turn out to be a life saver, Study Finds reports.

Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia report that venom from one particular type of spider—the Fraser Island (K’gari) funnel web spider, considered to be among the world’s most deadlyis the integral ingredient in a new life-saving treatment for heart attack victims.

Ironically, a molecule extracted from this spider’s venom is being used to produce a new drug candidate capable of both preventing heart attack damage and extending the life of donor hearts used for organ transplants.

Study authors explain that the new drug actually blocks a “death signal” sent from the heart during a heart attack.

“After a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced, resulting in a lack of oxygen to heart muscle,” study co-author Dr. Nathan Palpant, UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), says in a university release. “The lack of oxygen causes the cell environment to become acidic, which combine to send a message for heart cells to die. Despite decades of research, no one has been able to develop a drug that stops this death signal in heart cells, which is one of the reasons why heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the world.”

The drug candidate, a protein called Hi1a, was tested by exposing beating human heart cells to heart attack stressors. Then, the drug was added to the mix to see if it improved outcomes.

 “The Hi1a protein from spider venom blocks acid-sensing ion channels in the heart, so the death message is blocked, cell death is reduced, and we see improved heart cell survival,” Dr. Palpant told Study Finds.

What’s more, “This will not only help the hundreds of thousands of people who have a heart attack every year around the world, it could also increase the number and quality of donor hearts, which will give hope to those waiting on the transplant list,” notes Professor Peter Macdonald from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. “The survival of heart cells is vital in heart transplants — treating hearts with Hi1a and reducing cell death will increase how far the heart can be transported and improve the likelihood of a successful transplant.

“Usually, if the donor heart has stopped beating for more than 30 minutes before retrieval, the heart can’t be used – even if we can buy an extra ten minutes, that could make the difference between someone having a heart and someone missing out. For people who are literally [at] death’s door, this could be life-changing,” he adds.

These findings build off of earlier work by another of the study’s co-authors, Professor Glenn King, who had previously discovered a small protein in the venom of the Fraser Island (K’gari) funnel-web spider capable of improving recovery in stroke survivors.

“We discovered this small protein, Hi1a, amazingly reduces damage to the brain even when it is given up to eight hours after stroke onset,” King says. “It made sense to also test Hi1a on heart cells, because like the brain, the heart is one of the most sensitive organs in the body to the loss of blood flow and lack of oxygen.”

“For heart attack victims, our vision for the future is that Hi1a could be administered by first responders in the ambulance, which would really change the health outcomes of heart disease,” he continues. “This is particularly important in rural and remote parts of Australia where patients and treating hospitals can be long distances apart—and when every second counts.”

These findings can also help in the transfer of donor hearts for cardiac transplantation. The drug/protein looks to be able to facilitate the transport of donor hearts over longer distances, thus increasing the network of both available donors and recipients.

Moving forward, researchers are hoping to begin human clinical trials for both stroke and heart disease in about two to three years.

The study is published in Circulation.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Hate driving through tunnels? Listening to slow music can help keep you focused

July 16, 2021

Many motorists hate driving through tunnels. From narrow lanes; to poor lighting; to anxiety about being in an enclosed, underground space; navigating tunnels can be challenging—even for experienced drivers.

So what can help drivers ease these fears and make it through to the other side? Researchers say a little background music may be all you need to calm the nerves, according to a report by Study Finds.

“When drivers go through a tunnel, they need to process a large amount of information quickly. We wanted to find the best way to use sound to keep drivers alert and focused inside tunnels. We here compare the effect on brain activity and physiology of different types of sound: slow versus fast music, warning sounds such as sirens, and a voice reminding them to drive safely,” says corresponding author Associate Professor Yanqun Yang from China’s Transportation Research Center in College of Civil Engineering in a press release.

“We [found] that the best solution is to play slow music inside the tunnel, but to play alarming sounds like sirens at the entry and exit or during emergencies.”

Indeed, although accidents occur more frequently on open roads, car accidents tend to be more serious inside tunnels.

According to Study Finds, researchers have determined that these accidents typical happen near the entrance to a tunnel. However, once drivers get used to the atmosphere of driving inside a long, enclosed space, accident rates typically drop. Unfortunately, the risk jumps back up around the mid-point of the tunnel. Researchers say this is probably due to boredom and drivers letting their guard down.

For this study, researchers recruited 40 young drivers for an experiment using virtual reality. Each “drove” through a simulated three-mile tunnel, driving between 50 and 60 mph, while viewing the tunnel through VR screens. They also used a driving console with a steering wheel and pedals which the team monitored to see how much pressure participants applied while in the tunnel.

