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Vol. LXIV, No. 17
August 17, 2012

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Study Shows the Deaf Brain Processes Touch Differently

NIDCD principal investigator Dr. Christina Karns provided this graphic of a human brain derived from multiple structural magnetic resonance images
NIDCD principal investigator Dr. Christina Karns provided this graphic of a human brain derived from multiple structural magnetic resonance images. Her team found that people born deaf process the sense of touch differently than those born with normal hearing.

People who are born deaf process the sense of touch differently than people who are born with normal hearing, according to research funded by NIH. The finding reveals how the early loss of a sense—in this case hearing—affects brain development. It adds to a growing list of discoveries that confirm the impact of experiences and outside influences in molding the developing brain. The study was published in the July 11 online issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“This research shows how the brain is capable of rewiring in dramatic ways,” said NIDCD director Dr. James F. Battey, Jr. “This will be of great interest to other researchers who are studying multisensory processing in the brain.”

CT Scans May Help ER Personnel More Quickly Assess Patients with Chest Pain

Adding computed tomography (CT) scans to standard screening procedures may help emergency room staff more rapidly determine which patients complaining of chest pain are having a heart attack or may soon have a heart attack, and which patients can be safely discharged, according to a study funded by NHLBI. The study appeared in the July 26 New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers in the study focused on a condition known as acute coronary syndrome, which includes heart attacks and unstable angina (chest pain), a condition that often progresses to a heart attack. This syndrome occurs when narrowed or blocked coronary arteries prevent oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart muscle. Since chest pain has many causes, patients are often unnecessarily admitted to the hospital before it is determined that their chest pain is not due to acute coronary syndrome or other serious conditions.

CT angiography is a type of heart X-ray exam using a device that creates pictures of the coronary arteries, allowing physicians to see whether arteries have major blockages.

Study Reveals New Effects of Investigational MS Drug

Researchers at NIH have found evidence that a unique type of immune cell contributes to multiple sclerosis (MS). Their discovery helps define the effects of one of the newest drugs under investigation for treating MS—daclizumab— and could lead to a new class of drugs for treating MS and other autoimmune disorders.

In these disorders, the immune system turns against the body’s own tissues. Ongoing clinical trials have shown that daclizumab appears to help quiet the autoimmune response in MS patients, but its precise effects on the legions of cells that make up the immune system are not fully understood.

The new study, published in Science Translational Medicine, shows that one effect of daclizumab is to thin the ranks of lymphoid tissue inducer (LTi) cells. These cells are known to promote the development of lymph nodes and related tissues during fetal life, but their role during adulthood has been unclear. The new study marks the first time that LTi cells have been implicated in any human autoimmune disorder.

Dr. Bibiana Bielekova of NINDS and her team found that among MS patients participating in clinical trials of daclizumab, the number of LTi cells was elevated in patients not receiving daclizumab compared to those on the drug. Patients receiving daclizumab also had reduced signs of inflammation in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain.

NIH Scientists Identify Likely Predictors of Hepatitis C Severity

Scientists at NIH have identified several factors in people infected with the hepatitis C virus that may predict whether the unusually rapid progression of disease from initial infection to severe liver conditions, such as cirrhosis, will occur. Knowing whether a patient’s condition is likely to deteriorate quickly could help physicians decide on the best course of treatment.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by Dr. Patrizia Farci of NIAID and Dr. Harvey Alter of the Clinical Center. Their findings appeared online July 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Treatment for hepatitis C is often expensive and poorly tolerated,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Tools that would enable physicians to better predict the course of disease progression in hepatitis C patients would help guide treatment decisions. This small study is a potentially important step in developing such tools.”— compiled by Carla Garnett

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