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25-11-2012 | Article

Global medical news in review: November 18-24, 2012

medwireNews: A roundup of select stories of interest to US physicians from the MerckMedicus Medical News wire.

Putting out one fire, igniting another

Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) are a common type of flame retardant found in household products including building materials, electronics, furniture, plastics, and textiles. While the chemical has a proven track record of minimizing fire hazards, it also has a demonstrated immunity to biodegradation, so much so that it is accumulating not only in the environment but in our bodies too.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PBDEs are mixed ‑ rather than bound ‑ into plastics and foams, which eases their release into the environment. The CDC classified the chemical as "reasonably anticipated to be [a] human carcinogen," while the Environmental Protection Agency has noted its potential to have neurobehavioral effects.

In studies reported this week showing that high-level exposure to this chemical was found to have notable repercussions on children's attention span, fine motor coordination, and IQs. Two research teams, from the University of California in Berkley and Hasselt University in Belgium, looked at serum levels of PBDE in mothers and their children and spotted neurodevelopmental effects associated with exposure to the chemical. While the findings corroborate animal studies observing adverse neurodevelopmental effects from prenatal PBDE exposure, the authors note that further clarification is needed in other age groups.

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A second Alzheimer's gene arrives on the scene

When one considers genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease, neuron-stifling amyloid plaques accumulating in the brain often comes to mind.

But a different gene mutation seems to also play a role in eliciting late-onset Alzheimer's disease, according to coincidental studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Study results from the University of Iceland and University College London's Institute of Neurology found that a mutation in the gene TREM2 tripled the odds of acquiring Alzheimer's disease. Though the mutation is rare, its presence was thought to increase the chances of succumbing to the disease to an extent similar to that of individuals who have the amyloid plaque-producing APOE ε4 allele.

Being the second gene that has been implicated in significantly increasing Alzheimer's risk in the elderly, TREM2 plays an immunologic role in protecting the brain from Alzheimer's disease by interfering with the buildup of plaque.

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Boomers surf for health info

By the year 2030, 71 million Americans will be aged 65 years or older, a 200% jump from the year 2000, according to the US Census Bureau. When considering that this rapidly expanding demographic visit their doctor eight times a year ‑ a 37% increase over the general population ‑ effective health communication with older patients gains importance.

Among the current plethora of modern communication tools, Ohio State University researchers found that the Internet is the go-to mode of communication for the baby-boomer generation, especially at the 50- and 65-year mark. Based on a questionnaire, the researchers discovered that baby boomers depend on the Internet the most for attaining health information.

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Unaware of the consequences

Patients treated for bipolar disorder (BD) often fail to maintain their drug regimen for various reasons, show European study results.

Limited or complete nonadherence is not only the most common cause of symptom recurrence, but it can also elicit more severe symptoms, neurocognitive decline, increased suicide risk, and otherwise poor outcomes. Determining why people with BD often stop taking their medication is central to ensuring compliance and improving clinical outcomes.

A survey published in the Journal of Affective Disorders added nuance to the complexity of drug adherence in BD by reporting that half of all patients with prescriptions show compliance issues, with most of these patients failing to attribute the resulting deterioration in their condition to an inconsistent drug regimen.

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Non-ageist CKD measures

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects 10‑15% of adults in the USA, Europe, and Asia, and its prevalence increases drastically with age, but study findings in JAMA suggest that age does not need to be taken into consideration when determining the type and stage of the disease.

The results showed that the flow rate of filtered fluid from the kidney, known as the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), and the increase in urine protein levels, or albuminuria, are linked to death and end-stage renal disease, regardless of age.

US scientists found a lower relative but higher absolute mortality risk difference at older age, proving that CKD measures are strong predictors of clinical risk across all ages.

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By Peter Sergo, medwireNews Reporter