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A pioneering stem cell treatment restores eyesight in nearly blind patients

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A pair of patients with severe vision loss have had their sight restored, courtesy of a pioneering trial using stem cells to regrow crucial tissues in the eye. The first-of-its-kind procedure was carried out on a man in his 80s and woman in her 60s, conducted at the U.K.’s Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Both patients suffered from visual impairments as the result of a vision disorder called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Prior to the operation, both patients were unable to read under any conditions but afterward, they were able to read 60 to 80 words per minute using regular reading glasses. The operation was carried out one year ago, and both have been closely monitored since then.

The trial involved growing a replacement layer of cells called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). These are used for supporting the retina cells whose job is to capture light for vision. Loss of vision is caused by the death of the light-sensing retinal cells at the back of the eye, referred to as the macular.

This growth of replacement RPE cells was carried out using human embryonic stem cells, undifferentiated cells which can be prompted to transform into specialized cells, depending on requirements. In this work, the stem cell-based RPE cells were grown on a plastic scaffold, which re-creates the eye’s shapes and structure, before being transplanted into the back of each patient’s eye.

In the past, similar stem cell breakthroughs have been used for everything from giving people with paralysis their sense of touch back to providing a possible cure for Type 1 diabetes.

While this latest vision-related stem cell treatment is very much a trial, the researchers involved hope that this could lead to an “off the shelf” solution based on this study to be available to patients in the future. To reach this point, it will be necessary to carry out other, larger scale clinical trials to further prove the efficacy of the treatment.

A paper describing the work, “Phase 1 clinical study of an embryonic stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelium patch in age-related macular degeneration,” was recently published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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Health & Lifestyle

Impact of Chronic Noise on Heart Health

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Exposure to a high level of noise on a regular basis can wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system, according to new research.



The leader of the study was Dr. Azar Radfar, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The findings will be presented at Scientific Sessions 2018, held by the American Heart Association (AHA) in Chicago, IL.

Dr. Radfar’s team found that noise exposure causes an elevated stress response in the human brain.

This can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels, which can cause serious health problems, including a heart attack or stroke.

The research included 499 participants, who were free from cardiovascular disease and cancer at the study’s start.

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Noise and cardiovascular events

The participants underwent positron emission tomography (PET) and CT scans of their brains and blood vessels. The researchers also looked at the activity of the amygdala, a region of the brain that regulates stress and emotional response.

The team estimated participants’ regular exposure to noise by comparing their home addresses with data from the United States Department of Transportation’s National Transportation Noise Map, which includes information about levels of roadway and aviation noise.

 



Years later, the researchers examined the participants’ medical records for evidence of cardiovascular events. Of the 499 original participants, 40 had experienced a heart attack or stroke in the 5 years that followed the initial testing.

After analyzing the data, the team discovered that participants with the highest levels of noise exposure also had the most noticeable stress-related brain activity. In addition, they had more inflammation in their arteries.

Increased blood vessel inflammation is a well-established risk factor for heart disease, so finding a link between this inflammation and cardiovascular events was no surprise.

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However, participants with the most stress-related brain activity were more than three times as likely to experience a major cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Even after accounting for other risk factors, such as air pollution, smoking, and diabetes, the team concluded that participants exposed to higher levels of noise pollution had an increased risk of cardiovascular events.

What are the next steps?

Determining whether decreasing noise exposure can reduce the risk of heart disease will require further research. The study’s authors urge doctors to consider high noise levels as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular events.

While simply moving away from an area with noise pollution is usually not an option, the authors urge their readers to consider ways to decrease high levels of ambient noise.

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-Medical News Today

 

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Health & Lifestyle

Experiment shows social media use increases depression and anxiety

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After the three weeks were up, the students were surveyed again using the same tools to measure their well-being. These tools measured outcomes like depression, loneliness, anxiety, and that most millennial of worries, fear of missing out. The group of students who limited their social media usage showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out from the start of the experiment. In particular, people who had higher levels of depression at the start of the study showed a decrease in depressive symptoms when they limited their social media time. One subject described the experience personally: “Not comparing my life to the lives of others had a much stronger impact than I expected, and I felt a lot more positive about myself during those weeks.”

While plenty have studies have looked at well-being and internet use and found that, for example, anxious people tend to have a problematic approach to internet use or that depression can be identified through social media use, this is the first study to confirm this link experimentally. It shows that it is not merely the case that depressed, anxious, or unhappy people happen to use social media more often, but rather that the act of using the sites decreases well-being. The researchers recommend limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day to improve your mood and mental health.

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