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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up

14 Apr, 2014

The Wellcome Trust research round-up brings you news from our research community every fortnight.

Young male smokers could have fatter sons

AS0000133FA10 Teenage boy, smokingMen who start smoking in their childhood could be more likely to have fat sons, according to new research published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

The sons of men who started smoking before the age of 11 were found to have 5-10 kg more body fat than other boys whose fathers started smoking later in life or not at all. The study suggests that a father’s experiences before puberty could influence the development of his future sons.

The team suggest this could be due to the switching on of certain genes by environmental factors, a process known as epigenetics. The weight of daughters was not affected.

The study is the 1000th paper published by the Children of the 90s study, an ambitious project at Bristol University funded by the Wellcome Trust and the MRC, that has been collecting detailed information more than 14,000 families since 1990 to track how genetic and environmental factors affect human development.

“This discovery of trans-generational effects has big implications for research into the current rise in obesity and the evaluation of preventative measures,” said Professor Marcus Pembrey, who led the study.

Scientists unconnected to the research have warned that more work would need to be done before establishing a firm link, since only 166 fathers reported smoking before the age of 11.

Pneumonia and Malaria biomarkers found

A blood test could help doctors distinguish between pneumonia and malaria, according to new research published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children globally. The disease has many causes and is characterised by inflammation of the lungs but can be difficult to distinguish from other respiratory problems and also malaria.

Now researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford have identified the protein Lcp-2 which can help diagnose the disease, as well as give doctors an indication of how severe the infection is. Concentration of the protein in blood plasma identified severe pneumonia in patients with 95 per cent accuracy. Another biomarker, the protein haptoglobin, was used to distinguish between bacterial and malarial causes of pneumonia with 99 per cent accuracy.

“To reduce the number of deaths caused by pneumonia it is critical to diagnose severe cases and those due to bacterial infection early so that appropriate treatment can be administered promptly,” reported researchers in the paper.

Computer program predicts stroke treatment risk

Researchers at Imperial College London have trained a computer program to identify patients that might suffer dangerous side effects from a common treatment for stroke.

Intravenous thrombolysis, an injection that can break up stroke-causing blood clots in the brain, can lead to dangerous bleeding in about six per cent of patients. The new computer program uses machine learning to spot patterns in brain scans to predict who might be at risk of bleeding and predicted dangerous bleeding with 74 per cent accuracy, an improvement on the 63 per cent accuracy achieved by doctors looking at the scans.

“Intravenous thrombolysis carries the risk of very severe side effects for a small proportion of patients, so having the best possible information on which to base our decisions is vital,” said Dr Paul Bentley from the Department of Medicine, who led the study.

The research is published in the journal Neuroimage Clinical.

B0008756 Mosquito (Anopheles stephensi)Targeting mosquito sperm to fight malaria

Reducing the fertility of malaria-carrying mosquitos could provide a new weapon against the disease, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Female mosquitos only mate once in their lives, during which they store the sperm in an organ called the spermatheca and use it to fertilise the eggs that they subsequently lay.

Wellcome Trust-funded researchers at Imperial College London have discovered an enzyme that keeps the sperm healthy inside the spermatheca, and by interfering with it, they were able to reduce the number of offspring that each female mosquito could produce.

Dr Robert Shaw, one of the lead authors of the research said, “There is no single magic bullet for tackling malaria, but making mosquitoes less fertile could provide us with a valuable weapon against the disease.”

In other news

  • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has received an Athena SWAN Bronze Award for taking the first steps to advance women’s careers and improve equality in the workplace.
  • Open access books published by The Wellcome Trust will now be featured on OAPEN, a depository for open access academic books in the humanities and social sciences.
  • Researchers at Imperial College London have identified the protein Lin28a, involved in brain development, which re-establishes in cancer cells and could be a new target for cancer treatment.
  • A coalition of 31 leading research funders, research organisations, learned societies and patient groups – including the Wellcome Trust – has issued a joint statement supporting funding for stem cell and reproductive health research in Europe. The statement calls on the European Parliament and European Commission to oppose the ‘One of Us’ Citizens’ initiative that is seeking a ban on all financing of activities that presuppose the destruction of human embryos, including stem cell research.

Image credits: Boy smoking – Anthea Sieveking, Wellcome Images; Mosquito SEM – Lauren Holden, Wellcome Images; 


One Comment leave one →
  1. 23 Apr, 2014 12:01 pm

    Reblogged this on Progress and commented:
    Here is something I did for the Wellcome Trust blog.

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