Post List

  • April 24, 2014
  • 03:50 PM
  • 3 views

Quantum Dots Open Way For Solar Windowpanes

by Whitney Campbell in Green Screen

Recently scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Milano-Bicocca showed how, some day with the same surface, we may be able to see the sun and glean it too. By redesigning a light-grabbing nanocrystal, these material researchers devised a technique that could change sheer Plexiglas sheets into large-area solar concentrators.1... Read more »

  • April 24, 2014
  • 03:27 PM
  • 3 views

Addiction is like diabetes, so treat it the same way

by DJMac in Recovery Review

Does addiction behave like diabetes? In some ways, yes. The two are common, acquired conditions influenced by genetics and environment. In the UK, diabetes is managed in primary care using the chronic care management model. Changes in legislation in the USA mean that there will be more focus on chronic disease management in the future. [...]... Read more »

A. Thomas McLellan, Joanna L. Starrels, MD, MS, Betty Tai, PhD, Adam J. Gordon, MD, MPH, Richard Brown, MD, MPH, Udi Ghitza, PhD, Marc Gourevitch, MD, Jack Stein, PhD, Marla Oros, RN, MS, Terry Horton, MD.... (2014) Can Substance Use Disorders be Managed Using the Chronic Care Model? Review and Recommendations from a NIDA Consensus Group. Public Health Reviews. info:/

  • April 24, 2014
  • 12:32 PM
  • 2 views

Recovery too hard? Methadone for life!

by DJMac in Recovery Review

Berlin, like many big cities has a heroin problem. People presenting for help are being prescribed opioid replacement therapy (ORT) in greater numbers. That’s a good thing isn’t it? Well it depends on what you think is the end goal of treatment. At the start of this interesting recent German paper  “Why do patients stay in [...]... Read more »

Gutwinski, S., Bald, L., Gallinat, J., Heinz, A., & Bermpohl, F. (2014) Why do Patients Stay in Opioid Maintenance Treatment?. Substance Use , 49(6), 694-699. DOI: 10.3109/10826084.2013.863344  

  • April 24, 2014
  • 12:21 PM
  • 4 views

Scientists Use Airplane to Detect Methane From Fracking

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Using an airplane to detect greenhouse gas emissions from freshly drilled shale gas wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus basin, Cornell and Purdue scientists have found that leaked methane from fracking is a tougher problem—between a hundred- and a thousandfold—than previously thought.... Read more »

Caulton, D., Shepson, P., Santoro, R., Sparks, J., Howarth, R., Ingraffea, A., Cambaliza, M., Sweeney, C., Karion, A., Davis, K.... (2014) Toward a better understanding and quantification of methane emissions from shale gas development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1316546111  

  • April 24, 2014
  • 10:21 AM
  • 10 views

Severe droughts and wildfires threatens Amazonian rainforest

by Aileen Cudmore in Natural Reactions

Extreme dry weather coupled with high-intensity wildfires is already beginning to damage large areas of the Amazon rainforest, a situation that is being made worse by continued deforestation and logging. ... Read more »

Brando PM, Balch JK, Nepstad DC, Morton DC, Putz FE, Coe MT, Silvério D, Macedo MN, Davidson EA, Nóbrega CC.... (2014) Abrupt increases in Amazonian tree mortality due to drought-fire interactions. PNAS. PMID: 24733937  

  • April 24, 2014
  • 04:48 AM
  • 18 views

What You Need To Know About The New Ebola Outbreak

by Rebekah Morrow in United Academics

Recent outbreaks of Ebola virus in Guinea have made international news. Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 in the region that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa. The virus was named after the river near where it was found. Since 1976, there have been multiple outbreaks in central Africa, but this year is the first time that an outbreak has occurred as far west as Guinea and Sierra Leone.... Read more »

Groseth, A., Feldmann, H., & Strong, J. (2007) The ecology of Ebola virus. Trends in Microbiology, 15(9), 408-416. DOI: 10.1016/j.tim.2007.08.001  

Pettitt, J., Zeitlin, L., Kim, D., Working, C., Johnson, J., Bohorov, O., Bratcher, B., Hiatt, E., Hume, S., Johnson, A.... (2013) Therapeutic Intervention of Ebola Virus Infection in Rhesus Macaques with the MB-003 Monoclonal Antibody Cocktail. Science Translational Medicine, 5(199), 199-199. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006608  

  • April 24, 2014
  • 04:35 AM
  • 17 views

As if you needed telling...