Yang’s team then compared how drivers responded to five different sounds. Those included a recording of the sound inside a real tunnel,; the slow song, “Canon,” with 72 beats per minute; and the fast song, “Croatian Rhapsody,” with 96 bpm. Scientists also subjected the group to a police siren and a female’s voicing giving safety reminders.

What they discovered is that motorists drove fastest through a tunnel while fast music was playing and the slowest while slow music played. The group was also more relaxed and had a smaller mental load while listening to slow music. Moreover, 63% chose slow music as their preferred background soundtrack.

“We find that slow music played as background throughout the tunnels, replaced by sirens only at spots and times when the risk of accidents is highest, is best to keep drivers alert, at ease, and not tired, while stimulating them to be extra vigilant and focused when needed,” says co-author Dr. Wei Lin from the University of Cincinnati.

“There still a long way to go before more specific design and management recommendations can be proposed. For example, future studies should test the effect of a greater range of sounds on drivers who differ in age, driving experience, hearing sensitivity, and degree of fatigue. But our study is a proof of principle, which pushes our knowledge on road safety a step forward.”

The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Significant Otter app helps couples communicate ‘straight from the heart’

May 28, 2021

Want to send that special someone a heartfelt message? Scientists have created an app that can literally tell your partner how you’re feeling without uttering a single word, Study Finds reports.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University say the Significant Otter app can actually provide couples with a more meaningful way of communicating than using emojis, GIFs, and memes. Designed mainly for smartwatch users, the app monitors the wearer’s heart rate and then tries to gauge his or her emotional state by the results. The user can then send those real-time feelings to a significant other in the form of a friendly, animated otter.

“Our social cues are limited online,” says Fannie Liu, a graduate of CMU and research scientist at Santa Monica, California-based Snap. in a university release. “We’re exploring a new way to support digital connection through a deeper and more internal cue.”

Once the app measures a person’s sensed heart rate, it provides the wearer with a choice of otters to send. For example, if the app detects a fast heart rate, Significant Otter may suggest sending an excited or angry otter. However, they can also send an exercising or eating otter if that’s what’s really pushing their heart rate up.

In return, the person’s partner can reply with an otter that provides him or her with support, depending on the various heartbeat readings.

According to Study Finds, researchers from CMU, Snap, and the University of Washington started testing the app in April 2020 with 20 couples. Little did they know the coronavirus pandemic would provide the perfect environment to see how people keep connected to their loved ones when they have to keep their social distance.

The results reveal using bio-signals, like heart rate, made it easier for the couples to share more authentic communication while in quarantine. The participants reported that Significant Otter allowed them to have a sense of their loved ones’ well-being—even if they couldn’t be physically together.

“It’s coming from your heart,” Liu concludes. “It can be a very intimate gesture to see or feel someone’s heartbeat. It’s a signal that you’re living.”

Researchers presented their invention at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference in Chicago in May.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Are you a shopaholic? Addiction experts set clinical guidelines for ‘compulsive-buying shopping disorder’

May 27, 2021

Although many people would probably describe their friends, their family members (or even themselves) as “shopaholics,” is there really a way to tell when the occasional spending spree becomes an actual addiction?

Researchers at Flinders University in South Australia say the answer is yes: Indeed, they claim to be the first clinicians to have found a way of diagnosing people who will “shop till they drop,” according to a report by Study Finds.

Their new criteria can determine whether someone suffers from shopping addiction, which scientists refer to as Compulsive-Buying Shopping Disorder.

“In over 20 years, since I started investigating excessive buying, there has been an absence of commonly agreed diagnostic criteria which has hampered the perceived seriousness of the problem, as well as research efforts and consequently the development of evidence-based treatments,” lead author Professor Mike Kyrios says in a university release.

Researchers gathered opinions from 138 experts in over 35 countries to reach a consensus on the criteria. The experts conclude a key feature of a shopping addiction is buying items without ever using them for their intended purpose.

Another characteristic of the disorder is when people use shopping as a feel-good mechanism or to relieve negative emotions. Study authors defined excessive buying as losing control over what items they purchase.

“Clients who show excessive buying behavior commonly have difficulties in regulating their emotions, so buying or shopping is then used to feel better,” Professor Kyrios explains. “Paradoxically, if someone with Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder goes on a shopping trip, this will briefly improve their negative feelings, but will soon lead to strong feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment.”

The new framework promises to help people who struggle to manage their spending and mental well-being. Evidence-based criteria for Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder is long overdue, the researchers note. Scientists will also need to develop more targeted treatments for this “debilitating” condition.

