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Past News Items - April 2011

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In the News

Virtual Conversation Simulator Found Beneficial for Adults With Autism

Vitamin D Insufficiency High Among Patients With Early Parkinson Disease

Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake Associated With Reduced Risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration in Women

Antioxidant Formula Before Radiation Exposure May Prevent DNA Injury

Food Democracy Now! Introduces Petition to “Break Up Monsanto”

Released: 04/01/11

Virtual Conversation Simulator Found Beneficial for Adults With Autism

Simulated interactions in which adults with autism converse with a virtual partner may help them develop better social interaction skills, according to a study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

More than half of individuals diagnosed with autism have normal intellectual capabilities yet struggle in social and work environments because of severely impaired abilities to interact and converse with others. Cheryl Trepagnier, PhD, and Corinne Bell, MA (The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC), and Dale Olsen, PhD, and Laura Boteler (SIMmersion LLC, Columbia, Maryland), report that adults with autism who participated in a prototype conversation simulation program responded positively to the experience, supporting the quality and usefulness of the simulation.

In the article, “Virtual Conversation Partner for Adults with Autism,” the authors describe a simulated environment in which participants with autism who are not otherwise intellectually disabled interact with virtual partners via onscreen dialog options. The participants were then scored on their ability to initiate, maintain, and conclude a pleasant conversation on a variety of topics.

According to Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, BCIA, editor in chief of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, simulations have proven effective at helping people with a variety of physical and mental disorders during the past two decades. The new application could enable many people with autism spectrum disorders to function more effectively in society.

Vitamin D Insufficiency High Among Patients With Early Parkinson Disease

Patients with a recent onset of Parkinson disease have a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency, but vitamin D concentrations do not appear to decline during the progression of the disease, according to a report in the March issue of Archives of Neurology.

Vitamin D is now considered a hormone that regulates a number of physiological processes. It has been associated with a number of clinical disorders and chronic diseases, including impaired balance, decreased muscle strength, mood and cognitive dysfunction, autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes, and some forms of cancer, according to background information in the article. The article continues, “Vitamin D insufficiency has been reported to be more common in patients with Parkinson disease (PD) than in healthy control subjects, but it is not clear whether having a chronic disease causing reduced mobility contributes to this relatively high prevalence.”

Marian L. Evatt, MD, MS, of Emory University School of Medicine and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and colleagues examined the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in untreated patients with early PD, diagnosed within 5 years of entry into the study. They conducted a survey study of vitamin D status in stored blood samples from patients with PD who were enrolled in the placebo group of the Deprenyl and Tocopherol Antioxidative Therapy of Parkinsonism (DATATOP) trial.

The authors found a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency in 157 study participants with early untreated PD. At the baseline visit, most study participants (69.4%) had vitamin D insufficiency and more than a quarter (26.1%) had vitamin D deficiency. At the final visit, these percentages had decreased to 51.6% and 7%, respectively.

Contrary to their expectation that vitamin D levels would decrease over time because of disease-related inactivity and reduced sun exposure, the authors found that vitamin D levels increased during the study period. “These findings are consistent with the possibility that long-term insufficiency is present before the clinical manifestations of PD and may play a role in the pathogenesis of PD,” the authors wrote.

Vitamin D insufficiency in patients with early PD was similar or higher than the prevalence reported in previous studies.

The authors confirmed a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in patients with recent onset of PD, during the early clinical stages in which patients do not require treatment of symptoms. The study also found that vitamin D concentrations did not decrease but rather increased slightly during the course of follow-up, which offers evidence that during early PD, vitamin D concentrations do not decrease with disease progression.

Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake Associated With Reduced Risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration in Women

Regular consumption of fish and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration in women, according to a report posted online that will appear in the June issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

Approximately nine million US adults aged 40 years and older show signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). An additional 7.3 million people have early age-related macular degeneration, which is usually associated with moderate or no vision loss but increases the risk of progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration.