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"GI [gastrointestinal] dysfunction was prevalent in this cohort of children with ASD [autism spectrum disorders], observations consistent with the reports of parents and other clinicians". That was one of the conclusions reached by Victor Kang and colleagues [1] in their study looking at GI issues in cases of autism.Of course we've been here before... many times in fact, as autism research delivers more evidence that bowel issues are quite frequently over-represented in cases of autism (see here and see here and see here). That the authors also conclude: "GI dysfunction in ASD requires proper evaluation and treatment" is the next stage in the evolution of this research area despite the fact that recommendations already exist [2] and onwards the question of whether treating said bowel issues might impact on presented core or peripheral signs and symptoms of autism. At the very least, whether dealing with bowel issues improves quality of life.There's really no need for me to say too much more about the Kang results outside of one particular point when it came to the results of the "endoscopic and colonoscopic evaluations" carried out on a small percentage of study participants involved in this work. To quote: "Inflammation of the gut was found in 6 of the 12 subjects" meaning that 50% of those examined carried some potential issue with the GI tract. Of course this is not the first time that such findings have been reported (see here and see here) and I very much doubt it will be the last either. I'm drawn back to the Stephen Walker findings (see here) as one example of where autism research might want to continue to venture when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease (if that's what I can call it) and autism, but will say little more than that at this time.And finally, I know that endoscopic evaluations are hardly desirable for anyone, which is why we should also be investing quite a bit more research into alternatives such as the wireless capsule endoscopy which has already seen some use in the area of autism research [3].----------[1] Kang V. et al. Gastrointestinal Dysfunction in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism Res. 2014 Apr 21. doi: 10.1002/aur.1386.[2] Buie T. et al. Recommendations for evaluation and treatment of common gastrointestinal problems in children with ASDs. Pediatrics. 2010 Jan;125 Suppl 1:S19-29.[3] Balzola F. et al. Panenteric IBD-like disease in a patient with regressive autism shown for the first time by the wireless capsule enteroscopy: another piece in the jigsaw of this gut-brain syndrome? Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Apr;100(4):979-81.----------Kang V, Wagner GC, & Ming X (2014). Gastrointestinal Dysfunction in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research PMID: 24753336... Read more »

Kang V, Wagner GC, & Ming X. (2014) Gastrointestinal Dysfunction in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research. PMID: 24753336  

  • April 24, 2014
  • 12:29 AM
  • 16 views

Effect of Pose/Chi type running instruction on running economy

by Craig Payne in Running Research Junkie

Effect of Pose/Chi type running instruction on running economy... Read more »

Craighead D, Lehecka N, & King DL. (2014) A novel running mechanic's class changes kinematics but not running economy. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength . PMID: 24736769  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 05:18 PM
  • 15 views

Highest Efficiency Achieved for Small GaAs Solar Cells

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have achieved the highest efficiency ever in a 9 mm2 solar cell made of gallium arsenide.... Read more »

Makableh, Y., Vasan, R., Sarker, J., Nusir, A., Seal, S., & Manasreh, M. (2014) Enhancement of GaAs solar cell performance by using a ZnO sol–gel anti-reflection coating. Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 178-182. DOI: 10.1016/j.solmat.2014.01.007  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 11:32 AM
  • 18 views

Plasmonic Metamaterials Could Improve Solar Cell Performance

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

New plasmonic metamaterials that operate at high temperatures could radically improve solar cell performance and bring advanced computer data storage technology that uses heat to record information on a magnetic disk.... Read more »

Guler, U., Boltasseva, A., & Shalaev, V. (2014) Refractory Plasmonics. Science, 344(6181), 263-264. DOI: 10.1126/science.1252722  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 11:17 AM
  • 14 views

Is interceptive orthodontics a hopeless pipedream?

by Kevin OBrien in Kevin OBrien's Orthodontic Blog

Is interceptive orthodontics a hopeless pipedream? In this blog I will address another of the “great unanswered questions” in orthodontics that featured in a previous blog. This is the long-standing issue of whether it is possible to provide interceptive orthodontics and either “cure” orthodontic problems before they develop or make any eventual treatment easier. This […]
The post Is interceptive orthodontics a hopeless pipedream? appeared first on Kevin O'Brien's Orthodontic Blog.
... Read more »

  • April 23, 2014
  • 09:36 AM
  • 21 views

Video Tip of the Week: Atlas of Cancer Signaling Networks

by Mary in OpenHelix

Last week I highlighted a software tool that lets you customize maps of molecular interactions, and navigate around at various resolutions to explore. It’s called NaviCell, and it seems to offer a lot of opportunity for folks to develop helpful maps related to their research. This week I’m going to note that this same team […]... Read more »

Kuperstein Inna, Cohen David PA, Pook Stuart, Viara Eric, Calzone Laurence, Barillot Emmanuel, & Zinovyev Andrei. (2013) NaviCell: a web-based environment for navigation, curation and maintenance of large molecular interaction maps. BMC Systems Biology, 7(1), 100. DOI: 10.1186/1752-0509-7-100  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 08:30 AM
  • 27 views

What Is A Typical Animal Hoarder?

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

Sometimes we hear their cases on the news – dozens of sick and frightened dogs or cats removed from the home of an animal hoarder. But is there a typical profile, and how big is the problem?A study by Calvo et al (2014) investigates 24 cases of animal hoarding in Spain between 2002 and 2011. Photo: schankz / ShutterstockAnimal hoarding is not simply having large numbers of pets; it also involves a lack of care for those pets, such that they are sick, not receiving veterinary care and living in unhygienic conditions. The hoarder is usually in denial about the situation and still acquiring more animals. As well as any mental health issues, the person may also suffer physical health problems from a living situation littered with animal urine, faeces, and even dead pets. For the humane societies who take in the animals, it can be a difficult problem to deal with given the sudden intake of so many creatures in poor health. Calvo et al say, “Animals coming from cases of animal hoarding sometimes must be euthanized, due to their severely affected state. The remaining animals rescued in hoarding cases usually need a lot of veterinary care and exhibit difficult-to-solve behaviour problems. This means they will not turn easily or ever into an adoptable animal.”Hoarding animals is an under-researched problem. It is not a psychiatric disorder in its own right, although it does appear under the general umbrella of hoarding disorders in the DSM-V. The authors of this paper say media reports present hoarders as devoted animal lovers or harmless eccentrics. The full scale of the problem is often not understood.The study looked at all animal hoarding cases reported to a large Spanish humane society, the Asociación Nacional de Amigos de los Animales (ANAA). Most of the cases were in Madrid, although some were in other parts of the country and were referred to the ANAA by other humane societies. It is likely there were other cases in Spain during this time that went un-noticed or were not reported to ANAA.Previous research has suggested that most hoarders are female. In this study, about half of the hoarders were male and half female. It seems that hoarding is a middle-aged or older person’s problem, with 63% of the hoarders aged over 65 and about another third in middle-age. As in previous studies, most of the hoarders lived alone, although three lived with someone else. All of them were said to have a bad or borderline financial situation.Hoarders are typically unaware there is a problem, and this was the case for most of the people in this study too. Only 3 of the 24 cases admitted there was a problem with their living conditions, and only 1 agreed that the animal’s welfare was compromised. Although only 24 cases, a total of 1218 animals were involved, mostly dogs and cats. It was more common to hoard only dogs, but some hoarded only cats or both cats and dogs. Some hoarders were experiencing an increase in animals because they had not spayed or neutered them, and so accidental breeding was taking place. Some of the hoarders were deliberately acquiring more animals by seeking out strays or deliberate breeding.The most common reasons for a complaint to be made to ANAA were ‘animals in need of medical care’, ‘malnourished or mistreated animals’, and ‘excessive number of animals’. The person making the complaint was typically a neighbour, but other humane societies also frequently reported problems.The animals were in a sorry state, without proper access to food and water, and many of them were sick. Although previous research has found a tendency for dead animals, that was only true of 4 of the 24 cases.It seems that in many cases, hoarding had already been going on for five years, suggesting there might be ways of developing earlier interventions. Hoarding is known as a difficult problem to solve, and 3 of the cases were ‘recidivist’ where people had started to hoard again after earlier intervention.44% of the animal hoarders also showed signs of object hoarding, and this is similar to previous research.The authors say, “Our study supports the idea that animal hoarding should be considered and recognized as a genuine form of animal abuse and incompetent pet ownership.” Another striking finding is that when animals were removed, no further assistance was provided to hoarders to help with any underlying psychiatric or medical problems. This could be one reason why some of the hoarders were recidivists. Further research is needed to see if other agencies (such as medical professionals and social services) could work with humane societies to design programs to prevent re-offending.Is animal hoarding a problem in your community?ReferenceCalvo, P., Duarte, C., Bowen, J., Bulbena, A., & Fatjó, J. (2014). Characteristics of 24 cases of animal hoarding in Spain Animal Welfare, 23 (2), 199-208 DOI: 10.7120/09627286.23.2.199You might also like: Is having many cats an early sign of animal hoarding? ... Read more »

