TIME Research

In 2025, Everyone Will Get DNA Mapped At Birth

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What will the future hold? REB Images—Getty Images/Blend Images

Scientists have scoured trends in research grants, patents and more to come up with these 10 innovations that will be reality in 10 years (or so they think)

Everybody likes to blue-sky it when it comes to technology. Driverless cars! Fat-burning pills! Telepathic butlers! But the folks at Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science do it for a living—and they do it with data.

By examining who’s investing in what, who’s researching what and who’s patenting what, the group has come up with 10 predictions of innovation for 2025, which they presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The list included the first attempts at testing teleportation, the ubiquity of biodegradable packaging and electric air transportation.

Here’s what they say will be commonplace in medicine in a decade:

1. Dementia will be on the decline

While the World Health Organization predicts that more than 70 million people will be affected by dementia, much of it related to Alzheimer’s disease, by 2025, that upward trajectory of cases may be blunted somewhat by advances in genetics that will lead to earlier detection and possible treatment of the degenerative brain disorder.

2. We’ll be able to prevent type 1 diabetes

Unlike type 2 diabetes, which generally develops when the body gradually loses its ability to break down sugar properly, type 1 diabetics can’t produce enough insulin, the hormone that dispatches sugar from the diet. Advances in genetic engineering will lead to a more reliable technique for “fixing” genetic aberrations that contribute to type 1 diabetes as well as other metabolic disorders, making it possible to cure these conditions.

3. We will have less toxic cancer treatments

Building on the promise of targeted cancer therapies, which more precisely hone in on tumor cells while leaving healthy cells alone, researchers will have a deeper knowledge of the Achilles’ heels of cancer cells, which will help them to develop more powerful and precise drugs that can dispatch tumors with fewer side effects.

4. Every baby will get its DNA mapped at birth

It’s already a trendy thing to have your genome sequenced, but today there isn’t much you can do with the information. Having that information, however, may prove useful in the near future, both for predicting your risk of developing diseases as well as your ability to respond (or not) to certain drugs. As knowledge about the genome, and what various genes, or versions of genes do, grows, so will doctors’ ability to predict health outcomes and treat patients based on genetic information. So within a decade, getting a baseline DNA map at birth could be a valuable way of preparing to lead a healthier and possibly longer life.

TIME Research

One in 10 Deaths Due to Excessive Drinking

A group of girls drinking. Lineker's Bar, Playa de las Américas in Tenerife, Canary Islands in 2007.
A group of girls drinking. Lineker's Bar, Playa de las Américas in Tenerife, Canary Islands in 2007. PYMCA/UIG/Getty Images

The CDC says it's probably best to pass on another round

Excessive drinking accounts for one in 10 deaths among adults between ages 20-64 years, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data on alcohol-related deaths from 2006 to 2010 and found drinking too much is one of the leading causes of preventative death.

Death from alcohol abuse can happen in a variety of ways. Excessive drinking (4 or more drinks on an occasion for women, 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men) can threaten people’s health in the short term, such as by drunk driving or alcohol poisoning, but can also lead to long-term health consequences like heart disease, breast cancer and liver disease.

Excessive drinking led to 88,000 deaths per year from 2006-2010 and shortened the lives of those who died by 30 years. That equates to about 2.5 million years of potential life lost to drinking. Premature deaths due to excessive drinking costs the U.S. about $224 billion a year, or $1.90 a drink, the researchers report in the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease.

About 70% of alcohol-related deaths occurred among men. Discrepancies were also noticed state to state, with New Mexico having the highest rate of death from excessive drinking, and New Jersey the lowest.

“Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives,” said Ursula E. Bauer, director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in a statement sent to reporters. “We need to redouble our efforts to implement scientifically proven public health approaches to reduce this tragic loss of life and the huge economic costs that result.”

TIME Research

Women More Likely Than Men to Seek Mental Health Help, Study Finds

And women seek help earlier

Women with chronic physical illnesses are 10% more likely to seek support for mental health issues than men with similar illnesses, according to a new study.

