Author: Carol Cruzan Morton

A digital upbringing

It seems positively quaint to care about the amount of time kids spend watching TV. These days, a television is often mere audiovisual wallpaper for a teen or preteen who is texting on his cell phone while listening to music on earphones and, on the computer, checking out an online video (oops, he sees you! quick screen change to homework).

What impact is this full multimedia immersion having on a generation of kids? For all the social and educational benefits of digital devices, studies also have linked texting and the state of being constantly wired to bad educational and health outcomes. But no one’s really quantified this exposure, or the degree of media multitasking – until now.

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

Holiday books: Wrapping it up

In this final installment of our year-end book sampling, themes range from looks back at past eras of great (and goofy) discovery to modern conundrums of mind and pharmaceutical risks.

The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy, by Bill Hayes (Bellevue Literary Press, 2009). Growing up, I often sat on the rug paging through my dad’s old textbooks. Stashed in a neglected lower corner of a bookcase, the academic detritus of his medical and public health degrees contained pictures of naked people, a curiosity-satisfying attraction that neighbor kids also soon discovered.

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

Harnessing the hygiene hypothesis to prevent asthma

How do dirty environments protect against asthma?   (bigcityal/Flickr)

Certain infections in young children might shape their immune systems in a way that protects them from developing allergic asthma, says a new study in mice. The study shows how that may happen, and showed that the same effect can be achieved using a compound that can be made synthetically.

“Some infections appear to result in important protective effects against asthma,” says Dale Umetsu, of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Division of Immunology, a senior author of the paper. “But we certainly don’t want to give people dangerous infections to prevent asthma. So if we can understand how infections prevent asthma,

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

Holiday books 2: Evidence-based reading and ranting

As part two of our series of Friday holiday book posts, we’re featuring some reader suggestions. Among these are some of the most popular books now at Children’s Hospital Boston, as judged by their turnover. “We can’t keep them in the library,” says head librarian Alison Clapp.

The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, by Sonia Shah (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). Vampires may be all the rage in some circles, but they cannot compete against female mosquitoes risking a life-ending swat to acquire a drop of precious blood to nourish their eggs.

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

Holiday book guide: Biomedical page turners

Today, in year-end tradition, we present a few titles related to science and medicine. Our criteria? Sumptuous stories, clever topics, smart issues and a good read. We’re hoping you’ll add your top pick, and tell us why.

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, by Maryn McKenna (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010). Earning her nickname, Scary Disease Girl, McKenna investigates the global epidemic of drug-resistant staph infection. A former beat reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution covering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McKenna interweaves life-shattering accounts of the flesh-eating bacteria in men, women and children with the short and sobering history of MRSA

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

The shape of things to come

Detailed image of a bacterial enzyme used to degrade a major organic pollutant.

Imagine you’re a long-suffering biologist, and imagine that the problem is figuring out the three-dimensional shape of a very important molecule. The solution could lead to (a) new insights into disease and potential therapies, and (b) career advancement. What if someone gave you virtually unlimited computer power that could crack the problem you’re trying to solve overnight?

team at Children’s Hospital Boston has created a super-charged way of solving molecule shapes, harnessing idle scientific computer time across the country and around the world to survey vast reference databases – a “Google Shape” if you will.

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

The latest twists in angiogenesis research

Medulloblastoma cells (green) are growing around this cerebellar blood vessel and inducing growth of new vessels nearby (red). Courtesy Matija Snuderl & Rakesh Jain.

An update last week on angiogenesis research revealed surprising twists in the story of fighting cancer by cutting off the tumor’s blood supply. The latest findings, reported by top researchers at an international pediatric oncology meeting in Boston, show that the story is much more nuanced. If big questions seem to go begging in the emerging story, you’re not alone in thinking so!

Anti-angiogenic drugs can kill some tumors by cutting off their blood supply. But surprisingly, in two animal studies using very high doses, the drugs turned some tumors more malignant and metastatic, said Rakesh Jain, PhD, by increasing the hypoxic zone; low oxygen conditions somehow promote tumor progression in these models.

Read Full Story | 2 Comments | Leave a Comment

The incredible shrinking hamster prostate

For most men, it’s just a matter of time until an enlarged prostate compels more frequent trips to the bathroom, day and night. A new study from Children’s researchers and colleagues implicates circulating cholesterol and suggests a potential new prevention and therapeutic strategy. The findings are reported in the October Journal of Urology.

The paper is an interesting culmination of a story that goes back nearly 40 years. And granted, it’s a hamster study, but if the research is able to go forward, it could mean a new use for an existing cholesterol-lowering drug.

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

Stem cell experiments in genetic blood diseases

The green tips of these chromosomes are telomeres, whose length is a measure of cellular "aging" and determines how many times a cell can divide.

In a roomful of kids’ cancer specialists, like those listening to the keynote speech by George Daley, closing an international pediatric oncology meeting in Boston, the Myc gene is better known as a mutated weapon of mass destruction.

But this driver of cancer growth is also part of a four-gene cocktail that can reprogram an adult skin cell back into an embryonic-like stem cell that holds great therapeutic potential.

Read Full Story | 2 Comments | Leave a Comment

Helping disease cells handle the stress of reprogramming

Fanconi anemia cells have multiple defects in response to DNA damage, making it hard to create iPS cells from them.

I’m attending an international pediatric oncology meeting in Boston with about 2,000 other people. In a session on gene therapy, David Williams, chief of Hematology/ Oncology at Children’s, talked about trying to treat a rare inherited bone marrow failure syndrome, Fanconi anemia, by correcting the gene in the patient’s blood stem cells. It didn’t work the first time, but he has a new tactic.

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment