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Vol. LXIII, No. 5
March 4, 2011

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New Possible Risk Factor of Heart Disease Found

Abnormal heart rate turbulence is associated with an increased risk of heart disease death in otherwise low-risk older individuals, according to an NHLBI-funded study in the Feb. 15 Journal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology. Among the nearly 1,300 study participants, heart rate turbulence, which reflects how well the heart reacts to occasional premature contractions, was an even stronger heart disease risk factor than elevated levels of C-reactive protein. CRP is a potential heart disease biomarker that has emerged in recent years. Study participants considered at low risk of heart disease based on traditional risk factors were on average 8 to 9 times more likely to die of heart disease during the roughly 14-year follow-up period if they had abnormal heart rate turbulence values. Traditional risk factors include age, gender, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and smoking. Low-risk individuals with elevated CRP in their blood were about 2.5 times more likely to die than those with normal or low CRP.

Pesticides Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

New research shows a link between use of two pesticides, rotenone and paraquat, and Parkinson’s disease. People who used either pesticide developed Parkinson’s disease approximately 2.5 times more often than non-users. The study was a collaborative effort conducted by researchers at NIEHS and the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. “Rotenone directly inhibits the function of the mitochondria, the structure responsible for making energy in the cell,” said NIEHS’s Dr. Freya Kamel, co-author of the paper that appeared online Jan. 26 in Environmental Health Perspectives. Paraquat increases production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm cellular structures. People who used these pesticides or others with a similar mechanism of action were more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. The authors studied 110 people with Parkinson’s disease and 358 matched controls from the Farming and Movement Evaluation Study to investigate the relationship between Parkinson’s disease and exposure to pesticides or other agents that are toxic to nervous tissue.

Dr. George Chacko

Stroke patients who received intensive physical therapy improved their ability to walk just as well as those treated with a more complex rehabilitation program involving a body weight-supported treadmill.

Rehab Study Looks to Get Stroke Patients Back on Their Feet

In the largest stroke rehabilitation study ever conducted in the United States, stroke patients who had physical therapy at home improved their ability to walk just as well as those who were treated in a training program that requires the use of a body-weight supported treadmill device followed by walking practice. The study also found that patients continued to improve up to 1 year after stroke, defying conventional wisdom that recovery occurs early and tops out at 6 months. In fact, even patients who started rehabilitation as late as 6 months after stroke were able to improve their walking. The results were announced Feb. 11 at an American Stroke Association conference. NINDS provided primary funding for the study.

More than 4 million stroke survivors experience difficulty walking. “The results of this study show that the more expensive, high-tech therapy was not superior to intensive home strength and balance training, but both were better than lower intensity physical therapy,” said NINDS deputy director Dr. Walter Koroshetz. The walking program involves having a patient walk on a treadmill in a harness that provides partial body weight support. Known as locomotor training, this form of rehabilitation has become increasingly popular.

Surgery on Fetus Reduces Complications of Spina Bifida

A surgical procedure to repair a common birth defect of the spine, if undertaken while a baby is still in the uterus, greatly reduces the need to divert, or shunt, fluid away from the brain, according to a study by NICHD and four other research institutions. The study appeared Feb. 9 in the Online First version of the New England Journal of Medicine. The surgical procedure consists of closing an opening at the back of the fetal spine. The fetal surgery is a departure from the traditional approach, which involves repairing the defect in the spinal column after an infant has been born. The fetal surgical procedure also increases the chances that a child will be able to walk without crutches or other devices. However, infants who underwent this prenatal surgery were more likely to be born preterm than were the infants who had the surgery after birth.—compiled by Carla Garnett

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