Gene Therapy Alleviates Depression in Mice
Gene therapy could eventually be used to treat mental illnesses such as depression, new research suggests. Depressed people often have low levels of the protein p11 in the reward center of their brain, and fixing the gene that produces those proteins could alleviate depressive symptoms, according to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. Researchers studied mice that lacked p11 and acted depressed: When they were held up by their tails, they did not struggle to get away. After a p11-producing gene was injected into the animals' brains, however, they began fighting for their own survival, Bloomberg reports. The therapy is currently being tested on monkeys, and if it's successful, the researchers will seek approval to test it in humans within the next two years. "We potentially have a novel therapy to target what we now believe is one root cause of human depression," study author Michael Kaplitt said in a statement to reporters.
HRT for Symptom Relief Vs. Breast Cancer Risks
Women taking hormone replacement therapy to combat hot flashes, night sweats, and other menopausal symptoms may be wondering whether to flush their pills after hearing the latest frightening news. Not only does one popular brand raise the risk of breast cancer, but it raises the risk of being diagnosed with a more aggressive tumor that's more likely to kill them, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Many experts believed that breast cancers caused by hormone therapy tended to be slower-growing and less life-threatening, but this new finding suggests otherwise. It also suggests that the increased breast cancer risk lingers even years after women go off the hormones, writes U.S. News's Deborah Kotz. "These appear to be long-standing effects," says Peter Bach, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study. "We don't know if the risks ever reverse."
The new finding is based on a clinical trial involving more than 16,000 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79; they were randomly assigned to take hormones or placebos for several years until the trial, called the Women's Health Initiative, was abruptly halted in 2002 due to initial data indicating that the risks of taking hormones—such as strokes, heart disease, and breast cancer—outweighed the benefits. Since then, researchers have continued to follow nearly 13,000 of the WHI participants, which led to this week's breast cancer finding. [Read more: HRT for Symptom Relief Vs. Breast Cancer Risks.]
Never Too Early for a Child's Hearing Test
Hearing tests for newborns are becoming more common, but not all states require them, even though the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the government's panel of independent health experts, recommended universal screening in 2008. But skipping newborn hearing tests does increase the risk that children with hearing loss will suffer developmental delays by age 5, according to research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Newborns can't let anyone know if they are hearing or not, so newborn tests detect otoacoustic emissions—basically, sound that bounces off the cochlea in the baby's inner ear and is picked up by a small microphone. Another test, the auditory brainstem response test, picks up signals from the auditory nerve through electrodes attached to the baby's scalp, writes U.S. News correspondent Nancy Shute. The tests are painless, but cost and time are an issue, as they are for all universal medical tests. An older method, called distraction testing, can't be done until a child is at least 6 months old. With that method, testers watch a child while making a noise to see if the child turns in the direction of the noise. [Read more: Never Too Early for a Child's Hearing Test.]