Posttraumatic stress disorder reveals imbalance between signalling systems in the brain

Regions of the brain associated with stress and posttraumatic stress disorder. 

Experiencing a traumatic event can cause life-long anxiety problems, called posttraumatic stress disorder. Researchers from Uppsala University and Karolinska Institutet now show that people with posttraumatic stress disorder have an imbalance between two neurochemical systems in the brain, serotonin and substance P. The greater the imbalance, the more serious the symptoms patients have.

Many people experience traumatic events in life, e.g. robbery, warfare, a serious accident or sexual assault. Approximately 10 percent of people subjected to trauma suffer long-lasting symptoms in the form of disturbing flashbacks, insomnia, hyperarousal and anxiety. If these problems lead to impairment, the person is said to suffer from , PTSD.

It has previously been shown that people with PTSD have altered brain anatomy and function. A new study by researchers from the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University and Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet shows that people with PTSD have an imbalance between two neurochemical signalling systems of the brain, serotonin and substance P. Professors Mats Fredrikson and Tomas Furmark led the study using a so-called PET scanner to measure the relationship between these systems.

The study, which has been published in the renowned scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry, shows that it is the imbalance between the two signalling systems which determines the severity of the symptoms suffered by the individual rather than the degree of change in a single system. Others have previously speculated that the biological basis of psychiatric disorders such as PTSD includes a shift in the balance between different signalling systems in the brain but none has yet proved it. The results of the study are a great leap forward in our understanding of PTSD. It will contribute new knowledge which can be used to design improved treatments for traumatised individuals.

“At present, PTSD is often treated with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which have a direct effect on the serotonin system. SSRI drugs provide relief for many but do not help everybody. Restoring the balance between the and substance P systems could become a new treatment strategy for individuals suffering from traumatic incidents,” says lead author Andreas Frick, researcher at the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University.

Sugar-free candy and soft drinks are just as bad for your teeth, warn dental experts .

If you’ve been opting for sugar-free treats such as diet soft drinks and candies that don’t contain any natural sweetener, we have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that cutting down on excessive sugar is definitely in your general dietary interests. The bad news is that sugar-free candy and soda aren’t necessarily any better for your teeth.

According to Eric Reynolds, a health researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, sugar-free substitutes for sweet treats aren’t completely safe for teeth as many people think. And you can’t necessarily believe the labelling on popular diet beverage and candy products that tries to tell you otherwise.

Reynolds and fellow researchers at Melbourne University’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre tested a large range of soft drinks, sport drinks, and confectionary products, and found that the sugar-less versions can also wreak havoc on your dental health.

The findings, collected in an online briefing paper, suggest that while sugar substitutes generally lessen the risk of dental decay (aka dental caries, commonly called cavities), sugar-free products are still potentially harmful to teeth due to high levels of acids that start by stripping away the surface layers of tooth enamel, and in advanced stages can expose the softer dentin or pulp of the tooth.

While pH levels can indicate which products are comparatively acidic – such as soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices, cordials, and wine – certain foods also contain chemicals called chelators, like citrate, which bind other chemicals to calcium, giving a particularly erosive combination that can remove calcium from teeth.

Testing 15 soft drinks (including three sugar-free brands) on extracted healthy human molars that were free of dental caries, the researchers found all the drinks produced significant erosion of dental enamel, with teeth showing measurable weight loss and surface loss. There was also no significant difference between the erosive potential of sugared and non-sugar soft drinks.

Testing with eight brands of sport drinks revealed similar results, with three-quarters causing significant enamel surface loss and enamel surface softening (although none as bad as Coca-Cola, which was used, along with bottle spring water, for comparison purposes).

Sugar-free lollies are also risky for teeth due to their use of citric acid and other food acids for flavouring – particularly lemon, orange, and other fruit-flavoured sweets.

So what should you be consuming (and not consuming) in order to minimise your chances of tooth erosion and decay? The researchers recommend fluoridated tap water as the best option for teeth, as bottled water doesn’t confer the benefits of fluoride. Milk is also an excellent option, as it’s not erosive.

