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Vol. LXV, No. 3
February 1, 2013
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Digest

NIH Launches Collaborative Effort to Find Parkinson’s Biomarkers

A new initiative aims to accelerate the search for biomarkers—changes in the body that can be used to predict, diagnose or monitor a disease— in Parkinson’s disease, in part by improving collaboration among researchers and helping patients get involved in clinical studies.

A lack of biomarkers for Parkinson’s has been a major challenge for developing better treatments. The Parkinson’s Disease Biomarkers Program (PDBP) supports efforts to invent new technologies and analysis tools for biomarker discovery, to identify and validate biomarkers in patients and to share biomarker data and resources across the Parkinson’s community. The program is being launched by NINDS.

Biomarkers can include changes in body chemistry or physiology, in genes and how they are regulated and even subtle changes in a person’s behavior. For example, certain antibodies in the blood can be biomarkers for different types of infection. For Parkinson’s, there are no proven biomarkers.

The range of potential biomarkers for Parkinson’s is vast and there have been promising leads. Some researchers are investigating the use of non-invasive imaging to detect changes in brain function or biochemistry. Several studies have tentatively linked the disease with changes in proteins or other molecules in blood, urine or in the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. PDBP is an initiative to fund and coordinate multiple biomarker studies.

H1N1 Flu Shots Found Safe for Pregnant Women

Norwegian pregnant women who received a vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus showed no increased risk of pregnancy loss, while pregnant women who experienced influenza during pregnancy had an increased risk of miscarriages and stillbirths, a study has found.
Norwegian pregnant women who received a vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus showed no increased risk of pregnancy loss, while pregnant women who experienced influenza during pregnancy had an increased risk of miscarriages and stillbirths, a study has found.

Norwegian pregnant women who received a vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus showed no increased risk of pregnancy loss, while pregnant women who experienced influenza during pregnancy had an increased risk of miscarriages and stillbirths, a study has found. The study suggests that influenza infection may increase the risk of fetal loss.

Scientists at NIEHS and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) published their findings online Jan. 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research was conducted following the H1N1 influenza pandemic that took place between spring 2009 and fall 2010. Norwegian public health officials had urged pregnant women to be vaccinated. However, media reports of pregnancy losses after flu shots caused some expectant mothers to forgo vaccination.

First author Dr. Siri Haberg of NIPH and colleagues initiated the study to help address the question of vaccine safety by taking advantage of Norway’s excellent registries and medical records system. NIEHS researcher and co-author Dr. Allen Wilcox said NIPH researchers combined data from obstetrical visits, birth records and vaccination registries to investigate whether the influenza vaccination posed a risk to pregnancy. The study found that influenza infection increased the risk of fetal loss by up to twofold. Influenza vaccination did not increase the risk of loss. Instead, the results suggest that vaccination reduces the risk of fetal loss.

Study Documents that Some Children Lose Autism Diagnosis

Some children who are accurately diagnosed in early childhood with autism lose the symptoms and the diagnosis as they grow older, an NIH-supported study has confirmed. The research team made the finding by carefully documenting a prior diagnosis of autism in a small group of school-age children and young adults with no current symptoms of the disorder.

The report is the first of a series that will probe more deeply into the nature of the change in these children’s status. Having been diagnosed at one time with an autism spectrum disorder, these young people now appear to be on par with typically developing peers. The study team is continuing to analyze data on changes in brain function in these children and whether they have subtle residual social deficits. The team is also reviewing records on the types of interventions the children received and to what extent they may have played a role in the transition.

“Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes,” said NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel. “For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention. Subsequent reports from this study should tell us more about the nature of autism and the role of therapy and other factors in the long-term outcome for these children.”

The study, led by Dr. Deborah Fein at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, recruited 34 optimal outcome children who had received a diagnosis of autism in early life and were now reportedly functioning no differently than their mainstream peers.—compiled by Carla Garnett


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