“This will now be possible with the world’s leading experts agreeing on diagnostic criteria for the disorder.” Professor Kyrios concludes.

The findings appear in theJournal of Behavioral Addictions.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Blinders off: Non-surgical cataract cure is coming

May 20, 2021

There’s good news for individuals battling the debilitating effects of cataracts. A revolutionary breakthrough could cure the condition without the need for invasive surgery, Study Finds reports.

New research by scientists at the UK’s Anglia Ruskin University has identified a drug therapy that could bring relief to a the 33% of of seniors who have a visually impairing cataract. At present, the only way currently to fix a cloudy lens is to remove it and insert a clear plastic replacement.

More than 4 million operations for cataracts are performed each year in the United States; and 28 million, worldwide. A cataract is caused by an accumulation of protein in the lens that reduces the transmission of light to the retina and it is accountable for nearly 50% of the global cases of blindness.

This latest research—led by professor Barbara Pierscionek and published in the journal,  Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciencereveals that a particular protein called aquaporin  regulates how water is transported through the lens. Without an ordered arrangement of lens proteins and water, the lens loses its transparency. Therefore, aquaporin proteins are necessary for clear vision.

“Cataracts are one of the main causes of vision loss and blindness worldwide, yet for many people surgery is inaccessible for various reasons,” says Pierscionek in a statement. “Our findings indicate the role of the aquaporin proteins and the crucial importance of this for the lens to work correctly and the eye to see clearly.

“Further research in this area is planned,” she continues, “but this discovery, together with our research on nanotechnologies that indicate drug therapy for cataract is possible, could potentially revolutionize the way cataract is treated, opening up the field for drug-based therapy rather than surgery. This would have exciting implications for public health.”

The research was presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting, held May 1-7 virtually.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Gut feelings: Eating yogurt may help you feel happier

May 11, 2021

Eating yogurt that contains probiotics may help you feel less stressed and depressed, Study Finds reports.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine recently studied mice who were fed a “friendly,” probiotic bacteria found in live-culture yogurts called Lactobacillus. The team found that the rodents’ depressive symptoms were largely reversed by consuming the yogurt.

Scientists have long known that stress plays a large role in our moods. However, the role of our gut microbiome—which contains thousands of bacterial organisms—in either sustaining or blocking such feelings has not been explored extensively

With 7% of Americans suffering from depression at any given time, the study’s implications are enormous.

For their experiment, the researchers examined the composition of the mice’s microbiomes before and after being subjected to stress—and found that the level of Lactobacillus in their gastrointestinal systems decreased markedly after the mice had experienced stress. Concomitant depression also resulted.

According to the report by Study Finds, as soon as the mice were fed probiotic yogurt, their mood reverted back to a more stable state.

“A single strain of Lactobacillus is able to influence mood,” says lead researcher Dr. Alban Gaultier, a neuroscientist, in a university release.

They verified the phenomenon they had observed by examining how much kynurenine— a chemical that drives depression— had increased while the  Lactobacillus had diminished.

“This is the most consistent change we’ve seen across different experiments and different settings we call microbiome profiles,” notes Ioana Marin, a research student.

While the study still must be conducted on humans to determine whether the same results can be achieved, its breakthrough findings show promise. One potential issue with the research is the fact that it’s much harder to measure depression in mice than it is in humans.

Gaultier plans to first examine the effects of Lactobacillus on those with multiple sclerosis—sufferers also commonly experience depression.

“The big hope for this kind of research is that we won’t need to bother with complex drugs and side effects when we can just play with the microbiome,” says Gaultier. “It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health—and your mood.”

In the meantime, no clinically depressed individuals should solely eat yogurt in lieu of taking medication, the researchers warn.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Avocado discovery may lead to new leukemia treatment

May 3, 2021

With a host of nutritional benefits and a taste that satisfyingly tops off everything from salads to toast, avocados have become a dietary staple of millions—but recent research results point to some extra medicinal benefits offered by the popular fruit , as well, Study Finds reports.

Researchers from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have discovered a new avocado compound they say may open the door for better leukemia treatments.

More specifically, this compound appears to target and attack an enzyme that can be critical to cancer cell growth.

Researchers focused their attention on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which doctors call the most dangerous variety of blood cancer. Most people diagnosed with AML are over 65 years old—and only about 10% survive for five years post-diagnosis.

Importantly, leukemia cells house large amounts of an enzyme called VLCAD, which is involved in their metabolism. “The cell relies on that pathway to survive,” says Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, Department of Food Science, in a university release. “This is the first time VLCAD has been identified as a target in any cancer.”

Spagnuolo and his team tested various nutraceutical compounds in an attempt to find any substance capable of fighting VLCAD.

