Stories about: prevention

Seeking a way to keep organs young

Images of mouse hearts with fibrosis
These mouse hearts show differing levels of fibrosis (blue) resulting from cardiac stress. New Boston Children’s Hospital research suggests certain therapies could prevent or reduce fibrosis, like we see in the center and right images.

The wear and tear of life takes a cumulative toll on our bodies. Our organs gradually stiffen through fibrosis, which is a process that deposits tough collagen in our body tissue. Fibrosis happens little by little, each time we experience illness or injury. Eventually, this causes our health to decline.

“As we age, we typically accumulate more fibrosis and our organs become dysfunctional,” says Denisa Wagner, PhD, the Edwin Cohn Professor of Pediatrics in the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine and a member of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Ironically, fibrosis can stem from our own immune system’s attempt to defend us during injury, stress-related illness, environmental factors and even common infections.

But a Boston Children’s team of scientists thinks preventative therapies could be on the horizon. A study by Wagner and her team, published recently by the Journal of Experimental Medicine, pinpoints a gene responsible for fibrosis and identifies some possible therapeutic solutions.

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Battling rising hypertension in children: 5 tools

FDR (here signing the Declaration of War against Japan, 1941) died from a stroke caused by years of hypertension. Millions of U.S. children could meet the same fate - unless we act now.

While many of us recall that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had polio, few remember that he died in 1945 from another cause: stroke. The sentiment of his physician — that it “had come out of the clear sky” — reflected the prevailing view that heart attack and stroke were bolts from the blue that doctors could act on only after the event.

But a few mavericks challenged this “salvage” paradigm, establishing the Framingham Heart Study in 1948 to identify predictors of cardiovascular events. One leading maverick, Dr. William Kannel, who passed away last month, coined the term “risk factors” to describe these predictors. Acting on the insight that controlling risk factors could prevent cardiovascular disease saved the lives of more than 150,000 Americans from heart disease alone between 1980 and 2000.

Judging by the surviving medical records, Roosevelt’s stroke may have been preventable with treatment for one such risk factor, hypertension. How different would the world have been had his persistent high blood pressure been treated?

The world is different now, not all for the better. High blood pressure has been attacking more and more children over the last 30 years,

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Building an active barrier against HIV: Topical RNAi

A painting at the U.N. shows a condom over the world to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. But what if we could find a longer-lasting, more reliable topical treatment? (Photo: Island Nimbus/Flickr)

This month marks an anniversary that no one wants to see: 30 years since the first paper describing what we know now as HIV/AIDS.

Over those three decades, more than 30 million people worldwide have died from the disease. We have learned a great deal – how HIV is passed from person to person, how long it circulated among humans before it was recognized, how to control it with antiretroviral drugs. Yet HIV still spreads: An additional 2.6 million people were infected with it in 2009 alone. Safe sex practices like condom use provide an effective barrier against passage of the virus, but don’t affect HIV’s ability to gain a foothold should the barrier fail.

Judy Lieberman and Lee Adam Wheeler want to move prevention beyond one-time physical blockades to longer-lasting, more reliable molecular resistance. “The current model of HIV transmission holds that the virus is localized to the genital tract for about a week,” says Lieberman, “which could provide a window of opportunity to intervene and prevent the infection from establishing itself throughout the body.”

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