The study from St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science also found that women tend to seek out mental health services months earlier than men. Researchers looked at people diagnosed with at least one of four illnesses: diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Of people diagnosed with these conditions, women were not only more likely than men to seek mental health services, but they also used medical services for mental health treatment six months earlier than men in any three-year period.

For the purposes of the study, “mental health services” were defined as one visit to a physician or specialist for mental health reasons, such as depression, anxiety, smoking addiction or marital difficulties.

“Our results don’t necessarily mean that more focus should be paid to women, however,” study author Flora Matheson, a scientist in the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, said. “We still need more research to understand why this gender divide exists.”

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, could suggest various conclusions about the way that different sexes use mental health services. It may mean that women feel more comfortable seeking mental health support than men or that men delay seeking support. The study could also imply that symptoms are worse among women, which would encourage more women to seek help and to do so sooner.

“Chronic physical illness can lead to depression,” Matheson said. “We want to better understand who will seek mental health services when diagnosed with a chronic physical illness so we can best help those who need care.”

TIME Research

Parents Are More Worried About Milk and Egg Than Peanut Allergies

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Photo by Maren Vestøl—Getty Images/Flickr Select

In surprising findings

Peanut allergies are terrifying for parents, but recent research shows they’re actually even more concerned about milk and egg allergies.

Researchers from the University of Michigan studied 305 caregivers of kids with milk, egg, peanut or tree nuts allergies, and analyzed their understanding of their child’s allergy as well as their quality of life. Parents of kids with milk and egg allergies have increased anxiety and strain over their child’s allergies compared to parents of kids allergic to peanuts, the researchers found.

“It’s assumed peanut and tree allergies are the most severe, and therefore it may be presumed they would cause the most strain for caregivers” allergist and study author Dr. Laura Howe said in a statement. “But because eggs and milk are everywhere, and used to prepare so many dishes, caregivers with children allergic to those two ingredients feel more worried and anxious.”

Peanut allergies affect about 400,000 school-aged children in the United States, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. By comparison, milk allergies affect about 300,000 U.S. kids under age three, and egg allergies effect about about 600,000. But about 70% of people with egg allergies will outgrow it by age 16.

The researchers concluded that milk and eggs are ubiquitous in the American diet. Another study showed 72% of 614 allergic infants had another reaction to their milk or egg allergies within three years—showing that avoidance is difficult.

The study was published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

TIME Research

Step Away From the Remote: Too Much TV Increases Risk For Early Death

Watching TV for too long means sitting for too long

New research reports that adults who watch three or more hours of TV a day may double their risk of premature death.

The new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association studied 13,284 young and healthy Spanish university graduates and assessed risk of early death from three sedentary behaviors: TV watching, computer time and driving time. They didn’t find any associations with computer time and driving, but they report that the risk for death was two times higher for participants who watched three or more hours at a time, even when the study authors accounted for other factors related to early death.

The findings are still considered preliminary, though this is not the first time researchers have found seriously worrisome effects from watching too much TV (for instance, it can go along with eating too much junk).

The reality is that there’s nothing coming out of the TV that’s going to kill you, but sitting in front of the TV for hours on end means you are not basically not moving at all. We already know that sitting for prolonged periods is really bad for your health, and TV is one of the most common ways to forget about exercise.

The American Heart Association says it recommends people get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.

TIME Research

Here’s What You Use to Fight Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Researchers say a tough form of fungus may hold the key to battling the bacteria that are resistant to the strongest antibiotics

There’s a war going on, and most of us can’t even see it. Man has been battling microbes for millennia, and despite their microscopic size, the bugs have been winning. But man may finally have a leg up, scientists from Canada and the U.K. say—and it’s all thanks to a humble fungus.

While antibiotics have been a powerful weapon against bacteria that can cause serious and even fatal infections, the microbes have been just as busy as drug makers in finding ways to evade the medications. What’s more, the man-made compounds also appear to pose little challenge to bacteria, which are surrounded by such molecules, made by their neighbors, other microbes or other organisms in their environments. “Bacteria seem to laugh in their face,” says Gerard Wright, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University and the new study’s senior author. The result? Most antibiotics, including penicillin and the carbapenems that have been introduced more recently, contain a chemical ring that bacteria have been remarkably adept at breaking. Once compromised, the ring and the antibiotic are neutralized.

