Medical News Today: How to make kefir more healthful using sound

Kefir has shot to fame over recent years for its potential health benefits. Using sound technology, Russian scientists believe they have found a way to increase some of these benefits.
Milk kefir
Scientists are learning how to boost the benefits of kefir.

Kefir, which is a fermented milk-based drink, is made using kefir grains.

Originating in the Caucasus Mountains centuries ago, kefir has recently seen an impressive uptick in popularity.

Aside from its potential benefits as a probiotic, kefir contains a compound called kefiran that has interested medical researchers.

Kefiran is an insoluble polysaccharide constructed of galactose and glucose; it is produced by certain microbes, such as Lactobacillus brevis, that are present in kefir.

Previous studies have shown that kefiran might have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and wound healing properties. There is also some evidence that kefiran might reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.

Other studies have hinted at kefiran’s potential to work as an anticancer agent, and others have shown its ability to influence the immune system.

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Increasing kefir’s powers

Normally, kefiran is present in relatively low concentrations in kefir, so designing a way to boost this product could enhance the drink’s healthful benefits.

Recently, researchers from South Ural State University in Chelyabinsk, Russia, set out to boost the levels of kefiran using ultrasound. They have published their findings in the journal Ultrasonics Sonochemistry.

Prof. Irina Potoroko explains, “The main objective of our research was to step up the kefiran content in fermented milk drinks. To this end, we treated milk with ultrasound.”

The researchers worked alongside scientists from the Russian State Agrarian University and the National Institute of Technology Warangal in India.

Normally, manufacturers produce kefir by adding a fermentation starter to milk; kefiran gradually accumulates during the fermentation process.

In an effort to up kefiran production, the scientists subjected milk to ultrasound before starting the process. They refer to this as sonication.

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Ultrasound and kefir

Ultrasound is low-frequency sound — much lower than the human ear can hear. Treating the milk with this type of sound increased the production of kefiran during fermentation. Currently, though, the researchers are not sure why this boost in production occurs.

The effects of sonication are interesting; it is not quite clear if ultrasound boosts the development of healthy microorganisms or if it suppresses them and they start producing kefiran as a defense response.”

Study co-author Irina Kalinina

In future studies, the team will try to unpick the molecular reasons for the boosted kefiran content. If they can understand why more is produced, they may be able to enhance its production even further.

In the recent study, the researchers also tried to find the optimal ultrasound frequency and duration to achieve the highest kefiran content; just 3 minutes was enough time to significantly increase kefiran levels in the final product.

They hope that this type of research could eventually lead to safe, environmentally friendly ways to boost the benefits of a range of dairy products.

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Medical News Today: Internet-based CBT effective for treating severe depression

New research finds that cognitive behavioral therapy sessions delivered via an app can effectively treat various forms of depression, including a severe form of the condition.
woman checking her phone
iCBT enables people with depression to manage their symptoms using a cell phone or tablet.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term form of therapy that helps change people’s thought patterns.

The technique can successfully treat depression, anxiety and panic disorder, bipolar, substance use disorders, and many other mental health conditions.

In recent decades, more and more studies have been pointing to the benefits of Internet-based CBT (iCBT) for depression.

iCBT can help overcome many obstacles that are often in the way of treating mental health conditions.

Such treatment barriers include geographical distance, the social stigma surrounding mental health problems, the often prohibitive cost of treatment, and the insufficient numbers of mental healthcare providers that are available.

Until now, however, it was unclear whether the studies hailing the benefits of iCBT for depression also included people living with severe depression or those living with anxiety or alcohol use disorder in addition to depression.

The concern that such biases were artificially inflating the benefits of iCBT drove researchers to examine the effects of iCBT in more depth.

Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, who is a clinical professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, led the new study, which was just published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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iCBT successfully treats severe depression

Prof. Lorenzo-Luaces explains the need for iCBT in treating mental health issues. “Close to 1 in 4 people meet the criteria for major depressive disorder,” he says.

“If you include people with minor depression or who have been depressed for a week or a month with a few symptoms, the number grows, exceeding the number of psychologists who can serve them.”

