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Looking beyond allergies: Does IgE keep a wary eye out for cancer?

watchdog IgE allergies cancer

Allergies of all kinds—to food, pollen, pets, etc.—can be blamed on a kind of antibody called IgE. Cousins of the more common IgG, IgE antibodies work with immune cells called mast cells to trigger the symptoms we associate with an allergic reaction (itchy skin, runny nose, closing throat, etc.).

Edda Fiebiger, PhD, has been studying IgE and allergies for years, and has noticed a curious association in several epidemiologic studies: people with high levels of IgE in their blood (as in people with allergies) have a lower risk of certain cancers. This—and the discovery of human IgE antibodies that bind to tumor antigens—suggests that IgE may help protect the body from cancer, and has given rise to a whole new field dubbed AllergoOncology.

But how does it work? In a recent paper in Cell Reports, Fiebiger and her colleagues reveal a pathway by which IgE may keep watch for tumor cells, one that’s totally separate from its allergic role.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of April 20, 2015

(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)
(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese team reports gene-editing human embryos (MIT Technology Review)
Using the CRISPR technique, the researchers attempted to correct the gene for thalassemia in fertilized eggs. The experiment showed that the technique is far from ready from clinical use, and added new fuel to the already-fiery debate over editing genes in human embryos.

How Apple is building an ecosystem for your body (Fast Company)
The company’s HealthKit and ResearchKit together may form the core of a new “digital ecosystem” for health data and digital medicine, just as iTunes did for music and movies. But a lot of unanswered questions remain that could affect Apple’s chances for success in the health arena.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of April 13, 2015

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Can a smart vest help people who are deaf “hear” speech? (The Atlantic)
Inventor and neuroscientist David Eagleman has created a vest that transmits spoken words into vibrations in a vest that can be felt and translated- or effectively “heard”- by the wearer.

Electrified: Adventures in transcranial direct current stimulation (The New Yorker)
Neuroscientists at the University of New Mexico have developed a brain stimulation therapy they believe may have a whole host of benefits, from chronic pain relief to improved memory function. Our own Alexander Rotenberg, MD, PhD, weighed in on this technique’s potential applications in pediatrics in a Vector post last summer.

The problem with satisfied patients (The Atlantic)
When patient satisfaction surveys are directly tied to federal funding, hospital administrators put extra effort into making patients happy. But does happier always mean healthier?

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First six months of life are best for stimulating child heart growth

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In these sample sections of mouse heart, the color blue signifies scar tissue. Damage from scarring was minimized by early administration of the drug neuregulin.

Developing a child-centric approach to treating heart failure is no easy task. For one thing, the underlying causes of decreased cardiac function in children vastly differ from those in adults. While most adults with heart failure have suffered a heart attack, heart failure in children is more likely the result of congenital heart disease (CHD), or a structural defect present at birth that impairs heart function. And most therapies designed for adults haven’t proven equally effective in children.

Stimulating heart muscle cells to regenerate is one way cardiac researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Translational Research Center hope to restore function to children’s ailing hearts. In this area, children actually have an advantage over adults: their young heart cells are better suited for regrowth.

Reporting in the April 1 Science Translational Medicine, Brian Polizzotti, PhD, and Bernhard Kuhn, MD, demonstrate that not only does the drug neuregulin trigger heart cell regeneration and improve overall heart function in newborn mice, but its effects are most potent for humans within the first six months of life.

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Meet Huggable, the robotic teddy bear designed for sick kids

Nobody likes being confined to a hospital bed. Children especially can feel lonely, bored or scared in these situations. Hours feel like days, and they may not be able to fully understand or describe why they are there.

Child life specialists have long understood that tapping into playtime can bring up information about a child’s social and emotional needs that might not be revealed in more structured clinical assessments. But what if you cannot physically be in the room?

Deirdre Logan, PhD, Director of Psychology Services in Pain Medicine, and Peter Weinstock, MD, PhD, Director of the Boston Children’s Simulator Program (SIMPeds), may have found the answer. Along with a dedicated, multidisciplinary research team from Boston Children’s, MIT’s Media Lab, and Northeastern University, they have designed a robotic teddy bear that may be able to supplement care team interactions on inpatient units.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of March 23, 2015

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Single-Dose Cures for Malaria, Other Diseases (MIT Technology Review)
Pills that deliver a full course of treatment in one swallow could, or “super pills,” could simplify the treatment of diseases such as malaria and potentially produce cost savings that stretch into the $100 billion a year range, according to Bob Langer, PhD, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Meet the researcher behind “heart on a chip”

Pu and wife and waterfallFrom a series on researchers and innovators at Boston Children’s Hospital.

With all of the recent buzz about precision medicine, it’s no wonder that William Pu, MD is gaining recognition for his innovative application of stem cell science and gene therapy to study Barth syndrome, a type of heart disease that severely weakens heart muscle. Pu’s research was recently recognized by the American Heart Association as one of the top ten cardiovascular disease research advances of 2014.

Can you describe your work and its potential impact on patient care?

We modeled a form of heart-muscle disease in a dish. To do this, we converted skin cells from patients with a genetic heart muscle disease into stem cells, which we then instructed to turned into cardiomyocytes (heart-muscle cells) that have the genetic defect. We then worked closely with bioengineers to fashion the cells into contracting tissues, a “heart-on-a-chip.”

How was the idea that sparked this innovation born?

This innovation combined the fantastic, ground-breaking advances from many other scientists. It is always best to stand on the shoulders of giants.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of February 9, 2015

Children what we've been reading Flickr thomaslife https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomaslife/4508639159
(Photo: thomaslife/Flickr)

Vector’s picks of recent pediatric healthcare, science and innovation news.

Encryption wouldn’t have stopped Anthem’s data breach (MIT Technology Review)
Hackers got their hands on the personal information and Social Security numbers of 80 million people when they broke into the network of health insurer Anthem health. But encryption alone wouldn’t have been enough to keep those data safe.

Could a wireless pacemaker let hackers take control of your heart? (Science)
Medical devices like pacemakers, insulin pumps and defibrillators are getting ever smaller and more wirelessly connected. But are those connections secure enough?

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What we’ve been reading: Week of February 2, 2015

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Vector’s pick of recent pediatric healthcare, science and innovation news.

The problem with precision medicine (The New Yorker)
President Obama’s recently announced plan to invest $215 million in precision medicine – which uses DNA testing to personalize medical care- has many in the medical community cheering. Others, however, are concerned that DNA sequencing is still far from optimized and many of the best doctors remain unfamiliar with how to appropriately integrate genetic results into their care plans.

Schools may solve the anti-vaccine parenting deadlock (The Atlantic)
The recent outbreak of measles in the U.S. shed light on the growing number of parents “opting out” of vaccinating their kids.  Public schools are fighting anti-vaxxers in the courts- and precedent is on their side.

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Medical device panel outlines pathways to market

Physicians often dream of creating new devices to help their patients, but few are able to bring a device to market. At a panel discussion earlier this month at Boston Children’s Hospital, an entrepreneur, a venture capitalist and medical device industry experts offered advice for inventors who want to make their medical device a commercial reality. Here’s some of what they had to say.

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