Calvo, P., Duarte, C., Bowen, J., Bulbena, A., & Fatjó, J. (2014) Characteristics of 24 cases of animal hoarding in Spain. Animal Welfare, 23(2), 199-208. DOI: 10.7120/09627286.23.2.199  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 08:25 AM
  • 22 views

Chili Peppers Run Hot And Cold

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Hot peppers are hot because their capsaicin binds to the TRPV1 heat sensing ion channel. Agonists of TRPV1 can lead to a hypothermia, while antagonists result in a hyperthermia. Normally these would be poor outcomes, but there are particular instances that new researchs are showing to be beneficial. Brown adipose tissue is promoted by TRPV1 agonists, and studies are showing that capsaicin can hinder formation of white adipose tissue. Likewise, agonists of TRPV1 can induce a protective hypothermia in instances of strokes and other conditions that could lead to reperfusion injury.... Read more »

Yoneshiro T, Aita S, Matsushita M, Kayahara T, Kameya T, Kawai Y, Iwanaga T, & Saito M. (2013) Recruited brown adipose tissue as an antiobesity agent in humans. The Journal of clinical investigation, 123(8), 3404-8. PMID: 23867622  

Feng Z, Hai-Ning Y, Xiao-Man C, Zun-Chen W, Sheng-Rong S, & Das UN. (2014) Effect of yellow capsicum extract on proliferation and differentiation of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 30(3), 319-25. PMID: 24296036  

Muzzi M, Felici R, Cavone L, Gerace E, Minassi A, Appendino G, Moroni F, & Chiarugi A. (2012) Ischemic neuroprotection by TRPV1 receptor-induced hypothermia. Journal of cerebral blood flow and metabolism : official journal of the International Society of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, 32(6), 978-82. PMID: 22434066  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 07:02 AM
  • 39 views

How can I convince them this wasn’t racist? Just keep talking…

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

We just can’t keep up with all the research on racism. So today, instead of a single article, we’re going to cite 3 of them! They are all disturbing examples that racism is alive, well, and measurable.  Was s/he a good professor? We’ve all sat through disorganized and incoherent lectures at some point in our […]

Related posts:
“I’ve got proof I’m open-minded!”: Inventing racist roads not taken
“I guess what he said wasn’t that bad”
Racist roads not taken and prejudice-based aggression


... Read more »

Reid, L., & Birchard, K. (2010) The People Doth Protest Too Much: Explaining Away Subtle Racism. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29(4), 478-490. DOI: 10.1177/0261927X10377993  

Terbeck S, Kahane G, McTavish S, Savulescu J, Cowen PJ, & Hewstone M. (2012) Propranolol reduces implicit negative racial bias. Psychopharmacology, 222(3), 419-24. PMID: 22371301  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 07:00 AM
  • 26 views

How ginseng works against flu

by Patricia Pedro in United Academics

Not that long ago, I heard about ginseng in my Plants’ Diversity class, but it was not given that much relevance. Soon after that, ginseng teas and supplements and a panoply of ginseng-made products appeared in the market. Then I finally realized I may not have given ginseng the importance it deserves.... Read more »

