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Vol. LIX, No. 21
October 19, 2007
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Digest

  Researchers have found that more than 50 percent of current asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to allergies, with approximately 30 percent of those cases coming from allergy to cats.  
  Researchers have found that more than 50 percent of current asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to allergies, with approximately 30 percent of those cases coming from allergy to cats.  
Asthma, Allergies and the Family Pet

Bad news for Fluffy? NIEHS and NIAID researchers have found that more than 50 percent of current asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to allergies, with approximately 30 percent of those cases coming from allergy to cats. Published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the study used data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative sample of the population. Researchers point out that some exposure to cats, particularly in early life, may be a protective factor; they're not advocating that families find other homes for their pets. But if a child shows signs of cat allergies or has asthma-like symptoms, it might be time to talk to the doctor about the best course of action.

Disruption-free Pain Treatment

A combination of two drugs can selectively block pain-sensing neurons in rats without impairing movement or other sensations, such as touch. This finding, from a study funded by NINDS, NIDCR and NIGMS and published in Nature, holds great promise, researchers said, because the "Holy Grail" in pain science is to eliminate pathologic pain without impairing thinking, alertness, coordination or other vital functions of the nervous system. In the study, scientists found that a combination of capsaicin (the substance that makes chili peppers hot) and a drug called QX-314 could exploit a characteristic unique to pain-sensing neurons to block their activity without impairing signals from other cells. Most pain relievers for surgical procedures block activity in all types of neurons, which can cause numbness, paralysis and other nervous system disturbances. The combination took 30 minutes to fully block pain in the rats, but once it started, the relief lasted for several hours. This type of treatment has great potential for improving pain treatment during childbirth, dental procedures and surgery, researchers said.

Psychotherapy and Medication Best for Depressed Teens

Another strong combination: using psychotherapy and antidepressant medication together appears to be the most effective treatment for adolescents with major depressive disorder. According to a study funded by NIMH and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the combination works better than either medication or psychotherapy alone. The major clinical trial, called the Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study, was conducted over 36 weeks. When adolescents received fluoexetine, or Prozac, alone or in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, they recovered faster than those receiving the therapy alone; taking fluoexetine alone posed some safety concerns. Researchers said the study provides compelling evidence that the most effective way to treat depression in teens is with a two-pronged approach.

Breast Milk Benefits Preemies

According to an NICHD-led study, extremely low birth-weight premature infants staying in intensive care units who received breast milk shortly after birth had greater mental development scores at 30 months than those who didn't. The study, published in Pediatrics, also showed that the infants fed breast milk were less likely to have been re-hospitalized after their initial discharge. Researchers had long known that breast milk offered full-term infants benefits-such as lower likelihood of developing diarrheal diseases, skin allergies and ear infections-but its effects on preterm infants had not been well studied. The new findings strongly suggest that, whenever possible, preterm infants should be given breast milk while staying in ICUs.

What Hikers, Kids in Day Care Have In Common

Giardia lamblia, geneticists have your number. This bane of hikers who drink from mountain streams and of small children in day care is the most common intestinal parasite identified by public health laboratories in the U.S. But thanks to an NIAID-funded study just published in Science, we now have its complete genetic sequence. The strange-looking parasite swims in the gut, spreads through stool, persists in contaminated water and is responsible for more than 20,000 reported infections in the U.S. each year. Existing drugs can effectively treat people with Giardia infections, but there's still a concern that the parasite will develop resistance. The completed genome reveals a large complement of unusual proteins that could serve as targets for new drugs or vaccines.-

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