“Lo and behold, the best one was derived from avocado,” Spagnuolo notes.

“VLCAD can be a good marker to identify patients suitable for this type of therapy. It can also be a marker to measure the activity of the drug,” he continues. “That sets the stage for eventual use of this molecule in human clinical trials. There’s been a drive to find less toxic drugs that can be used.”

According to Study finds, right now, about half of all older AML patients enter palliative care. Others opt for chemotherapy, but that often does more harm than good.

“We completed a human study with this as an oral supplement and have been able to show that appreciable amounts are fairly well tolerated,” Spagnuolo concludes.

The study appears in the journal Blood.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

The good doctor: Are you safer when seen by an older physician?

April 12, 2021

If you could choose your doctor, would you prefer youth or experience? You might pick the fresh-faced physician, if you consider that patients in hospital settings are more likely to die when treated by doctors who are at least 60 years old, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School wanted to know how well physicians perform as they age. They looked at the records of 730,000 Medicare patients treated between 2011 and 2014 by more than 18,800 hospital-based internists (hospitalists), Study Finds reports.

Perhaps all that experience isn’t so great after all. Patient deaths rose gradually as physicians aged, but the biggest gap—1.3 percentage points—showed up between hospitalists 40 and younger, and those 60 and older.  This means one additional death for every 77 patients admitted by a doctor who is 60 or older versus a doctor who is 40 or younger.

Study senior investigator Anupam Jena, an associate professor of Health Care Policy at the university and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, says this outcome raises some serious concerns.

“It is comparable to the difference in death rates observed between patients at high risk for heart disease who are treated with proper heart medications and those who receive none,” she explains in a Harvard Medical School release.

There is a bright spot, however, in all this aging gloom and doom, according to Study Finds:  When physicians carry heavy caseloads, physician age is not a factor in patient mortality. Researchers believe that caring for large numbers of patients keeps a doctor’s skill set strong.

Older doctors may have knowledge that can only be gained by experience, but they cannot just rest on their laurels. They have to keep up with the rapid changes that come with new research and technology.

“The results of our study suggest the critical importance of continuing medical education throughout a doctor’s entire career, regardless of age and experience,” Jena says.

Researchers say this study is too limited to draw any final conclusions about how older physicians perform on the job. They would like to look into what else might be influencing the higher mortality rates in patients cared for by older doctors.

Perhaps, in answer to the first question posed, your best bet is to choose the busiest doctor.

The study’s findings were published in The BMJ.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Surprise! Babies understand what you’re saying sooner than you think

April 9, 2021

While infants may seem out of the loop until they starting speaking, researchers at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland say that babies are capable of recognizing word combinations and phrases long before they ever utter their first word.

Indeed, according to Study Finds, their recent research—conducted with some support from academics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem— has revealed that 11- to 12-month-old infants, who are on the verge of speaking, already are processing and understanding various “multi-word phrases” such as “clap your hands.”

This is a breakthrough—representing the first time that investigators have demonstrated that young infants are capable of recognizing and understanding conversations before they begin speaking, themselves. Moreover, this work disputes the long-held belief that babies generally learn languages by first understanding individual words and moving on to sentences. This new study suggests babies learn words and phrases simultaneously.

“Previous research has shown that young infants recognize many common words. But this is the first study that shows that infants extract and store more than just single words from everyday speech. This suggests that when children learn language, they build on linguistic units of varying sizes, including multiword sequences, and not just single words as we often assume,” says Dr. Barbara Skarabela from the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Languages Sciences, in a university release.

What’s more, Study Finds reports, the researchers also say these findings may provide an explanation as to why adults have so much trouble becoming bilingual.

“This may explain why adults learning a second language, who tend to rely on individual words, often fall short of reaching native-like proficiency in the way they string words together into phrases and sentences,” Dr. Skarabela adds.

Researchers studied 36 babies during this project, via a series of “attention tests” featuring recorded audio from adults. Study authors watched closely as the babies listened to the recordings and looked out for any signs of understanding or acknowledgment. All of the recorded phrases only featured three words and many were consistent with a typical “conversation” between infants and adults.

The team then assessed infant responses and compared them using a method called central fixation. This approach allowed researchers to measure the babies’ looks and eye glances in response to the recordings. Using this strategy, they successfully determined when a baby recognized a familiar phrase like “clap your hands” in comparison to a sentence they had likely never heard before—such as “take your hands.”

Most of the infants (23 out of 36) displayed clear signs of understanding certain phrases. The study has been published in the June 2021 edition of the journal, Cognition.

Research contact: StudyFinds