Lee JS, Hwang HS, Ko EJ, Lee YN, Kwon YM, Kim MC, & Kang SM. (2014) Immunomodulatory activity of red ginseng against influenza A virus infection. Nutrients, 6(2), 517-29. PMID: 24473234  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 06:48 AM
  • 24 views

Why are some syllables preferred?

by Janet Kwasniak in Neuro-patch

 In a recent paper by Berent and others (citation below) they investigate language universals in syllable structure. Their argument goes: there is a preference for certain syllables over others across languages and even in people whose language does not include those syllables; a set of four syllables which do not occur in English shows this […]... Read more »

Berent, I., Pan, H., Zhao, X., Epstein, J., Bennett, M., Deshpande, V., Seethamraju, R., & Stern, E. (2014) Language Universals Engage Broca's Area. PLoS ONE, 9(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095155  

  • April 23, 2014
  • 04:25 AM
  • 31 views

Phenylalanine and schizophrenia: new directions for intervention?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

As regular readers might already have noticed, amino acids are a bit of a obsession of mine on this blog. Out of all of them - and there are quite a few - I'm particularly interested in the aromatic amino acids and the their various connections to health and wellbeing. I've talked at length about some of the proposed connections made between amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylalanine to all manner of conditions but specifically with the autism spectrum in mind (see here).The conversion. Matthews (2007) J Nutr. 137: 15495-15555.Phenylalanine (or Phe) has been a particular favourite on this blog, not least because of its connection to that most classical 'diet can affect mental health' condition known as Phenylketonuria (PKU). As per other research chatter however, the connection between phenylalanine and PKU might just be the tip of the iceberg (see here). Indeed, today that iceberg just got a little bigger as I discuss the paper by Olaoluwa Okusaga and colleagues* (open-access) and their observations of elevated blood levels of phenylalanine in cases of schizophrenia. Such findings might indeed have some important management consequences as you'll see shortly when it comes to the use of something called BH4.The Okusaga paper is open-access but a few of the important details:Well, one can't say that this was an under-powered study from a participant number point of view, as blood samples from 950 adult participants with a confirmed diagnosis of schizophrenia via the SCID were compared with 1000 asymptomatic controls for levels of phenylalanine and tyrosine.Analysis of samples was via HPLC with fluorescence detection, which whilst OK as a separative-detection method is not exactly the gold-standard that is mass spectrometry (MS) or nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). From the measures of phenylalanine and tyrosine, an estimate of the activity of phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) was also calculated and expressed as a phenylalanine: tyrosine ratio**. PAH represents an important step in the conversion of phenylalanine to tyrosine, which then proceeds down a metabolic pathway to eventually end up as dopamine. It's worth pointing out that dopamine has some important research history when it comes to the presentation of schizophrenia or at least, that's the suggestion (see here).Results: well bearing in mind some issues with the matching of the two sample groups in terms of age and BMI (a higher BMI in the schizophrenia group bearing in mind that these were not medication-naive participants), the schizophrenia group "had significantly higher Phe (geometric mean difference 1.26 µmol/L; CI 1.18 to 1.36, p<0.0001) and Phe:Tyr ratio (geometric mean difference 1.41; CI 1.33 to 1.48, p<0.0001) compared to healthy controls and this finding persisted after controlling for gender, age, education, and BMI differences between the 2 groups". As a group however, there was no significant differences for the schizophrenia and control groups when it came to measures of tyrosine although "lower levels of Tyr are more common among schizophrenia patients".The authors conclude that alongside further, more controlled study with regards to sample collection (including looking at measures of inflammation), there may also be some merit in looking at the potential effects of "Phe-lowering interventions in schizophrenia".As I mentioned before, Phe-lowering interventions very much includes the use of BH4, but could also mean the rather more invasive use of a low phenylalanine diet (and then tyrosine supplements?) more commonly indicated for cases of PKU. I should point out that this does not mean I am in any way endorsing such a dietary change or pharmacological action at this time as a function of my caveat on this blog about not giving medical or clinical advice. That being said, the research gauntlet has been thrown down by the results of the Okusaga study so I'll be keeping my eyes open for future work in this area. There is other evidence suggestive of issues with the availability of BH4 in cases of schizophrenia as per the results from Richardson and colleagues*** which also extended to related schizoaffective disorder too****. Given that BH4 provides an important support service to a variety of enzymes relevant to the metabolism of aromatic amino acids (think tryptophan hydroxylase, TPH, for example), lower levels are probably not all that desirable. This might be particularly important to ensuring phenylalanine does not build up to too higher levels and the effects that can have*****.Aside from the phenylalanine-lowering interventions call made from the Okusaga study, a few other questions are floating round my mind. So, at what point do phenylalanine levels become elevated in some cases of schizophrenia? I'd assume that as per the quite comprehensive use of the Guthrie test these days, we aren't talking about participants reaching the cut-off points for PKU in early infancy, so when does this issue present itself in cases of schizophrenia and why? I'm also interested in the cognitive effects of [chronic] elevated phenylalanine levels and how this might also map onto similar elevations noted in cases of schizophrenia too. Noting the increasing interest in cognition and schizophrenia (see this paper****** for example) and the growing  importance of cognitive impairment to cases, could the elevated phenylalanine results merely reflect this one facet of schizophrenia?So you can see that there is a lot more to do in this area. Given also that schizophrenia, like autism, is probably better represented on a spectrum model, the question is also whether hyperphenylalaninemia in relation to cases of schizophrenia might represent one particular part of that schizophrenia spectrum? At least one other study suggests possibly******* (open-access) with quite a novel alternative method for detecting phenylalanine used. A lot more to do in this area methinks.Music to close. Driftwood by Travis.----------* Okusaga O. et al. Elevated Levels of Plasma Phenylalanine in Schizophrenia: A Guanosine Triphosphate Cyclohydrolase-1 Metabolic Pathway Abnormality? PLoS ONE 2014. 9(1): e85945.** Matthews DE. An Overview of Pheny... Read more »