MORE: Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Are Now In Every Part of the World

So most drug companies have tried to develop stronger, or slightly different chemical rings, but Wright and his colleagues decided to tackle the problem from a different tack. Why not disrupt the enzyme that the bacteria were using to disable the antibiotics instead?

It’s an old approach that most pharmaceutical companies have abandoned, since the strategy requires combining an antibiotic with something that disables the bacteria’s ability to resist the drug±two drugs means twice the potential complications and side effects, so most large-scale efforts have focused on building better solo antibiotics.

MORE: Antibiotic Resistant Genes Are Everywhere, Even in Arctic Ice

But aware that nature is a rich resource of organisms that naturally make compounds that can interfere with bacterial enzymes, Andrew King in Wright’s lab screened 500 such molecules and found one, from Aspergillus versicolor, that worked remarkably well in inhibiting New Delhi Metallobeta-Lactamase-1 (NDM-1), an antibiotic resistant gene that the World Health Organization recently called a global public health threat. (He also tested 30,000 synthetic compounds and none inhibited NDM-1.)

“Natural products, and especially natural products that come from microbes like bacteria and fungi, are privileged molecules, in the sense that they are products of evolution themselves, so they are much better at interacting with bacteria,” says Wright, who published his results in the journal Nature. Rather than being relatively simple and flat, like the compounds created in labs, these agents are three-dimensional with structures and functions that are difficult to recreate in a petri dish. “If we want to look for inhibitors of antibiotic resistance on a significant scale, we need to go back to these sources,” he says.

MORE: Why You Need to Worry About NDM-1: Not a ‘Superbug,’ But Still a Threat

The fungus turns out to be one of the most resilient organisms on the planet, able to survive in the harsh climates of the arctic, the salty Dead Sea and even the International Space Station. That hardiness also makes it among the most common molds in damp or water-damaged buildings and moist air ducts.

When Wright and his team tested the fungus in mice infected with lethal doses of K. pneumoniae that carried the NDM-1 resistance to antibiotics, the mice shrugged off the infection. In fact, the fungus allowed the antibiotic to work effectively again, essentially circumventing the bacteria’s attempt at resisting the drug.

“The idea of rescuing our old antibiotics, is something that folks are starting to realize is not only a good idea, but doable,” he says. He and his team hope to find similar inhibitors to neutralize resistance against the other major classes of antibiotics, but as optimistic as Wright is about the strategy, he admits that ultimately the bacteria may find ways to resist even these agents. “Resistance is a natural phenomenon’ it’s just natural selection. There’s no way to get around it.” Except perhaps to stay one step ahead of the microbes and find compounds that can thwart them…again and again.

TIME Research

New Study May Explain Why Stress Can Cause Heart Attacks

White blood cells
White blood cells Getty Images

Stress can cause an overproduction of white blood cells, which can contribute to blockages

Scientists may have identified the connection between chronic stress and heart attacks, according to a new study: white blood cells.

“[They] are important to fight infection and healing, but if you have too many of them, or they are in the wrong place, they can be harmful,” said Matthias Nahrendorf of the Harvard Medical School, who was a co-author of the study, Agence France-Presse reports.

Stress causes an overproduction of white blood cells, which defend the body against diseases but can cause problems when produced in excess. These extra cells can stick to artery walls, causing restrictions in blood flow and aiding the formation of clots that can cause blood-vessel blockages throughout the body.

Columbia University researcher and physician Dr. Alan Tall, who was not involved in the study, told Science magazine that while doctors have believed that chronic stress could lead to cardiovascular disease, the exact mechanism has not been clear in the past.

To identify the link, Nahrendorf and a group of researchers studied 29 medical residents working in the hospital’s intensive care unit — a fairly stressful place to work. Researchers collected blood samples from the residents during both the workday and off-hours, and they also administered questionnaires about residents’ stress levels. After observing an overproduction of white blood cells in residents, they performed an experiment on mice, whose white-blood-cell counts responded similarly to stress induced during the experiment.

While the research may shed new light on the connection between stress and heart attacks, Nahrendorf also says blood pressure, genetic traits, high cholesterol and smoking contribute to risks of heart attacks and strokes.