People with depression also tend to “visit primary care physicians more often than others,” explains Prof. Lorenzo-Luaces. “They have more medical problems, and their depression sometimes gets in the way of their taking their medication for other medical problems.”

So, for the new review, the team examined 21 existing studies using meta-regression analysis. The analysis concluded that CBT apps were effective for treating mild, moderate, and severe depression.

Some of the trials included in the review compared a CBT app with a sham app. In these studies, the real apps were also significantly more effective at treating depression.

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Prof. Lorenzo-Luaces comments on the findings, saying, “Before this study, I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems and were at low risk for suicide.”

“To my surprise, that was not the case,” he goes on to say. “The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people.”

However, he cautions, “This is not to say that you should stop taking your medication and go to the nearest app store.”

“People tend to do better when they have a little bit of guidance,” admits Prof. Lorenzo-Luaces, but he adds that 10–15-minute face-to-face check-ins may be enough for most people.

In their paper, Prof. Lorenzo-Luaces and colleagues conclude:

A conservative interpretation of our findings is that the patient population sampled in the literature on self-guided iCBT is relatively comparable with that of studies of antidepressants or face-to-face psychotherapy.”

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Medical News Today: How meditation impacts the way we learn

Many anecdotes and some studies suggest that meditation can be a powerful tool for mental and physical health. New research shows that it may have yet another benefit: to help us learn faster from past experiences.
woman meditating in bed
According to new findings, meditation alters the way in which we learn.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom focused on one particular type of meditation — “focused attention meditation” — and whether it affects how a person learns.

This meditation practice requires a person to focus their attention on a particular object — a burning candle or one’s own breath, for instance — and maintain that focus for a period of time.

People often use focused attention meditation as a gateway into other types of meditation, as it is easier to learn and to practice.

“Meditation is a powerful tool for the body and the mind; it can reduce stress and improve immune function,” says study co-author Prof. Bertram Opitz.

But can it also help us train our minds to learn faster from feedback or information acquired through past experiences?

Prof. Opitz and Paul Knytl, who is a doctoral student at the University of Surrey, suggest that the answer to that question is “yes.”

The two explain their research findings in a paper now featured in the Journal of Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.

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Learning from positive vs. negative feedback

The researchers worked with people who were meditators and people who did not meditate. There were 35 participants in total, of which nine identified as Buddhist meditators, 12 practiced meditation in a secular context, two practiced Qi Gong, and the rest non-meditators.

For the purpose of this study, the investigators trained the participants to do well in an activity in which they had to select images that were most likely to bring them a particular reward.

In this exercise, the participants saw pairs of images, each with different probabilities of bringing a reward if selected.

The researchers noticed that those who practiced meditation had a higher success rate in choosing reward-associated images compared with their non-meditating peers.

This, Prof. Opitz and Knytl explain, suggests that meditators tend to learn from positive outcomes, while non-meditators most likely learn from negative outcomes.

“Humans have been meditating for over 2,000 years, but the neural mechanisms of this practice are still relatively unknown,” says Knytl, who is specializing in the neurological mechanisms associated with focused attention meditation.

“[Our current] findings demonstrate that, on a deep level, meditators respond to feedback in a more even-handed way than non-meditators, which may help to explain some of the psychological benefits they experience from the practice,” he adds.

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Meditation’s effect on the brain

In the new study, the team also measured the participants’ brain activity during their tasks by using electroencephalograms (EEGs), a method that records the electrical activity in a person’s brain.

The EEGs showed that while all the participants responded in the same way to positive feedback during the exercise, those who did not meditate had a more intense response to negative feedback than meditators.

Among participants who meditated, those with the weakest response to negative feedback were the most experienced practitioners.

Knytl and Prof. Opitz believe that regular meditation may impact levels of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood regulation and physical agility, among other things. This, in turn, may render meditators less responsive to negative feedback.

The scientists also note that previous research has found that people with Parkinson’s disease — who have much lower levels of dopamine than normal — tended not to perform well on learning tasks that required them to respond to positive feedback.

What we have found is that [meditation] can […] impact on how we receive feedback, i.e. if we quickly learn from our mistakes or if we need to keep making them before we find the right answer.”

