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Vol. LXV, No. 24
November 22, 2013
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Digest

Gabapentin May Treat Alcohol Dependence

The generic anticonvulsant medication gabapentin shows promise as an effective treatment for alcohol dependence, based on the results of a 150-patient clinical trial of the medication. Conducted by scientists supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the study found that alcohol-dependent patients using gabapentin were more likely to stop drinking or refrain from heavy drinking than those taking placebo. Gabapentin is already widely prescribed to treat pain conditions and epilepsy.

A report of the study, led by Dr. Barbara J. Mason of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., appeared in the Nov. 4 JAMA Internal Medicine.

Earliest Marker for Autism Found in Young Infants

Eye contact during early infancy may be a key to early identification of autism, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Published Nov. 6 in the journal Nature, the study reveals the earliest sign of developing autism ever observed—a steady decline in attention to others’ eyes within the first 2 to 6 months of life.

“Autism isn’t usually diagnosed until after age 2, when delays in a child’s social behavior and language skills become apparent,” said NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel. “This study shows that children exhibit clear signs of autism at a much younger age. The sooner we are able to identify early markers for autism, the more effective our treatment interventions can be.”

Typically, developing children begin to focus on human faces within the first few hours of life and they learn to pick up social cues by paying special attention to other people’s eyes. Children with autism, however, do not exhibit this sort of interest in eye-looking. In fact, a lack of eye contact is one of the diagnostic features of the disorder.

Study Shows Significant Weight Loss 3 Years After Bariatric Surgery

NIH-funded researchers found that adults had significant weight loss 3 years after bariatric surgery, with the majority losing the most weight during the first year.

NIH-funded researchers found that adults had significant weight loss 3 years after bariatric surgery, with the majority losing the most weight during the first year.

NIH-funded researchers found that adults had significant weight loss 3 years after bariatric surgery, with the majority losing the most weight during the first year. A separate study in teens found few incidences of complications in the first 30 days after bariatric surgery. The studies are part of the Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS) and Teen-LABS, both funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Results appeared online Nov. 4 in the Journal of the American Medical Association and JAMA Pediatrics, respectively.

More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, defined as having a body mass index or BMI of 30 or higher, and almost 17 percent of youth are also obese. Severe obesity is a BMI of 35 or more in adults and teens. BMI measures weight in relation to height.

LABS found that adults who had either Roux-en-Y gastric bypass or laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding had significant weight loss 3 years after surgery, with the majority losing the most weight during the first year. Teen-LABS found that 30 days after surgery short-term complications were low, which researchers view as important information to help doctors and families better evaluate the risks and benefits of the procedure.

Candidate Vaccine Developed Against RSV

An experimental vaccine to protect against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a leading cause of illness and hospitalization among very young children, elicited high levels of RSV-specific antibodies when tested in animals, according to a report in the journal Science.

Early stage human clinical trials of the candidate vaccine are planned. Scientists from the Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, built on their previous findings about the structure of a critical viral protein to design the vaccine. The team was led by Dr. Peter Kwong and Dr. Barney Graham.

In the United States, RSV infection is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia in children less than 1 year old and the most common cause for hospitalization in children under 5. Worldwide, it is estimated that RSV is responsible for nearly 7 percent of deaths in babies ages 1 month to 1 year; only malaria kills more children in this age group. Others at risk for severe disease following RSV infection include adults over age 65 and those with compromised immune systems.

“Many common diseases of childhood are now vaccine-preventable, but a vaccine against RSV infection has eluded us for decades,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “This work marks a major step forward. Not only does the experimental vaccine developed by our scientists elicit strong RSV-neutralizing activity in animals, but, more broadly, this technique of using structural information to inform vaccine design is being applied to other viral diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”—compiled by Carla Garnett


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