Using the Women’s Health Study, William G. Christen, ScD, of Brigham and Women’ s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues collected data on 38 022 women who had not been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. Information on women’s eating habits was obtained via questionnaire at the beginning of the study and included information on intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) [ omega-3 fatty acids found in fish], and arachidonic acid and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acids). During 10 years of follow-up, additional questionnaires tracked the women’s eye health, with specific focus on diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration.

Over the course of follow-up, 235 cases of age-related macular degeneration were reported. In analyses that adjusted for age and treatment assignment, women who consumed the most DHA compared with women who consumed the lowest amount had a 38% lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Similar results were observed for higher intake of EPA and for higher consumption of both types of acid together.

Results for fish intake showed that consumption of one or more servings of fish per week, when compared to less than one per month, was associated with a 42% lower risk of age-related macular degeneration. The lower risk appeared to correlate with consumption of canned tuna and dark-meat fish.

For omega-6 fatty acids, higher intake of linoleic acid but not arachidonic acid was associated with an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration; however, this association was nonsignificant after adjustment for other risk factors and fats.

Antioxidant Formula Before Radiation Exposure May Prevent DNA Injury

A unique formulation of antioxidants taken orally before imaging with ionizing radiation minimizes cell damage, according to researchers at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 36th Annual Scientific Meeting in Chicago, Illinois. In what the researchers say is the first clinical trial of its kind, as much as a 50% reduction in DNA injury was observed after administering the formula before computed tomography (CT) scans.

“In our initial small study, we found that pre-administering to patients a proprietary antioxidant formulation resulted in a notable dose-dependent reduction in DNA injury,” said Kieran J. Murphy, M D , FSIR, professor and vice chair, director of research, and deputy chief of radiology at the University of Toronto and University Health Network, Ontario, Canada. “This could play an important role in protecting adults and children who require imaging or a screening study,” he added.

Administering the formula before a medical imaging exam may be a valuable tool in providing radioprotection and especially important for patients undergoing CT scans. The study’s data support the theory about a protective effect during these types of exposure.

“There is currently a great deal of controversy in determining the cancer risks associated with medical imaging exams. Although imaging techniques, such as CT scans and mammograms, provide crucial and often life-saving information to doctors and patients, they work by irradiating people with X-rays, and there is some evidence that these can, in the long run, cause cancer,” explained Murphy. The interventional radiologist researchers responded to this threat by exploring a way to protect individuals from these potentially harmful effects. This also may be of importance to interventional and diagnostic radiologists and X-ray technologists who have occupational exposure to ionizing radiation.

The study showed that even though many antioxidants are poorly absorbed by the body, one particular mixture was effective in protecting against the specific type of injury caused by medical imaging exams. The human body is 70% water, and x-rays collide with water molecules to produce free radicals that can go on to do damage by direct ionization of DNA and other cellular targets. The research team evaluated whether a special combination of antioxidants could neutralize these free radicals before they can do damage.

The experiments measured DNA damage as a surrogate marker for DNA injury. Blood was drawn from two study volunteers in duplicate, creating four individual tests per data point. DNA strand breaks are repaired by a big protein complex that binds to the site of the damage. The researchers labeled one of the proteins with a fluorescent tag. Then, under a powerful three-dimensional microscope, the DNA is examined for signs of repair. The more repair that is seen, the more DNA damage must have been done by the CT scan to initiate that repair. The experiments clearly showed a reduction of DNA repair in the treatment group, which means that there was less DNA injury as a result of administering the antioxidant mixture.

The researchers concede that this is a small study and that more research needs to be done; however, these initial results point toward a positive future for this kind of treatment. The group says the next step is a clinical trial in Toronto.

Food Democracy Now! Introduces Petition to “Break Up Monsanto”

Food Democracy Now! is leading the charge to “break up” Monsanto Company (Creve Coeur, Missouri), the world's leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate (marketed as "Roundup") and of genetically engineered seed. Currently, Monsanto provides the technology in 90% of the world's genetically engineered seeds.

To join the cause to Break Up to Monsanto, click here and sign the petition.

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