In terms of hydration, water is recommended over things like soft drinks, sport drinks, and juices, which are clearly bad for your teeth, regardless of whether they contain sugar. Chewing sugar-free gum is recommended (especially brands containing bioavailable calcium phosphate), as it stimulates saliva flow and can rinse away acids and re-harden softened enamel.

Interestingly, the researchers say you shouldn’t brush your teeth straight away after eating or drinking acidic products, as this can remove the softened tooth layer. Instead, drink some water or rinse your mouth out with water, then wait an hour before you pick up the toothbrush.

And, of course, regular visits to the dentist – which everybody just loves! – are a great way of ensuring your teeth stay in tip-top shape. Pretty obvious, perhaps, but when’s the last time you made the trip?

Discontinuation of Inhaled Corticosteroids in COPD and the Risk Reduction of Pneumonia

BACKGROUND:  The widespread use of inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) for COPD treatment has been questioned. Recent studies of weaning some patients with COPD off ICSs found little or no adverse consequences compared with long-acting bronchodilators. It is unclear, however, whether discontinuation of ICSs reduces the elevated risk of pneumonia associated with these drugs.

METHODS:  Using the Quebec health insurance databases, we formed a new-user cohort of patients with COPD treated with ICSs during 1990 to 2005 and followed through 2007 or until a serious pneumonia event, defined as a first hospitalization for or death from pneumonia. A nested case-control analysis of the cohort was used to estimate the rate ratio of serious pneumonia associated with discontinuation of ICS use compared with continued use, adjusted for age, sex, respiratory disease severity, and comorbidity.

RESULTS:  The cohort included 103,386 users of ICSs, of whom 14,020 had a serious pneumonia event during 4.9 years of follow-up (incidence rate, 2.8/100/y). Discontinuation of ICSs was associated with a 37% decrease in the rate of serious pneumonia (rate ratio [RR], 0.63; 95% CI, 0.60-0.66). The risk reduction was rapidly evident, going from 20% in the first month to 50% by the fourth month after discontinuation. The risk reduction was particularly marked with fluticasone (RR, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.54-0.61) but less so with budesonide (RR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.78-0.97).

CONCLUSIONS:  Discontinuation of ICS use in COPD is associated with a reduction in the elevated risk of serious pneumonia, particularly so with fluticasone.

5 Psychological Studies That Will Change Your Perception of Yourself

As much as we’d like to think we know ourselves and our own minds, in actual fact there is a lot that we don’t know, are yet to discover and sometimes may not ever know. The human mind works in mysterious ways and the endless studies into different aspects can only widen our understanding, not complete it. Psychologists have made a huge impact on our understanding of human behaviours and how we view the world around us, but there is much we still have to learn. Saying that, there are a lot of surprising studies that will change your perception of yourself and, hopefully, will help you get to know the human mind a little better: 1. Stanford Prison Experiment This experiment is said to be the most famous psychology study in history and showcased how social environments can affect human behaviour. The study placed 24 healthy undergraduates with no criminal background into a mock prison, asking some to act as guards and the rest to act as prisoners. After six days (the experiment was scheduled to run for two weeks), it had to be cut short due to the violent behaviour of the guards. Phillip Zimbardo, who ran the experiment, commented on the behaviour, “The guards escalated their aggression against the prisoners, stripping them naked, putting bags over their heads, and then finally had them engage in increasingly humiliating sexual activities.” This study taught us that even those of us who are declared psychologically “normal” can demonstrate an evil streak when placed in certain environments. How do you think you’d behave in the same situation? 2. Wooden Door Experiment Another famous experiment where college students were targeted by a researcher who asked for directions. Halfway through the directions, workmen holding a wooden door passed between the two having the discussion, switching places with the individual who was asking for the directions. Half of the participants didn’t even notice that the person asking for directions had completely changed. This demonstrates how the human mind can experience “change blindness” and how we may not be aware when something is happening right in front of our very eyes. 3. Milgram’s Authoritarian Experiment After the Second World War, Stanley Milgram wanted to understand why Nazi criminals committed the crimes they did and if the authority figure had something to do with it. The “teacher and learner” experiment had one researcher instructing a participant to produce electric shocks of high voltage on another human being in front of them, simply because they were asked to do so. 65% of participants administered the highest possible voltage of 450-volts when asked to do so by an authority figure, despite seeming distressed and uncomfortable at doing so. How do you perform around authority figures? Would you cause harm to others if you were asked to do so by somebody in power? 4. The Harvard Grant Study Spanning 75-years, this study followed 268 male Harvard graduates at various points in their life to record data on various aspects of their lives. The conclusion to the experiment is that love really does make us happy and fills us with a sense of life-satisfaction that we don’t get from other areas of our lives. Perhaps one of the most uplifting stories, especially since one participant started the study with the lowest rate of future stability and a past of attempted suicide, but at the end of the study he was one of the happiest – the reason being he spent his life looking for love. 5. Cognitive Dissonance Experiments One of the most popular theories and areas within psychology, cognitive dissonance is the idea that humans cannot cope with conflicting thoughts, emotions or values so experience some mental distress. There have been many experiments into this area, but one of the most interesting was carried out by Leon Festinger, where he asked participants to complete long, mundane tasks then offered half of them $1, and the other half $20 to tell waiting participants that they enjoyed the task. The $1 group felt the need to justify the time spent by saying it was a fun task, whereas the higher-paid group believed they had sufficient justification for completing the task. Summarised, we tend to tell ourselves lies to justify events that happen throughout our lives, even simple ones such as mundane tasks. There are many more experiments that demonstrate just how little we know about ourselves and our minds as humans, these studies only scratch the surface. Which do you agree with most? Are there any more studies that you have heard about that taught you something new about yourself?

perception of yourself

The Solar System Drawn in the Nevada Desert

A group of friends discovered there were no proportional models of the solar system with complete planetary orbits—most portray the planets and moons as too close together. So, they decided to build one. On a dry lakebed in Nevada, the group constructed a model by drawing circles in the desert around a 1.5 meter sun and a marble-sized Earth small enough to get lost in filmmaker Wylie Overstreet’s pocket. The result is a stunning work of land art that allows viewers to see the full circle of the Earth with their own eyes.

Conjoined twins separated after 8-hour operation at PGI, Chandigarh

Dr Ravi Kanojia, associate professor, department of paediatric surgery said it was for the first time that such a surgery had been successful at the PGIMER. (HT Photo)

Performing one of the rarest surgeries, a team of doctors at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) successfully separated two conjoined sisters — Jannat and Mannat — on November 23. According to Dr Ravi Kanojia, associate professor, department of paediatric surgery, “Chances of such births are one in five lakh. This is a rare case scenario and a surgeon would be fortunate enough to see a couple of cases in his or her lifetime.”

He said it was for the first time that such a surgery had been successful at the PGIMER. Children did not survive in similar surgeries performed earlier about 10 years ago, the doctor said.

Born on August 27 in Barara town of Ambala, Jannat and Mannat were rushed to PGIMER within a week after birth. “Jannat and Mannat were brought to us soon they were born as conjoined twins at a private hospital. They were joined at their abdomen and lower part of chest — a condition known as omphalophagus twins in medical term. The sisters together weighed only 3kg and were very fragile,” said Dr Kanojia, the surgeon who led the team.

The team of doctors evaluated the risk in sugery and the survival chances. “We called the family three or four times for conducting tests such as CT and MRI scan to find out the organs the sisters shared. We found that the twins had a conjoined liver in between, fortunately rest of their organs were separate,” said the doctor.

The doctor said that worldwide, separation surgeries on conjoined twins are generally performed when the children become one year old or more. “But in this case, we performed the surgery while the babies are only three-month-old, weighing only 4.2 kilos. We concluded that delay could hinder their growth,” he said.

