Health News Updates 1 October 2012

  • Lab Notes: Mice grow new skin, with no scars: “A survival strategy among African spiny mice — their ability to shed large areas of skin to escape predators — may hold lessons for regenerative medicine in humans.  Unlike most mammals, who respond to injury  by the formation  of dense collagenous scar tissue, these mice can lose up to 60% of the skin on their backs and quickly regenerate it, complete with regrowth of sebaceous glands, dermis, cartilage, and their characteristic spiny hairs.  A group of researchers led by Ashley W. Seifert, PhD, of the University of Florida, captured mice in Kenya and compared their skin structure and repair with ordinary laboratory mice.  Writing in Nature, they reported that the skin regenerative ability of the spiny mice relied on contraction across the wound, with development of more porous extracellular matrix and deposition of collagen type III, rather than type I collagen that slowly formed into scar tissue in lab mice.  It has long been recognized that some animals such as lizards are capable of replacing appendages such as legs and tails, but these new observations suggest that mammals also may have more regenerative capability than previously recognized.  The next goal, according to Seifert, will be deciphering the molecular signaling pathways underlying the skin growth, opening up possibilities for developing novel regenerative treatments.” (MedPage Today)
  • Common pesticide linked to birth defect, study suggests: “A common herbicide called atrazine may be associated with a rare birth defect of the nasal cavity, a new study suggests.  Atrazine — the most widely used herbicide in the United States, particularly in corn crops — is  believed to be an endocrine disruptor, which means that it may interfere with the hormone system in humans.  The new study looked at the link between atrazine and choanal atresia, a birth defect in which tissue formed during fetal development blocks the back of the nasal passage. The condition affects a baby’s ability to breathe.  Surgery is the typical treatment.  Although few risk factors for choanal atresia have been identified, it’s believed that chemicals that disrupt a mother’s hormone system may be associated with the risk, according to study author Philip Lupo, an assistant professor of pediatrics — hematology/oncology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer Center.  He and his colleagues found that mothers who lived in Texas counties with the highest levels of atrazine use were 80 percent more likely to have children with choanal atresia — or a less severe form of the condition called choanal stenosis — than those in counties with the lowest levels of atrazine use.  ‘Our results warrant more detailed exploration before   health or policy-related recommendations are made, but this study is a good first step in trying to understand the origin of this birth defect, including a possible role of atrazine,’ Lupo said in a Baylor news release.  The study appear[ed] Sept 28. in the Journal of Pediatrics.  While the study found an association between the herbicide atrazine and the birth defect choanal atresia, it did not prove cause-and-effect.” (HealthDay)
  • Soccer players often recover fully from ACL surgery: “Most soccer players are able to return to the field after surgery to repair torn knee ligaments, a new study suggests.  But out of 100 athletes who had reconstructive surgery on their anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, researchers found female and older players were less likely than younger men and boys to get back in the game.  And by seven years out, 12 of the athletes had undergone a second ACL surgery on the same or opposite knee.  ‘The good news is, you can get back to a sport like soccer after an ACL reconstruction,’ said Dr. Robert Brophy, an orthopedic surgeon from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who led the study.  But athletes who’ve had an ACL tear, he added, ‘need to have a sense of the fact that they’re going to be at risk for future injury’.  The ACL, located in the middle of the knee-joint, is most commonly injured during sports that require jumping or quick changes in direction, or when the knee gets overextended.  Female athletes are known to be at higher risk of ACL tears.  Regardless of gender, those are typically thought of as season-ending injuries because rehab takes months of working to regain strength and range of motion.  For the new study, Brophy and his colleagues interviewed 100 soccer players who’d undergone surgery to repair a torn ACL in 2002 or 2003…People who were younger at the time of injury were more likely to return to the field.  Seven years after surgery, 30 out of 100 initial athletes were still playing soccer, the researchers reported….By then, nine female athletes and three males reported having had another ACL surgery.  The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine estimates there are about 150,00 ACL injuries in the US every year.  Brophy said there are many reasons why athletes may never return to their sport of choice after an ACL tear.  They may not get their conditioning back to where it once was, or they may feel okay running but have trouble with the type of knee function required for soccer or football.  In addition, ‘they may be afraid of re-injury or feel like it’s not worth the risk,’ he told Reuter’s Health.  That may be  especially true for older athletes, he said.  ‘Life demands may make the rehabilitation more challenging and more difficult to get through, as well as make it more difficult to say ‘(It’s) worth it to go back and play’.” (Reuters Health)
  • A viral zit blaster? “A viral infection could be just the thing to clear up acne-prone skin, according to researchers studying a type that pops pimple-causing bacteria.  The oily follicles of the face have their own complex microbiota dominated by Propionibacterium acnes.  But these bacteria, like the teens they afflict, are themselves vulnerable to infection.  Eleven different bacteriophage viruses that infect these bacteria were analyzed by the UCLA and University of Pittsburgh group.  Despite having been sampled from the skin of donors across a variety of geographic areas and different years, the viruses had unprecedented similarity in gene content and other characteristics, which could make it easier to replicate their effects.  ‘There are two fairly obvious potential directions that could exploit this kind of research,’ lead author Graham Hatfull, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, explained in a press release.  ‘The first is the possibility of using the phages directly as a therapy for acne.  The second is the opportunity to use phage-derived components for their activities’.  While efforts haven’t yet turned up any successful phage therapies, the cell wall-dissolving enzyme endolysin that the phage infection produces might be feasible as a topical acne treatment, group reported in mBio.” (Crystal Phend, MedPage Today)

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