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Friday, October 16, 2009

Today in the News (16 Oct 09)

Autism:
Mechanism Of Gene Linked To Autism, Schizophrenia Pinpointed. A Stanford University School of Medicine researcher has pinpointed the mechanism by which a gene associated with both autism and schizophrenia influences behavior in mice. And just recently, he received a $1.65 million government grant to expand his efforts to include many more such genes. In a study to be published online on Oct. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Thomas Sudhof, MD, the Avram Goldstein Professor in the School of Medicine and professor of molecular and cellular physiology, characterized key neurophysiological changes wrought by the deletion of a particular gene in bioengineered mice. The team further identified behavioral changes in the mice that are similar to some symptoms of autism and schizophrenia.

Experts Summarize State Of The Science In Autism Disorders. Scientific understanding and medical treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have advanced significantly over the past several years, but much remains to be done, say experts from the Center for Autism Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who recently published a scientific review of the field. "We summarized many new findings by autism researchers throughout the world, and give our perspective on the current state of the science in autism spectrum disorders," said lead author Susan E. Levy, M.D., a developmental pediatrician and medical director of the Regional Autism Center at Children's Hospital. "We hope our review will be a useful reference for healthcare professionals working with ASD patients and families."

And AGAIN: No Scientific Link Between Childhood Vaccines And Autism, Review Shows. A new article recently published in the Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing explored vaccination history, vaccine safety monitoring systems in the U.S., and the two most publicized theoretical vaccine-related exposures associated with autism – the vaccine preservative thimerosal and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. A review of published research shows that there is not convincing scientific evidence supporting a relationship between vaccines and autism. The article is part of a special issue, which includes five articles focusing on the topic of autism. By definition, the onset of autism occurs prior to age three. No clear cause of autism has been identified, although various possible associations have been examined. There has been growing interest in environmental exposures, including vaccinations. Childhood vaccinations are administered as early as possible to assure that infants are protected against diseases that occur in early childhood. This time period often coincides with the time period that autism may be suspected or diagnosed.

Vaccines:
Earlier Flu Viruses Provided Some Immunity To Current H1N1 Influenza, Study Shows. University of California, Davis, researchers studying the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, formerly referred to as "swine flu," have identified a group of immunologically important sites on the virus that are also present in seasonal flu viruses that have been circulating for years. These molecular sites appear to result in some level of immunity to the new virus in people who were exposed to the earlier influenza viruses. More than a dozen structural sites, or epitopes, in the virus may explain why many people over the age of 60, who were likely exposed to similar viruses earlier in life, carry antibodies or other type of immunity against the new virus, immune responses that could be attributed to earlier flu exposure and vaccinations.

Girls Aware Of HPV Vaccine's Benefits. Contrary to concerns that the human papillomavirus vaccine might promote promiscuity, a national survey of girls and young women found that the majority of respondents did not believe the HPV vaccine protected them against other sexually transmitted infections. The study, conducted by University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Chicago researchers, appears online and in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. The findings are reassuring in that girls and young women did not think that the vaccine provided benefits beyond protecting them from HPV, said Dr. Rachel Caskey, assistant professor of pediatrics and general internal medicine at UIC and lead author of the study. "We also found that they did not think that they could stop cervical cancer screening, or pap smears, which is critical."

Evolution:
Sex In The Caribbean: Environmental Change Drives Evolutionary Change, Eventually. Hungry, sexual organisms replaced well-fed, clonal organisms in the Caribbean Sea as the Isthmus of Panama arose, separating the Caribbean from the Pacific, report researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The fossil record shows that if a species could shift from clonal to sexual reproduction it survived. Otherwise it was destined for extinction, millions of years later. Closure of the Isthmus of Panama involved a protracted sequence of volcanic and tectonic events. During the final phase, between about 4.5 and 3.5 million years ago, the Caribbean underwent a major change from a pea soup-like environment, fed by nutrient-rich waters surging up along South America, into a crystal-clear, nutrient-poor environment.

New Type Of Flying Reptile: Darwin's Pterodactyl Preyed On Flying Dinosaurs. An international group of researchers from the University of Leicester (UK), and the Geological Institute, Beijing (China) has identified a new type of flying reptile, providing the first clear evidence of an unusual and controversial type of evolution. Pterosaurs, flying reptiles, also known as pterodactyls, dominated the skies in the Mesozoic Era, the age of dinosaurs, 220-65 million years ago. Scientists have long recognized two different groups of pterosaurs: primitive long-tailed forms and their descendants, advanced short-tailed pterosaurs some of which reached gigantic size. These groups are separated by a large evolutionary gap, identified in Darwin's time, that looked as if it would never be filled – until now.

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