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Random DNA Cause of Many Cancers

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dna

While diet, environment, habits and more are some of the reasons certain people develop cancer, chance plays a pretty big role as well. New research shows that most tumors develop simply because of a genetic “mistake,” also called DNA copying errors.

Johns Hopkins University investigators looked at abnormal cell growth in 32 different types of cancers and found that many cancer cases are the result of gene mutations that are purely random. These random mutations have generally been scientifically undervalued, according to study co-author Cristian Tomasetti in a MedlinePlus article.

It is important to note that while many cancer cases are random, and therefore unpreventable, many mutations are also caused by certain outside factors, and don’t just occur randomly. A good example is lung cancer–the majority of these mutations occur because a person has smoked.

Overall, the study could help shed light on cancer cases that doctors can’t determine the cause. They may seem random because they are.

To read more about the study, please visit “Most Cancers Caused by Random DNA Copying Errors.”

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The Elephant Sitting On Your Chest: Asthma & Allergens

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From winter into spring, the transition is beautiful. Trees are full of leaves and flowers are in full bloom. In Texas, the bluebonnets grace our highways. The sun is out, shining brightly. Suddenly, some of us start wheezing, coughing, and sneezing.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), allergens in the environment can trigger seasonal allergies and asthma. Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lung and is now the most common chronic disorder in childhood. The prevalence has increased over the years. According to CDC Vital Signs 1 in 12 people have asthma in the United States. Oxygen absorption in the lungs is a crucial function of the body. With asthma, the airway becomes inflamed, swollen, and narrow. Less air is able to get to the lung tissue. Some describe feeling as if an elephant is sitting on their chest.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted an extensive survey, known as the National Survey of Lead Hazards and Allergens in Housing. The results were published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It found that 46% of homes had dust mite allergens high enough to produce allergic reactions and one quarter of the homes had allergen levels high enough to trigger asthma symptoms in susceptible individuals. Nearly two-thirds of American homes have cockroach allergens.

What can we do? See the NIEHS Fact Sheet for some simple steps for decreasing indoor allergens. See the NIEHS and the NHLBI for more information.

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American Diabetes Alert Day: Are You at Risk?

“Cupcakes and donuts from above” by Jakub Kapusnak is licensed under CC0.

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Today is American Diabetes Alert Day, and did you know that diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.–killing more than 75,000 people annually? In honor of this observance, the Oklahoma State Department of Health is encouraging Oklahomans to check their risk of developing diabetes, as well as sound the alarm for the prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Oklahoma ranks number 9 in the United States for states with most adults with type 2 diabetes.

Finding out if you are at high risk for developing diabetes is simple; just go to diabetes.org/alertday to take the American Diabetes Association risk test, which is offered in both Spanish and English. If you determine that you or someone you know is at risk, there are plenty of other steps you can take, including becoming involved in the National Diabetes Prevention Program–there are dozens of programs offered through Oklahoma as well as across the nation.

To read more about American Diabetes Alert Day and Oklahoma, please visit “American Diabetes Alert Day: Find Out If You Are At Risk Today.”

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New Blood Test Could Spot Autism in Children

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little girl

Researchers have been working on an experimental blood test that could point out autism in children. So far, the test is 98 percent accurate in children ages 3 to 10 in diagnosing if they have autism.

“The test was able to predict autism, regardless of where on the spectrum an individual was,” according to study co-author Juergen Hahn in the MedlinePlus article. The test was also able to indicate the severity of the autism-related condition with good accuracy.

This new test is a stark contrast to the current approach of diagnosing autism, which entails a consensus from a group of medical professionals. The blood test, on the other hand, looks for key metabolism markers in the child.

The study was small, with less than 200 participants, so more research is planned to follow-up on the claims.

To read more about the study, please visit “Could a Blood Test Spot Autism in Childhood?”

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Washing Your Hands Saves Lives

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According to MedlinePlus, you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. You may be more familiar with that rule of thumb to sing the “Happy Birthday” song at least two times through before turning off that faucet.

But while we’re admonished to do so, it’s difficult to say what’s actually put into practice even while we know it helps stop the spread of germs. In fact, it can even help stop the spread of superbugs!

How else is it important? The Center for Disease Control has put together some fast facts (and citations) on the importance of handwashing:

  • It is estimated that washing hands with soap and water could reduce diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50%.
  • Researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented.
  • A large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks are spread by contaminated hands. Appropriate hand washing practices can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections.
  • Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%.
  • The use of an alcohol gel hand sanitizer in the classroom provided an overall reduction in absenteeism due to infection by 19.8% among 16 elementary schools and 6,000 students.

Read more and find additional resources on the Germs and Hygiene MedlinePlus topic page.

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SCR Regional Highlight: Two Louisiana Cities Rank Top Five for HIV Diagnoses

Views of the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge by Billy Metcalf Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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According to the 2016 America’s Health Rankings report conducted by the United Health Foundation, Louisiana is the second most unhealthy state in the nation, just behind Mississippi. The report uses a number of factors to create these rankings, but it has become increasingly clear over the years that the state’s high diagnoses of new HIV cases is one factor.

According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report leading up to World AIDS Day in 2016, Baton Rouge ranks number one for newly diagnosed HIV cases; New Orleans ranks number three. In Baton Rouge, 44.7 out of every 100,000 people is diagnosed with HIV; in New Orleans, it’s 36.9.

HIV is a virus that weakens a person’s immune system by destroying the cells that fight infection and disease. There is no cure for it. AIDS is a condition that is considered the final stage of HIV. It is most commonly transmitted sexually or through sharing syringes, but can also be spread from mother to child through pregnancy as well as several other less common ways.

To combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic prevalent in the state, the Louisiana Department of Health launched the STD/HIV Program, designed to prevent transmission, ensure the availability of medical services and track the impact.

Unfortunately one of the biggest barriers health officials face is the stigma around the disease and an unwillingness to seek out treatment and report it. Timothy Young, head of the HIV/AIDS Alliance in the Baton Rouge area told The Advocate in a 2015 articlefear of being associated with HIV is so pronounced that more than 25 percent of those who are newly diagnosed with the disease in Louisiana have already progressed to AIDS.”

It’s important for these people to know that HIV/AIDS treatment has only continued to get better and it’s no longer the death sentence it used to be, if you get tested.

To read more about the SHP program, please visit the Louisiana Department of Health’s website.

To read more general information about HIV/AIDS, please visit the CDC’s website.

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Funding Databases

When considering applying for a funding opportunity it is often helpful to know what types of projects that have been funded in the past. Every RML in the NNLM includes listings of the Past Funded Projects on their website for this reason. But did you know that you can also find this information for NIH, HHS, and all of the US government? These databases can be particularly helpful for postdoctoral students, junior faculty, and anyone who is beginning to search for external funding.

The NIH RePORTER database allows the user to search for funded grants throughout all of NIH. One interesting feature is the Matchmaker function. In this function, you can actually enter an abstract and the database will return a list of similar projects.

However it is not uncommon for health researchers to need to be aware of what other federal agencies outside of NIH are funding. To search funding throughout all of HHS you can search the TAGGS database. To expand even more you can search the Federal RePORTER or USA Spending.

These resources can not only help a potential applicant determine if a particular funding opportunity is a good fit for a project, but it can also help applicants know which agencies to watch for future funding. Federal health related funding can come from some unexpected sources and it is helpful to know which agencies are funding the types of projects that you want to do.

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Poor Diets Linked to 400,000 U.S. Deaths

“Healthy breakfast with eggs while camping” by Jakub Kapusnak is licensed under CC0.

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March is National Nutrition Month, so it comes at the perfect time that the results from a study are released explaining that a poor diet was a contributor to 400,000 U.S. premature deaths in 2015.

The study suggested that poor diets are caused not only by not avoiding certain things–like trans fat and salt–but also not incorporating other foods, like vegetables, nuts and seeds. Cardiovascular disease is the number one leading cause of death in the U.S., and a poor diet is the top risk factor, according to Dr. Ashkan Afshin, lead researcher from the University of Washington.

“The study results suggest that nearly half of heart disease and stroke (cardiovascular disease) deaths in the United States might be prevented with improved diets,” according to Afshin in the MedlinePlus article.

The study results stress that a healthy diet is not only avoiding certain foods–you have to take care that you are making sure to eat others. The study was even able to estimate what percent of the deaths were from too much or too little of certain foods, like 12 percent of the deaths probably could have been avoided had the people eaten more vegetables.

The good news is it’s never too late to change your diet.

To read more about the study, please visit “Bad Diets Tied to 400,000 U.S. Deaths in 2015.”

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Patient Safety Awareness Week 2017

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This week is Patient Safety Awareness Week hosted by the National Patient Safety Foundation! And while this week awareness is particularly high, the National Patient Safety Foundation encourages all healthcare professionals to treat every day like Patient Safety Day.

Patient safety is a public health issue according to the National Patient Safety Foundation’s United for Patient Safety campaign–1 in 10 patients will develop a health care acquired condition during hospitalization, and 44,000 to 98,000 patients per year will die due to a medical error.

National Patient Safety Week is the start of a yearlong effort highlighting important patient safety issues through information dissemination, discussions and events. One initiative during this week is for healthcare professionals to wear a patient gown in order to step into the role of a patient. You can also tune in tomorrow at 2 p.m. PST for a complimentary webcast of “The Voice of the Patient and the Public.”

SCR’s Brian Leaf wrote a post on the importance of patient safety and questions to ask a doctor; read it here.

To find out more about Patient Safety Awareness Week, please visit United for Patient Safety’s website.

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Being a Part of Your Own Healthcare: Questions to Know

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Recently, I taught a class on how to help older adults find health information. One of the issues that came up during the class was patient safety, which has been a trending topic for us this past year.

Unlike the patient-doctor relationship of the past, patients today are encouraged to be active partners in the healthcare team in order to, in part, reduce the errors that occur in routine processes. According to Sir Liam Donaldson, named by the World Health Organization as the Envoy for Patient Safety, these errors occur in 10% of hospital admissions and sometimes lead to fatal outcomes.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “develops the knowledge, tools, and data needed to improve the health care system and help Americans, health care professionals, and policymakers make informed health decisions” as stated on their profile.

One of these tools is a set of questions that patients can ask their doctors. They also have additional information on what one might ask pre- and post-appointment, along with a guide on building your own set of questions. The basic set includes:

  1. What is the test for?
  2. How many times have you done this procedure?
  3. When will I get the results?
  4. Why do I need this treatment?
  5. Are there any alternatives?
  6. What are the possible complications?
  7. Which hospital is best for my needs?
  8. How do you spell the name of that drug?
  9. Are there any side effects?
  10. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I’m already taking?

One of the participants in the course suggested an additional question to ask the doctor that resonated with the other professionals in the class:

“What happens if I do nothing?”

Asking the right questions is an important part of taking care of one’s health. Find more on AHRQ’s Questions to Ask Your Doctor.

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