[AFP]

TIME Infectious Disease

CDC: 86 Lab Workers Possibly Infected with Anthrax

Anthrax Bacterium
Anthrax Bacterium BSIP/UIG//Universal Images Group/Getty Images

"Given that CDC expert protocols were not followed, disciplinary action(s) will be taken as necessary," the government agency wrote in a statement. The unintentional exposure was discovered on June 13 and the investigation as to what happened is ongoing

Updated at 10:50 a.m.

About 86 lab workers in Atlanta may have been infected with anthrax, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday. That’s up from the CDC’s previous estimate of 75.

The unintentional exposure was discovered on June 13 and “out of an abundance of caution” the CDC is providing antibiotics to the potentially exposed staff, according to a press statement from CDC. The government agency said that it does not believe family members or the general public are at risk.

CDC said that an investigation is ongoing but early reports indicate that “CDC expert protocols were not followed.” The statement says a sample of anthrax used in a high-level biosafety lab was not properly inactivated before it was moved to labs that were not equipped to handle live anthrax.

The agency said lab and hallway areas have been decontaminated and labs will be re-opened when they are determined to be safe, adding that it will take necessary disciplinary action.

TIME Family

Study: Less-Structured Time Correlates to Kids’ Success

Research found that young children who spend more time engaging in more open-ended, free-flowing activities display higher levels of executive functioning, and vice versa

Parents, drop your planners—a new psychological study released Tuesday found that children with less-structured time are likely to show more “self-directed executive functioning,” otherwise known as the “cognitive processes that regulate thought and action in support of goal-oriented behavior.”

Doctoral and undergraduate researchers at University of Colorado, Boulder, followed 70 children ranging from six to seven years old, measuring their activities. A pre-determined classification system categorized activities as physical or non-physical, structured and unstructured.

The resulting study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, was led by Yuko Munakata, a professor in the psychology and neuroscience department at the university. Munakata measured self-directed executive functioning using a verbal fluency test, “a standard measure on how well people can organize direct actions on their own,” she said.

The test asked children to name as elements in a particular category, like animals, as they could. “An organized person will group the animals together, listing farm animals, then move on to the next grouping,” Munakata said. “An unorganized person will say ‘cat, dog, mouse’,” providing a disconnected list of animals, inhibiting further recollection.

The results indicated that children who spend more time engaging in less-structured activities display higher levels of executive functioning. The converse also proved true: Children in more structured activities displayed lower executive functioning abilities.

“Executive function is extremely important for children,” Munakata told EurekAlert!. “It helps them in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification. Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later.”

Munakata added a disclaimer that the study merely proves correlation, not causation. “Right now we don’t know if kids self-directed executive functioning are shaping their time, or if their activities are shaping self-directed executive functioning.”

Causation is the next piece of the puzzle, and will undoubtedly be the focus of a future longitudinal study. Until then, parents looking for the perfect balance for their kids have something else to chew on.

TIME Research

Researchers Hope ‘Super Bananas’ Will Combat Vitamin A Deficiency

If approved for cultivation, the genetically engineered fruit could revolutionize child health in much of the developing world

Genetically engineered bananas, packed with micronutrients, are to undergo their first human trial in the United States to test their ability to battle rampant vitamin A deficiency — a large cause of infant death and blindness throughout low-income communities around the world.

“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000 to 700,000 children worldwide dying … each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,” the project leader, Professor James Dale from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, told AFP.

The six-week trial backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation expects to have results by the end of the year and plans to have the bananas growing in Uganda by 2020.

Standard Ugandan bananas provide sustenance to East Africa but have low levels of nutrients such as iron and vitamin A. “Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food,” said Dale.

Researchers infused the staple crop in Uganda with alpha- and beta-carotene — which the body turns into vitamin A — as an easy solution to the problem that plagues the country, but the same modification could be used on different crops as well. If the bananas are approved for growth in Uganda, other staple crops in Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya could also be engineered with micronutrients.

“In West Africa farmers grow plantain bananas and the same technology could easily be transferred to that variety as well,” Dale said.

[AFP]

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