Prof. Bertram Opitz

“If it is the latter [then] this can impact how individuals perform in the workplace or classroom. Such individuals may benefit from meditation to increase their productivity or prevent them from falling behind in their studies,” Prof. Opitz suggests.

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Medical News Today: Diabetes and hypertension drug combo kills cancer cells

New research, published in the journal Cell Reports, finds a drug combination that kills cancer cells by depleting them of energy.
cancer cell dividing
In order to multiply, cancer cells need a lot of energy.

Metformin is a common drug in the fight against type 2 diabetes.

It lowers blood sugar by slowing the release of glucose from the liver and the absorption of sugar from food in the gut.

The drug also treats insulin resistance by sensitizing the body’s cells to insulin, as well as treating obesity and aiding weight loss in people who do not have diabetes or prediabetes.

Recently, scientists have brought more uses of the drug to light. Physicians prescribe metformin to help treat polycystic ovary syndrome, and some researchers have suggested that the drug may improve fertility and help regulate menstrual cycles.

Some have even suggested that metformin may improve longevity. Animal studies have found that the drug may influence the metabolic processes associated with aging and age-related conditions, and clinical trials of metformin’s effects on human lifespan are currently under way.

Around 2 years ago, researchers from the Biozentrum at the University of Basel in Switzerland found that metformin, in combination with a blood pressure drug, can stop cancer tumors from growing.

In new research, scientists now show how this drug cocktail works: the combination of metformin and the antihypertensive syrosingopine cuts off cancer’s energy supply, resulting in the death of cancer cells.

The new study was conducted at Biozentrum in collaboration with Basilea Pharmaceutica International Ltd. Don Benjamin, from Biozentrum, is the first author of the study.

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Cutting off the energy supply of cancer cells

The dose of metformin for treating diabetes is not enough to stop tumors from growing. However, adding the blood pressure drug into the mix boosts metformin’s anticancer effects.

The researchers explain how this occurs. Cancer cells need a lot of energy to grow and spread as fast as they do. However, an obstacle in the way of cancer’s metabolic needs is a molecule called NAD+. This molecule turns nutrients into energy.

“In order to keep the energy-generating machinery running, NAD+ must be continuously generated from NADH,” Benjamin explains, adding,”[B]oth metformin and syrosingopine prevent the regeneration of NAD+, but in two different ways.”

Many cancer cells rely on glycolysis in their metabolism, which means that they break sugar down into lactate. When there is too much lactate, however, glycolytic pathways are blocked.

So, to avoid this, cancer cells dispose of lactate via special transporters, and this is where the drug combination comes in.

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“We have now discovered,” Benjamin points out, “that syrosingopine efficiently blocks the two most important lactate transporters and thus, inhibits lactate export. High intracellular lactate concentrations, in turn, prevent NADH from being recycled into NAD+.”

Metformin, meanwhile, blocks the second of the two cellular pathways that help NAD+ regenerate. So, when metformin is combined with syrosingopine, NADH can no longer be recycled into NAD+. This, in turn, creates an energy shortage.

The energy shortage ultimately leads to the death of cancer cells, which no longer have an energy supply. The combination of the two drugs, therefore, “may prove a viable anticancer strategy,” conclude the researchers.

Cancer is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide and in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2018, doctors will have diagnosed more than 1,700,000 new cases in the U.S. alone.

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Medical News Today: What to know about encephalopathy

Encephalopathy means brain disease, disorder, or damage. The term refers to temporary or permanent conditions that affect the brain’s structure or function.

The main symptom of encephalopathy is a change to a person’s mental state.

There are different types of encephalopathy, with distinct causes, and encephalopathy can be a complication of another condition.

This article discusses types, causes, and symptoms. It also discusses how doctors can treat encephalopathy.

Causes and types of encephalopathy

Doctor pointing at brain scans on screen showing encephalopathy
Encephalopathy is when the brain changes due to damage, disease, or a disorder.

The word encephalopathy can refer to all kinds of brain damage and diseases.

There are many types of encephalopathy, and they can be grouped by their cause.