Olaoluwa Okusaga, Olesja Muravitskaja, Dietmar Fuchs, Ayesha Ashraf, Sarah Hinman, Ina Giegling, Annette M. Hartmann, Bettina Konte, Marion Friedl, Jason Schiffman.... (2014) Elevated Levels of Plasma Phenylalanine in Schizophrenia: A Guanosine Triphosphate Cyclohydrolase-1 Metabolic Pathway Abnormality?. PLoS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0085945  

  • April 22, 2014
  • 10:40 PM
  • 31 views

Autism, SSRIs, and Epidemiology 101

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

I can understand the eagerness with which science writers jump on stories that deal with new findings about autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). After all, the mystery surrounding the rapid increase in ASD rates over the past 20 years (see right) has made any ASD-related study that may offer some clues inherently interesting. Because people are anxiously awaiting some explanation of this medical enigma, it seems like science writers almost have an obligation to discuss new findings concerning the causes of ASD.The problem with many epidemiological studies involving ASD, however, is that we are still grasping at straws. There seem to be some environmental influences in ASD, but the nature of those influences is, at this point, very unclear. This lack of clarity means that the study of nearly any environmental risk factor starts out having potential legitimacy. And I don't mean that as a criticism of these studies -- it's just where we're at in our understanding of the rise in ASD rates. After we account for mundane factors like increases in diagnosis due simply to greater awareness of the disorder, there's a lot left to figure out.So, with all this in mind, it's understandable (at least in theory) to me why a study published last week in the journal Pediatrics became international news. The study looked at a sample of children that included healthy individuals along with those who had been diagnosed with ASD or another disorder involving delayed development. They asked the mothers of these children about their use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy. 1 in 10 Americans is currently taking an antidepressant, and SSRIs are the most-frequently prescribed type of antidepressant. Thus, SSRIs are administered daily by a significant portion of the population.Before I tell you what the results of the study were, let me tell you why we should be somewhat cautious in interpreting them. This study is what is known as a case-control study. In a case-control study, investigators identify a group of individuals with a disorder (the cases) and a group of individuals without the disorder (the controls). Then, the researchers employ some method (e.g. interviews, examination of medical records) to find out if the cases and controls were exposed to some potential risk factor in the past. They compare rates of exposure between the two groups and, if more cases than controls had exposure to the risk factor, it allows the researchers to make an argument for this factor as something that may increase the risk of developing the disease/disorder.If you take any introductory epidemiology (i.e. the study of disease) course, however, you will learn that a case-control study is fraught with limitations. For, even if you find that a particular exposure is frequently associated with a particular disease, you still have no way of knowing if the exposure is causing the disease or if some other factor is really the culprit. For example, in a study done at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, researchers found that children who slept with nightlights on had a greater risk of nearsightedness when they got older. This case-control study garnered a lot of public attention as parents began to worry that they might be ruining their kids' eyesight by allowing them to use a nightlight. Subsequent studies, however, found that children inherit alleles for nearsightedness from their parents. Nearsighted parents were coincidentally more likely to use nightlights in their children's rooms (probably because it made it easier for the nearsighted parents to see).A variable that isn't part of the researcher's hypothesis, but still influences a study's results is known as a confounding variable. In the case of the nearsightedness study, the confounding