Monday, December 16th, 2013
New scientific research conducted with mice may have major implications for how fathers think about their health before planning to have a baby. The study linked nutritional deficiencies in male mice with a higher risk that their offspring would be born with birth defects. The Washington Post has more:
The findings raise concerns about dads unknowingly passing on harmful traits through molecular markers on the DNA of their sperm.
These epigenetic markers don’t change the genetic information, but rather switch parts of the genome on and off. They are susceptible to environment and diet throughout fetal development, but were thought to be wiped clean before birth. New studies, including the one published online Tuesday in Nature Communications, have revealed that some of them may survive all the way from sperm to baby.
When analyzing the sperm epigenomes of the low-nutrition mice, the researchers found abnormalities in epigenetic markers that affected genes linked to development, neurological and psychological disorders and certain cancers.
“We should be looking carefully at the way a man is living his life,” said study author and reproductive biologist Sarah Kimmins of McGill University. “Environmental exposure is remembered in the developing sperm and transmitted to offspring.”
Since it takes human males about three months to produce fully grown sperm from stem cells, Kimmins speculates that men trying to have children could try cleaning up their diets even temporarily.
“If a man has been living a bad, unhealthy lifestyle, he will not only improve his own health but the health of his offspring,” she said.
Image: Man with healthy food in shopping basket, via Shutterstock
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Monday, July 22nd, 2013
Gastroschisis–a rare birth defect in which an infant is born with a hole in his or her abdomen–is on the rise in the US, according to a large new study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. More from Reuters:
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“We have a pattern where the prevalence is very much highest among young women and it’s growing more rapidly among that group than any other group,” said Russell Kirby, a professor at the University of South Florida and the lead author of the study.
Kirby’s study could not explain why the birth defect is becoming more common, and gastroschisis itself is not well understood.
The malformation involves an opening next to the belly button, through which the baby’s intestines protrude.
Newborns with gastroschisis require immediate surgery to close the hole and put the organs back in place.
Most babies with gastroschisis survive, but Kirby said some children have problems with growth and development and there is not a lot of research about the long term outcomes for these kids.
By general estimates, the condition is relatively rare, with a rate of 2 to 3 cases per 10,000 live births in the U.S. But in recent years, studies have suggested the defect is being seen more often….
….The increase in gastroschisis primarily affected mothers under age 25, and especially under age 20, whereas those who gave birth in their 30s had no change in their risk of having a baby with the birth defect.
Mothers who had their babies in their early twenties experienced a 5.8 percent increase each year in the risk of having a child born with gastroschisis, Kirby’s group reported in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Among these mothers, the number of babies born with gastroschisis went from 4 out of every 10,000 babies in 1995 to 7 in 10,000 babies in 2005.
Teen mothers saw a 6.8 percent yearly increase in the proportion of babies born with gastroschisis.
Friday, January 25th, 2013
Audrina Cardenes, a three-month-old Texas baby born with a rare and usually fatal condition called ectopia cordis, in which the child is born with all or part of the heart outside the body, is going home. Though 90 percent babies born with ectopia cordis die within days or are stillborn, doctors are “optimistic” after Audrina’s surgery to put her heart back into her chest. More from the New York Daily News:
Two months after her operation to place her heart back inside her chest, the baby is now ready to leave the hospital and go home with her family.
“Audrina is a true fighter and we are hopeful that she will continue to progress,” Audrina’s surgeon, Dr. Charles D. Fraser, said shortly after the risky operation. “I am also hopeful that Audrina’s case marks the beginning of our ability to care for more children diagnosed with ectopia cordis in the future.”
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Thursday, August 30th, 2012
New research adds to the evidence that flu shots are safe for pregnant women, finding that they do not increase the risk of birth defects, Reuters reports.
Scientists studied 9,000 pregnant women who received the flu shot and found that the rate of birth defects in their babies was 2 percent, identical to the rate among 77,000 pregnant women who were not vaccinated. The study was published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Interestingly, women who received a flu shot were less likely to suffer a stillbirth. It’s not clear why, but lead researcher Jeanne Sheffield of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suspects the vaccine might help by preventing severe cases of flu.
Despite recommendations to get the flu shot, most pregnant women do not. In the U.S., only between 10 percent and one-quarter of women have been vaccinated each flu season over the last couple decades, Sheffield’s team notes.
Based on studies, that seems largely due to safety worries.
On the other hand, Sheffield said “it’s amazing” how many women are unaware that the flu itself is considered a risk during pregnancy.
“The flu is a problem in pregnancy,” she said. “But we have a vaccine to prevent it. And it’s considered safe and effective in any trimester.”
Image: Woman gets flu shot via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, August 7th, 2012
CNN.com is reporting on the inspiring story of a newborn baby whose life-threatening intestinal obstruction was corrected not through major, invasive surgery, but through an innovative technique using magnets:
A thin, hard membrane was blocking a section of [newborn, 4-pound] Patrick’s intestines — the result of a rare birth defect called rectal atresia that occurs in one out of every 5,000 babies.
“We need to remove it,” the doctor told the couple.
[Dr. Eric] Scaife described to Patrick’s worried parents a long, technically difficult surgery. Patrick would be cut open through his abdomen and vertically along his tailbone. Once inside, Scaife would remove the membrane and then piece together two sections of intestines.
He had his concerns. It was a big operation on a little baby. The surgery might cause scarring, or it might injure nerves in Patrick’s pelvis that could lead to incontinence.
If Patrick was Scaife’s son, what would he do? Divricean asked the surgeon.
Scaife told her he’d think on it and give them an answer the next week.
“Hopefully, they’ll come up with something that will save Patrick or will give us a better option at least,” Divricean thought as she waited for the week to pass.
A week later, Scaife had an idea.
Instead of removing Patrick’s blockage, he wanted to break through it — with two powerful magnets.
In the hands of children, strong magnets have proven dangerous, even deadly. When swallowed, they’ve passed into the intestines, and their attraction to each other has forged a hole in tissues.
It occurred to Scaife that in the skilled hands of a surgeon, magnets might be a useful tool instead of a hazard. If he placed a magnet on either side of Patrick’s blockage, their attraction might make a hole and destroy the membrane, allowing stool to pass.
Scaife’s idea was untested and unproven — but if it worked, Patrick wouldn’t need surgery.
Read on for the whole story.
Image: Surgeon, via Shutterstock
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