Broadly, encephalopathy can arise from physical injury, infection, or other medical conditions.

Below, we explore the types of encephalopathy and their causes:

Physical injury

When encephalopathy results from repeated trauma, it is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Trauma to the head may lead to nerve damage that affects brain function. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy can develop following multiple brain traumas or injuries over time. These may result from a series of accidents or blows to the head.

People in the military or who play contact sports may have a higher risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.


If toxins build up in the blood and reach the brain, they can cause damage. This may result from an underlying condition, infection, or exposure to toxic chemicals.

There are three types of encephalopathy linked with toxins:

  • Uremic encephalopathy: This results from uremic toxins building up in the blood when a person has kidney failure.
  • Hepatic encephalopathy: This happens if liver disease causes toxins to build up in a person’s blood.
  • Toxic metabolic encephalopathy: This occurs when toxic chemicals, or a chemical imbalance caused by an infection, affects brain function.

High blood pressure

If a person does not receive treatment for high blood pressure, it can lead to swelling in the brain. When this results in a brain injury, it is called hypertensive encephalopathy.

Lack of oxygen

If the brain does not get enough oxygen, a person may experience brain damage. Encephalopathy caused in this way is called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.

Vitamin B-1 deficiency

When a person has a vitamin B-1 deficiency, they can develop a type of brain disease called Wernicke encephalopathy.

Vitamin B-1 deficiency may result from:

  • alcohol use disorder
  • malnutrition
  • problems absorbing food in the gut

Prion diseases

Infectious encephalopathy can be the most serious type. It sometimes results from a rare group of conditions called prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

These progressive diseases are linked to the mutation of a protein called prion.

Prion diseases are neurogenerative. This means that they damage the brain and cause the brain’s function to get worse, or deteriorate, over time. The main feature of prion disease is tiny holes in the brain that give it a spongy appearance.

Examples of prion diseases that can lead to infectious encephalopathy include:

Inherited conditions

Some types of encephalopathy are related to genetics, and a person is more likely to develop one if a family member has it.

Two inherited forms of encephalopathy are:

  • Hashimoto’s encephalopathy: This relates to an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease, which affects the thyroid. The exact cause of Hashimoto’s is unknown, but doctors believe that it is inherited.
  • Glycine encephalopathy: This occurs when there is too much of the amino acid glycine in the brain. It can affect brain function.

Encephalopathy vs. encephalitis

Encephalopathy and encephalitis both affect the brain, but there are significant differences.

Encephalitis refers to inflammation in the brain, which often results from a viral infection.

Encephalopathy refers to permanent or temporary brain damage, disorder, or disease. It affects the brain’s function or structure and may be degenerative.

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Symptoms of encephalopathy

Tired and fatigued person looking at tablet
Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness are potential symptoms of encephalopathy.

The main symptom of encephalopathy is an altered mental state. This can involve:

  • having trouble staying alert
  • having problems thinking or processing information
  • feeling confused
  • forgetting things
  • behaving out of character
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • feeling very tired

These symptoms may get worse over time. The progression depends on the type of encephalopathy and how severe it is.

In addition to an altered mental state, a person with encephalopathy may experience:

  • involuntary muscle twitching
  • involuntary eye movements
  • shaking
  • muscle weakness
  • trouble swallowing or speaking
  • seizures


If a person has symptoms of encephalopathy, they should see a doctor immediately.

The doctor may use the following to reach a diagnosis:

  • blood tests
  • a spinal fluid examination
  • imaging studies, such as MRI or CT scans
  • electroencephalograms, which is a method of recording the electrical activity of the brain

The results of these tests will help the doctor determine:

  • if a person has encephalopathy
  • what type of encephalopathy a person has
  • what the underlying cause is


A doctor may recommend surgery to treat encephalopathy.
A doctor may recommend surgery to treat encephalopathy.

Once a doctor has determined the cause of a person’s encephalopathy, they can recommend the best treatment.

The doctor may suggest various medications to slow the progression of the damage.

In some cases, people may require surgery. If a person is having seizures, the doctor may prescribe anticonvulsant drugs.

