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Vol. LXII, No. 5
March 5, 2010
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Digest

  The rate of stillbirth deaths dropped dramatically following a basic training program in newborn care, according to a study jointly funded by NICHD and the Gates Foundation.  
  The rate of stillbirth deaths dropped dramatically following a basic training program in newborn care, according to a study jointly funded by NICHD and the Gates Foundation.  

Stillbirths in Developing Countries Drop Dramatically After Newborn-Care Training

The rate of stillbirths in rural areas of six developing countries fell more than 30 percent following a basic training program in newborn care for birth attendants, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The study, which tracked more than 120,000 births, tested the efficacy of a 3-day regimen that covers basic newborn- care techniques, the importance of early breastfeeding, how to keep infants warm and dry and signs of serious health problems. “These findings suggest that a low-cost instructional regimen for birth attendants can be effective in reducing stillbirths in parts of the world where most births are not attended by a physician,” said Dr. Alan Guttmacher, acting NICHD director. The research was conducted at sites in Argentina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, India, Pakistan and Zambia. Results appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers Discover Genes for Stuttering

Stuttering may be the result of a glitch in the day-to-day process by which cellular components in key regions of the brain are broken down and recycled, says a study in the Feb. 10 Online First issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Stuttering is a speech disorder in which a person repeats or prolongs sounds, syllables or words, disrupting the normal flow of speech. The study, led by researchers at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, has identified three genes as a source of stuttering in volunteers in Pakistan, the United States and England. Mutations in two of the genes have already been implicated in other rare metabolic disorders also involved in cell recycling, while mutations in a third, closely related, gene have now been shown to be associated for the first time with a disorder in humans.

Scientists Map Genetic Regulatory Elements for the Heart

Scientists have devised a new computational model that can be used to reveal genetic regulatory elements responsible for development of the human heart and maintenance of its function. Although the teams focused on the heart, the method they developed is broadly applicable to other tissues and was successfully used to identify regulatory elements for cells of the limbs and brain. Cataloging these regulatory sequences may improve understanding of diseases and lays the groundwork for improved medical treatments. Conducted by scientists at NLM’s National Center for Biotechnology Information and the University of Chicago, the research is published in the March 2010 issue of Genome Research.

All cells of the human body share the same set of 46 chromosomes with approximately 23,000 genes, but only specific subsets of those genes will be activated in individual organs and tissues. Cells in the heart and other tissues switch genes on and off in different cells and at different points in their life spans by using regulatory elements, segments of DNA that control gene expression and are scattered throughout the sequence of 3 billion letters of the human genome.

The computational model is a tool to find those switches within vast stretches of DNA. Scientists developed a machine-learning approach to accurately detect signatures of heart regulatory elements. The approach involved the use of algorithms that enabled computers to recognize complex patterns in the data and to improve the accuracy of recognition by automatically adapting the computational methods to the experimental data.

WHI Study Data Confirm Short-Term Heart Disease Risks of Hormone Therapy

New analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative confirm that combination hormone therapy increases the risk of heart disease in healthy postmenopausal women. Researchers report a trend toward an increased risk of heart disease during the first 2 years of hormone therapy among women who began therapy within 10 years of menopause and a more marked elevation of risk among women who began hormone therapy more than 10 years after menopause. Analyses indicate that overall a woman’s risk of heart disease more than doubles within the first 2 years of taking combination HT. Combination hormone therapy includes progestin in combination with estrogen. The study is in the Feb. 16 Annals of Internal Medicine. The WHI is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.—

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