Australia lags on chronic disease: report
Australia lags well behind other countries when it comes to preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, the nation’s first health report card shows. Australia’s Health Tracker report, released last week by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) at Victoria University, has found the rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes have all increased. Among the key findings; 45% of the adult population isn’t doing enough physical activity, almost a quarter of the population has high blood pressure and a fifth of adults drink “risky levels” of sugar. For children, 70% of 5 to 11-year-olds aren’t meeting physical activity recommendations. This increases to 91% for those aged 12-17 who are not exercising enough. Just over 70% of children aged 9-13 years consume too much sugar and 29% of young people (12-17 years) are overweight or obese. On the good side, the number of young people aged 12-17 years who smoke daily has decreased since 2011. For more on this story, visit doctorportal.

Home-cooked meals lower diabetes risk
People who eat more home cooked meals have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, according to US research published in PLOS Medicine. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston employed large prospective datasets in which US health professionals — both men and women — were followed up for long periods, with rigorous collection of data on health indicators, including self-reported information on eating habits and occurrence of diabetes. The results were corrected for various known factors that could affect dining habits, including marital status. All in all, the study analysed 2.1 million years of follow-up data. They found that people who reported consuming five to seven evening meals prepared at home during a week had a 15% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who consumed two such meals or fewer in a week. A smaller, but still statistically significant, reduction was apparent for those who reported consuming more midday meals prepared at home. Other analyses suggest that less weight gain could partially explain the reported reduction in occurrence of type 2 diabetes in those often eating meals prepared at home.

Caution urged on womb scratching
Scratching the inside of the womb before conceiving a baby may double the chances of a successful birth, research suggests, but experts urged caution over the study findings and stressed that “endometrial scratch” was not a pleasant procedure. They said there was insufficient evidence to recommend such a step to ordinary couples wanting to conceive naturally. International trials are now under way to investigate whether the procedure might be worth considering for women undergoing IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) treatment. Endometrial scratch involves causing a small injury to the lining of the womb using a catheter tube about the thickness of a straw. The idea is that doing this somehow makes the womb “stickier” and more receptive to the embryo, which stands a greater chance of implanting. A review of eight trials with more than 1000 women planning to undergo insemination or conceive spontaneously appeared to show that endometrial scratching really does improve the odds of giving birth. The study was conducted by researchers from the Cochrane collaboration, and was presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Biology. Based on the trials analysed, it found that endometrial scratch roughly doubled the chance of live birth compared with no intervention. The procedure increased the normal likelihood of a successful live birth or ongoing pregnancy over a set amount of time from around 9% to between 14% and 28%. However, Sarah Lensen from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who led the review, pointed out that research evidence was not of a high standard. She said: “The results must be treated with caution.” For more on this story visit doctorportal.

Swapping mitochondria may shorten lives
Mitochondrial replacement therapy has the potential to prevent the transmission of faulty mitochondrial genes from mother to child and to improve fertility by “rejuvenating” eggs, but the long-term effects of “mix and matching” nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from different sources have been thrown into question by an international study published in Nature. Researchers from Spain, working on mice, have found that subtle variations in the sequence of mitochondrial DNA can have profound effects on metabolism and ageing. They studied specially bred strains of mice that have the same nuclear DNA but different mitochondrial DNA. When the animals were young, there was little obvious effect, but as they aged, the authors noticed differences in mitochondrial function, insulin signalling, obesity and age-related measures including telomere shortening. These differences affected both the health and lifespan of the animals. With non-disease-causing mitochondrial variants now shown to influence health, the study highlights a need for caution. The authors suggest that in the future, consideration should be given to using donor mitochondrial DNA that is a close genetic match to that of the recipient.

“Big data” helps find cancer treatments
By comparing data on the genes involved in patients’ cancers with data on genes from lab-based cancer cell lines, researchers have begun to predict, on a large scale, which drugs will best fight various cancers. Scientists are starting to accumulate huge datasets on which genes mutate during cancer, allowing for a more systematic approach to “precision medicine”. In a study published in Cell, researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK compared genetic mutations in patient tumours to those in cancer cell lines and then tested the cell lines’ responses to therapeutic compounds. By analysing where these datasets overlap, researchers can begin to predict on a large scale which drugs will best fight various cancers. The researchers analysed data from two public datasets, the Cancer Genome Atlas and the International Cancer Genome Consortium, and other studies, gathering genetic information for more than 11 000 tumour samples. The team then compared these tumour samples to about 1000 cancer cell lines used in labs, looking for lines that had the same types of mutations as the patient samples, and which therefore might more closely mimic patient responses. Once they mapped the tumour mutations onto the cell lines, the researchers looked for the genetic mutations that could best predict the cancer cells’ response to 265 different anti-cancer compounds at various stages of development. The drugs covered a range of mechanisms, including chemotherapeutics, small-molecule inhibitors, epigenetic modulators, and cell death regulators. Many of the mutations that occurred both in tumour samples and cell lines did signal whether the cancer cells would be sensitive or resistant to different compounds, largely depending on the type of tissue in which the cancer originated.

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