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Severe encephalopathy may lead to loss of consciousness or coma. If this happens, the doctor will put the person on life support to help them recover.

In rare cases, encephalopathy may lead to permanent brain damage or loss of life.


Not all forms of encephalopathy are preventable. However, a person may be able to lower their risk by:

  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • reducing alcohol consumption
  • avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals


Encephalopathy refers to a broad range of conditions that affect the brain’s function, including brain damage and disease. The primary symptom is an altered mental status.

Doctors can often treat encephalopathy, and many people make a full recovery. With treatment, impaired brain function may be reversed.

However, certain types of encephalopathy are life-threatening. Infectious encephalopathy caused by prion disease is an example of this.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prion diseases are rare, but they always lead to loss of life. Research into treatments is ongoing.

When they are severe, all types of encephalopathy can be life-threatening.

Some people with severe encephalopathy may develop permanent brain damage. If this happens, the doctor will support the person and their family and help them manage the condition.

A doctor can provide detailed information about an individual’s outlook. In some cases, family members can consult with the doctor on the person’s behalf.

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Medical News Today: How can you tell when you have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is called a “silent killer” because it rarely causes symptoms until it severely damages a person’s health.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects around 1 in 3 American adults. The current guidelines and definition mean that close to half of all adults in the United States will be diagnosed with the condition.

When a person has high blood pressure, their blood is putting too much pressure on the walls of the arteries as it flows through.

If a person does not receive treatment, hypertension can cause serious health complications, such as heart disease and stroke. Nearly everyone can treat hypertension with lifestyle changes, and some people may also benefit from medication.

In this article, we discuss the myths and facts of high blood pressure symptoms. We also describe high and normal blood pressure readings and complications of high blood pressure.

Fact and fiction

Senior man checking his blood pressure
A person can check their blood pressure to find out what it is.

Some people may believe that if they do not experience symptoms, they have no reason to worry about their blood pressure. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms until it causes serious complications. The only way to know a person’s blood pressure is to check it.

Many believe that high blood pressure causes symptoms such as headaches, nervousness, sweating, and facial redness. However, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), hypertension often causes none of these issues.

Symptoms that people often mistakenly attribute to high blood pressure include:

  • Headaches and nosebleeds: Hypertension only causes headaches or nosebleeds when blood pressure is dangerously high, which is known as a hypertensive crisis. This is considered a medical emergency.
  • Dizziness: High blood pressure does not cause dizziness, though some blood pressure lowering medications can make a person feel dizzy.
  • Facial redness: Hypertension does not cause facial flushing, but a person may temporarily experience both high blood pressure and facial flushing from factors such as stress, alcohol, or spicy foods.

People may experience symptoms of high blood pressure when the reading suddenly rises above 180/120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). This is considered a hypertensive crisis with hypertensive urgency or a hypertensive emergency depending on a person’s other symptoms.

Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis include the following:

  • severe headaches
  • nosebleeds
  • chest pain
  • back pain
  • severe anxiety
  • shortness of breath

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Interpreting blood pressure readings

Blood pressure readings contain two numbers expressed as a fraction, such as 120/80 mmHg. Systolic pressure is the first number, and diastolic pressure is the second.

The readings show pressure in different stages:

  • Systolic pressure: This indicates pressure in the arteries when the lower part of the heart beats and the blood pushes harder against the artery wall.
  • Diastolic pressure: This indicates the pressure in the blood vessels between beats.

The current definitions of normal and high blood pressure are:

Doctors group blood pressure readings into the following categories:


Doctors define hypotension, or low blood pressure, as pressure below 90/60 mmHg. Extremely low blood pressure can result in less oxygen flowing to organs, which can lead to health complications.


Normal blood pressure for adults refers to readings between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80 mmHg.


Having a systolic pressure reading of 120–130 mmHg and a diastolic pressure reading below 80 mmHg is considered a red flag.

Although these readings are beneath the range for hypertension, they indicate blood pressure that is higher than normal. Elevated blood pressure can rise and become dangerous.

Hypertension stage 1

Hypertension stage 1 includes systolic pressures between 130–139 mmHg and diastolic pressures between 80–89 mmHg.