The doctor said the case was extensively planned between paediatric surgery team, anaesthesia team, paediatric ICU and the radiologist. “A 30-member-team was formed which was divided into two surgical units. There were two surgical teams, two anaesthesia teams and two post-operative care teams for the procedure. Two operating theatres were prepared for the procedure,” said the surgeon.

On the complexity of such surgeries, Dr Kanojia said, “The complexity of such surgeries varies from case to case. It depends on the number of organs shared by the twins, if there are many organs then it becomes more difficult and surgeons may have to choose survival of one of the two babies.”

Entire unit was led by Dr Ravi Kanojia, assisted by paediatrics surgeon Dr Jai Kumar Mahajan.

“On Sunday, a day before the surgery, pre-operation meeting was held and a mock-drill was attended by the entire team,” said Dr Kanojia.

The surgery was done on November 23 and the 30-member team slogged for eight hours to separate the twins.

“While Jannnat did well from the beginning, Mannat being smaller of the two had to be kept on ventilator for some time. She has eventually recovered well and both girls are now recovering fast and are ready to go home soon,” said Dr Kanojia.

On the complexity of such surgeries, Dr Kanojia said, “The complexity of such surgeries varies from case to case. It depends on the number of organs shared by the twins, if there are many organs then it becomes more difficult and surgeons may have to choose survival of one of the two babies.”

“In this particular case, the challenge was to divide the liver carefully without dividing the blood supply going to the twins. Maintaining anaesthesia was also a challenge,” said the doctor.

As the parents of the babies came from a financially poor background, the hospital administration helped in arranging the surgical consumables free of cost.

A 30-member-team was formed which was divided into two surgical units. There were two surgical teams, two anaesthesia teams and two post-operative care teams for the procedure. Two operating theatres were prepared for the procedure.

Father’s take

The news of the birth of two daughters did not saddened Mohammad Saleem, who was already a father of two daughters – Nargis and Nagma — when the conjoined twins took birth. But Jannat and Mannat’s medical condition came as a setback to him. A labourer from Barara, Ambala, Saleem could not afford the treatment, but he did not lose hope and visited two private hospitals before moving to PGIMER.

“People used to say that they will not survive and PGIMER was my last hope. Nobody in the world could have attended my daughters better than the doctors did here. They are God to me and will worship them,” said Saleem, who is now preparing for the celebrations.

World AIDS Day: Is the end of AIDS in sight? 10 facts about HIV/AIDS

World AIDS Day on December 1 is used to unite people in the fight against HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus first identified in 1984, to show their support for people living with HIV and commemorate those who have died. Here are some facts about AIDS in 2015 with data from the World Health Organisation, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, and UNAIDS.(Source: Reuters)

Genome Editing: 7 Facts About a Revolutionary Technology

What everyone should know about cut-and-paste genetics

The ethics of human-genome editing is in the spotlight again as a large international meeting on the topic is poised to kick off in Washington DC. Ahead of the summit, which is being jointly organized by the US National Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Medicinethe Chinese Academy of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society and held on December 1–3, we bring you seven key genome-editing facts.

1. Just one published study describes genome editing of human germ cells
In April, a group led by Junjiu Huang at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, described their use of the popular CRISPR–Cas9 technology to edit the genomes of human embryos. Only weeks before the researchers’ paper appeared in Protein & Cell, rumours about the work had prompted fresh debate over the ethics of tinkering with the genomes of human eggs, sperm or embryos, known collectively as germ cells. Huang and colleagues used non-viable embryos, which could not result in a live birth. But in principle, edits to germ cells could be passed to future generations.

2. The law on editing human germ cells varies wildly across the world
Germany strictly limits experimentation on human embryos, and violations can be a criminal offence. By contrast, in China, Japan, Ireland and India, only unenforceable guidelines restrict genome editing in human embryos. Many researchers long for international guidelines, and some hope that the upcoming summit in Washington DC could be the start of the process to create them.

3. You don’t have to be a pro to hack genomes
The CRISPR–Cas9 technology has made modifying DNA so cheap and easy that amateur biologists working in converted garages or community laboratories are starting to dabble.