variable was genetics. Case-control studies are done after the fact, and thus experimenters have little control over other influences that may have affected the development of disease. Thus, there are often many confounding influences on relationships detected in case-control studies.So, a case-control study can't be used to confirm a cause-and-effect connection between an exposure and a disorder or disease. What it can do is provide leads that scientists can then follow up on using a more rigorous experimental design (like a cohort study or randomized trial). Indeed, the scientific literature is replete with case-control studies that ended up being false leads. Sometimes, however, case-control results have been replicated with better designs, leading to important discoveries. This is exactly what happened with early reports examining smoking and lung cancer.Back to the recent study conducted by Harrington et al. The authors found that SSRI use during the first trimester was more common in mothers whose children went on to develop ASD than in mothers who had children who developed normally. The result was only barely statistically significant. This fact combined with the variability seen in the confidence interval suggests it is not an overly-convincing finding - but it was a finding nonetheless. In addition to an increased risk of ASD, the authors also point out that SSRI exposure during the second and third trimesters was higher among mothers of boys with other developmental delays. Again, however, the effect was just barely statistically significant and even less convincing than the result concerning ASD.So, the study ended up with some significant results that aren't all that impressive. Regardless, because this was a case-control design, there is little we can conclude from the study. To realize why, think about what other factors women who take SSRIs might have in common. Perhaps one of those influences, and not the SSRI use itself, is what led to an increased risk of ASD. For example, it seems plausible that the factors that make a mother more susceptible to a psychiatric disorder might also play a role in making her child more susceptible to a neurodevelopmental disorder. In fact, a cohort study published last year with a much larger sample size found that, when the influence of the condition women were taking SSRIs for was controlled for, there was no significant association between SSRI use during pregnancy and ASD.The fact that this case-control study doesn't solve the mystery of ASD isn't a knock on the study itself. If anything, it's a knock on science journalism. I can't go so far as to say these types of studies shouldn't be reported on. But, they should be reported on responsibly, and by writers who fully understand and acknowledge their shortcomings. For, it is somewhat misleading to the general public (who likely isn't aware of the limitations of a case-control study) when headlines like this appear: "Study: Moms on antidepressants risk having autistic baby boys."The safety of SSRI use during pregnancy is still very unclear. But both SSRIs and untreated depression during pregnancy have been linked to negative health outcomes for a child. Thus, using SSRIs during pregnancy is something a woman should discuss at length with her doctor to determine if treatment of the underlying condition poses more of a risk than leaving the condition untreated. In making that decision, however, the barely significant findings from a case-control study should not really be taken into consideration.Study: Moms on antidepressants risk having autistic baby boysRead more at http://www.wnd.com/2014/04/study-moms-on-antidepressants-risk-having-autistic-baby-boys/#u7bijOy3WcbiiLQK.99... Read more »

  • April 22, 2014
  • 09:15 PM
  • 21 views

Removal of crop residue for biofuels increases CO2 emissions

by Jonathan Trinastic in Goodnight Earth

A computational study has shown that removal of residue from crop fields increases CO2 emissions... Read more »

Liska, A., Yang, H., Milner, M., Goddard, S., Blanco-Canqui, H., Pelton, M., Fang, X., Zhu, H., & Suyker, A. (2014) Biofuels from crop residue can reduce soil carbon and increase CO2 emissions. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2187  

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