Hypertension stage 2

This is a more severe form of high blood pressure. Hypertension stage 2 refers to systolic pressures of 140 mmHg or higher, or diastolic pressures of 90 mmHg or higher.

Hypertensive crisis

Hypertensive crisis refers to extremely high blood pressure, of above 180/120 mmHg. Doctors consider this an emergency. It requires immediate medical intervention to prevent damage to blood vessels and major organs.

Symptoms of high blood pressure in pregnancy

Pregnant woman with a headache
Symptoms of high blood pressure during pregnancy can include nausea and headaches.

Hypertension is relatively common during pregnancy, affecting an estimated 6–8 percent of pregnant women ages 20–44 in the U.S.

Hypertension during pregnancy is treatable. Women who have chronic high blood pressure can still have healthy babies, as long as they closely monitor and address their blood pressure throughout their pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman does not receive treatment, however, the uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause serious complications for herself and the baby.

Symptoms and signs of high blood pressure during pregnancy include:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • weight gain
  • edema, or swelling
  • signs of kidney problems, such as protein in the urine (proteinuria)
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • vision problems

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Complications of high blood pressure

High blood pressure can cause unnoticeable but progressive damage to the body over the course of several years before a person develops complications.

Some complications of high blood pressure include:

  • sexual dysfunction
  • damage to the arteries and other blood vessels
  • a heart attack
  • heart failure
  • ischemic heart disease
  • microvascular disease
  • an abnormally thickened wall of the left ventricle, which is called left ventricular hypertrophy
  • an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke
  • an artery aneurysm and rupture
  • vision loss
  • kidney disease, including kidney failure


High blood pressure is a common health condition that can cause serious complications if a person does not receive treatment.

Some people mistakenly believe that hypertension will cause noticeable symptoms, like headaches, nosebleeds, and dizziness. However, these usually do not occur until high blood pressure becomes a medical emergency.

Usually, there are no symptoms, so many people are unaware that they have high blood pressure until serious health complications occur.

The only way to assess blood pressure is to get it checked. It is important to do so regularly, especially for people who have had readings above the normal range.

Women can develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. It may be a good idea for pregnant women to speak to their healthcare providers about ways to prevent or reduce high blood pressure.

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Medical News Today: What do brain lesions mean in multiple sclerosis?

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Medical News Today: Is amyl nitrite safe?

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Medical News Today: Spray gel could reduce cancer spread after surgery

A sprayable anticancer gel that rouses the immune system could help stop tumor recurrence and spread after surgery.
female nurse with male patient
Spraying an anticancer gel onto the surgery site after tumor removal can help reduce cancer spread.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are leading the team that is developing the gel, which comes in the form of a sprayable solution.

Their aim is that one day, surgeons will be able to spray the solution onto sites of tumor removal directly after surgery.

The solution, which quickly forms a biodegradable gel, contains nanoparticles laden with drugs that “wake up” the immune system.

Tests of the substance on mice that had undergone surgery to remove advanced melanoma tumors yielded promising results.

Half the mice remained tumor-free for at least 60 days following treatment.

The scientists say that not only did the treatment help prevent cancer recurrence at the site of surgery, but it also helped stop tumors forming in other parts of the body.

A study report on their work now features in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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Cancer is dangerous because it spreads

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide.” They estimate that cancer will cause 9.6 million deaths in 2018.

“One of the trademarks of cancer is that it spreads,” explains co-senior study author Zhen Gu, a professor of bioengineering at UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering.

The process of cancer spread is called metastasis. It is the main reason that people die of cancer, and it is a great challenge to treatment developers.

For many people, a diagnosis of cancer leads to treatment that involves surgery.

Nearly 95 percent of those with early-stage breast cancer, for instance, will need surgery. For people with brain tumors, surgery is often the “first line of treatment.”

However, despite surgical advances in the past 10 years, the cancer often returns.

Healing gel slowly releases anticancer drugs

The sprayable gel encapsulates calcium carbonate nanoparticles charged with antibodies that attack a protein called CD47.

One of the ways that cancer cells avoid the immune system is by releasing CD47, which sends out a “don’t eat me” signal.

