Check in with us as we feature the latest trends, research and news in medicine, health and science. A team of Star Tribune staffers will aggregate updates from news wires, websites, magazines and medical journals.

HIV spikes are shown in action

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: October 9, 2014 - 12:57 PM

Using powerful microscopes, scientists have observed the weaponry of HIV in action and gained key insights that may finally allow researchers to create a vaccine capable of fighting the virus that causes AIDS.

The sophisticated imaging technology employs lasers and fluorescent dyes to examine molecules 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The resulting view of the infamous protein spikes that stud the surface of HIV sheds new light on how the virus evades and attacks key immune cells.

Scientists even videotaped the structures as they changed shape in what researchers described as a rapid, unending "dance." They also observed how a class of rare, super-potent antibodies collected from AIDS patients can halt this dance by locking the structures into a harmless position. Once frozen in place, the spikes were unable to initiate entry into host cells.

The findings, published in the journals Nature and Science, provide crucial insights into the behavior of HIV, experts said.

--Los Angeles Times

Increasing skirt size linked to breast cancer risk

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: September 25, 2014 - 1:33 PM

If you want to minimize your chances of developing breast cancer, staying the same skirt size over the years might help, a new study suggests.

"Our study has shown that an increase of one size every 10 years between 25 and postmenopausal age [over 60] is associated with an increase of breast cancer [risk] in postmenopausal women by 33 percent," said lead researcher Dr. Usha Menon, head of the Gynecological Cancer Research Center at University College London.

The findings are based on information from nearly 93,000 women enrolled in a British database for cancer screening. When the women entered the study between 2005 and 2010, all were over age 50. None had a diagnosis of breast cancer.

At age 25, the women's average skirt size had been an 8. When they entered the study, at the average age of 64, the average size was a 10. Three out of four women reported increased skirt sizes.

The risk of breast cancer increased 77 percent if the skirt size went up two sizes every 10 years from 25 until women were past menopause, Menon said.

Put another way, for each size increase every 10 years, the five-year risk of developing breast cancer after menopause rose from one in 61 to one in 51, Menon estimated.

The study is published online Sept. 24 in BMJ Open.

Read more from WebMD.

The trouble with toothpaste microbeads

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: September 19, 2014 - 10:56 AM

Dentists are becoming increasingly alarmed that tiny plastic beads in many toothpaste brands can cause dental hygiene problems.

Polyethylene plastic beads are in many products -- toothpastes, face washes and body scrubs. And the Food and Drug Administration says they're safe.

But the beads are not biodegradable, and dentists are concerned that they're getting stuck in the tiny crevices between the teeth and gums.

"They’ll trap bacteria in the gums which leads to gingivitis, and over time that infection moves from the gum into the bone that holds your teeth, and that becomes periodontal disease," dentist Justin Phillip told Phoenix ABC affiliate KNXV. "Periodontal disease is scary.”

Crest said the beads are used only to provide color to toothpaste.

Months ago, Texas-based dental hygienist Trish Walraven sounded the alarm on her personal blog about the harm she has seen done to her patients -- and even her children. She urged her patients to stop using the products.

Crest said it has begun phasing out microbeads from its products, a process that will be completed by March 2016.

Read more from Washington Post.

Rare respiratory illness has hit a dozen states

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: September 16, 2014 - 1:52 PM

The rare respiratory illness affecting children has now been confirmed in a dozen states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

The two newest states with confirmed cases: Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, which join a growing roster of states that officially have cases of enterovirus 68, a rare virus strain that can cause severe breathing problems.

Hospitals around the country are seeing an increase in the number of children dealing with respiratory illnesses. Testing has shown that many of these children are suffering from this enterovirus strain. Enteroviruses are quite common, causing between 10 million and 15 million infections each year, but this particular strain has not appeared very often since it was first isolated in California in 1962.

So far, the other states with confirmed cases are Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and New York. There have been 130 confirmed cases, the CDC says, but the number of actual cases is likely much higher.

Public health officials continue to warn that other states are presumably going to join this list, with cases expected to be confirmed in other places where there have been clusters of children suffering from respiratory illnesses.

Read more from Washington Post.

How heroin kills

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: September 4, 2014 - 5:07 PM

Using heroin can kill you, but it may not be in the way you think.

Drug overdose deaths in the United States have risen steadily since 1970. Painkillers actually kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but heroin is still among the main killers of illegal drug users. One in 10 heroin overdoses ends in death.

In 2011, 4.2 million Americans over the age of 11 had tried heroin at least once, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. An estimated 23% of them will become addicts. And it's addicts who die more frequently than new users, studies show.

Heroin in the body turns into morphine. Morphine has a chemical structure similar to endorphins -- the chemicals your brain makes when you feel stressed out or are in pain. Endorphins inhibit your neurons from firing, so they halt pain and create a good feeling.

Morphine, acting like your endorphins, binds to molecules in your brain called opioid receptors. When those receptors are blocked, that creates a high. Most people die from heroin overdoses when their bodies forget to breathe.

"Heroin makes someone calm and a little bit sleepy, but if you take too much then you can fall asleep, and when you are asleep your respiratory drive shuts down," said Dr. Karen Drexler, director of the addiction psychiatry residency training program and an associate professor in Emory University's psychiatry and behavioral sciences department.

"Usually when you are sleeping, your body naturally remembers to breathe. In the case of a heroin overdose, you fall asleep and essentially your body forgets."

A heroin overdose can also cause your blood pressure to dip significantly and cause your heart to fail.
Studies show intravenous heroin users are 300 times more likely to die from infectious endocarditis, an infection of the surface of the heart.

Read more from CNN


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