4. Cas9 is not the only enzyme in town
A key ingredient in the CRISPR–Cas9 system is the DNA-cutting enzyme Cas9. But in September, synthetic biologist Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported the discovery of a protein called Cpf1, which may make it even easier to edit genomes.  (Zhang is one of those who pioneered the use of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing in mammalian cells).

5. Pigs are on the front line of genome-editing experiments
Dogs, goats and monkeys are all part of the growing CRISPR zoo. But pigs in particular have been at the heart of several eye-catching announcements—from micropigs that weigh about six times less than many farm pigs, to super-muscly pigs, to a pig whose genome has been edited in 62 places (the aim being to produce a suitable non-human organ donor).

6. Gates, Google and DuPont want a piece of the genome-editing action
In August, several high-profile investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google Ventures, pumped US$120 million into the genome-editing firm Editas Medicine of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Big Agriculture is following suit: DuPont forged an alliance with the genome-editing firm Caribou Biosciences of Berkeley, California, in October, and announced its intention to use CRISPR–Cas9 technology to engineer crops.

7. The CRISPR–Cas9 system is at the centre of a patent row
Zhang was granted a US patent on CRISPR–Cas9 in April 2014. But several months before he filed his application in 2012, molecular biologists Jennifer Doudna at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, now at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, had filed their own patent. UC Berkeley has since requested that the United States Patent and Trademark Office determine who should get credit for harnessing the CRISPR–Cas9 system, in particular for its application in human cells. And a similar debate is playing out in Europe, where oppositions to a patent that Zhang and his colleagues won in February have been filed. All three scientists co-founded companies that make use of CRISPR–Cas9.

The 100 Greatest Innovations Of 2015


The Netherlands Will Become the First Country to Pave Its Roads with Recycled Plastic

The Netherlands Will Become the First Country to Pave Its Roads with Recycled Plastic

Dutch engineers and designers have become known for their innovative ideas during the recent years. From the self-healing concrete to the world’s first solar bike path, their creations always offer us a unique combination of ingenuity and eco-friendliness. Now, Dutch construction company VolkerWessels plans to pave the roads with recycled plastic bottles instead of asphalt. If everything goes smoothly and the PlasticRoad project is finally implemented, the Dutch city of Rotterdam will see roads with the surface made of recycled plastic already in three years.

It’s a good way to replace asphalt with a more ‘green’ alternative, considering how harmful this material is to the environment. In fact, every ton of produced asphalt emits 27 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere, which makes the total of 1.45 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide a year. Asphalt is also one of the main factors to cause urban heat island effect because of its property to absorb and retain heat. On the other hand, there is another critical problem with tons of plastic trash which are overloading both the land and the ocean.

Thus, using recycled plastic instead of asphalt to pave the roads could help lessen the environmental footprint. But it’s not the only benefit – it would also make the road surface more durable and, as a result, reduce road maintenance costs. According to VolkerWessels, this eco-friendly road surface is able to withstand a great range of temperatures – between -40C and 80C. At the same time, the plastic roads would be light and hollow, which means that there would be some extra space for pipes and cables.

Road construction would also become faster and less costly as there would be no need for on-site construction activities which require numerous staff and long-hour work. Instead, sections of the recycled plastic surface could be manufactured in a factory and then transported to the site. This would make it possible to prevent the pollution caused by roadworks and minimize the transportation of raw materials, which would contribute to reducing the environmental impacts as well.

Despite that the project is still on paper, the company is very optimistic about the future prospects. Rolf Mars of VolkerWessels said that the plastic roads could have a great potential for becoming a platform for the introduction of some other innovations, such as heated roads or ultra-quiet surfaces. In fact, Rotterdam is famous for supporting similar sustainable developments initiatives, so the city officials have already shown their interest in the implementation of the PlasticRoad project.

“Rotterdam is a very innovative city and has embraced the idea,” Mars told the Guardian. “It fits very well within its sustainability policy and it has said it is keen to work on a pilot.”


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