While the gel is helping the wound at the tumor site to heal, it slowly releases the antibody-charged nanoparticles into the body.

Lead study author Dr. Qian Chen, who works as a researcher in Prof. Gu’s laboratory, explains that they decided to make the nanoparticles out of calcium carbonate because the compound dissolves slowly in the slightly acidic environment of surgical wounds.

Calcium carbonate also enhances the activity of immune cells called macrophages, Dr. Chen adds.

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Bring on the macrophages and T cells

Macrophages are among the most abundant types of cell that the immune system summons to tumor sites, and they stay there for “all stages of tumor progression.”

These white blood cells help rid the body of foreign objects and cellular waste by literally eating them. Their name comes from the Greek for “big eaters.”

“We also learned,” Dr. Chen continues, “that the gel could activate T cells in the immune system to get them to work together as another line of attack against lingering cancer cells.”

There are still several steps to complete before the gel is ready for human trials.

Further testing in animals will help decide the “optimal doses.” This will involve trying out different combinations of nanoparticles, drug loads, and treatment frequencies.

This sprayable gel shows promise against one of the greatest obstacles in curing cancer.”

Prof. Zhen Gu

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Medical News Today: IBD increases prostate cancer risk by fivefold

According to the latest research, men with inflammatory bowel disease have a significantly higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
Colon cross section
IBD causes chronic inflammation in the digestive tract.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is characterized by a range of gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, bloating, and cramps.

Two of the most common forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

These conditions affect an estimated 3 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People with IBD have an increased risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. However, the links between IBD and prostate cancer are not well-known.

Recently, researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, IL, set out to investigate whether or not a relationship exists.

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IBD and prostate cancer

Though controversial, doctors often use the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test to screen for prostate cancer. Normally, levels of PSA in the blood are low. If there is a significant increase, it can sometimes be a sign of prostate cancer.

However, men with IBD often have higher levels of PSA, possibly due to the chronic inflammation associated with the gastrointestinal condition.

Some researchers believe that certain inflammatory products, such as C-reactive protein, might boost levels of PSA without the presence of prostate cancer.

Because PSA levels can be high in people with IBD, they are often ignored. Understanding prostate cancer risk in this population is therefore important to help guide clinical decisions.

To investigate, the scientists followed 1,033 men with IBD and 9,306 men without IBD as a control group. On average, they followed each participant for 18 years. The average age at the beginning of the trial was 53.

They recently published their findings in the journal European Urology.

The scientists found that the prostate cancer risk for men with IBD was roughly five times greater than it was for those without the condition. The authors conclude:

[O]ur study is the first to demonstrate an increased risk of clinically significant [prostate cancer] for men with IBD.”

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Explaining the link

In their paper, the authors also discussed why this relationship might exist. How could IBD increase the risk of prostate cancer?

They theorize that, rather than being due to excessive inflammation, it might be due to a reduction in immune surveillance.

Immune surveillance is our immune system’s ability to pick off lone circulating cancer cells. The theory is that immune cells — which identify and destroy cancer cells before they take root and begin to cause harm — continuously patrol our bodies.

Doctors often prescribe people with IBD medications that reduce the body’s immune response. It could be that these drugs also reduce the vigilance of the immune surveillance system.

The authors also note that both prostate cancer and IBD have a significant genetic component. It may be that some of the genes involved are shared across both conditions.

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In the clinic

These new findings may change how doctors help people with IBD manage their condition. Lead author Dr. Shilajit Kundu explains:

“These [people] may need to be screened more carefully than [those] without inflammatory bowel disease. If a man with inflammatory bowel disease has an elevated PSA, it may be an indicator of prostate cancer.”

This finding is sure to open a debate surrounding PSA and prostate cancer in men with IBD. New guidelines may be necessary.

Dr. Kundu explains how he often sees elevated PSA in people with IBD in his clinic, saying, “Many doctors think their PSA is elevated just because they have an inflammatory condition. There is no data to guide how we should treat these men.”

Further work will be needed to gather a better understanding of the relationship between these conditions; and because of the high prevalence of IBD, this research will surely follow quickly.

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