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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up

12 May, 2014

Our fortnightly look at news from the Wellcome Trust community

3659139185_ae8cf4b1fa_zMother’s diet could ‘silence’ her child’s genes

A balanced diet before conception gives women a greater chance of bearing healthy children, says a study published in Nature Communications and co-funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Researchers from the MRC International Nutrition Group studied 167 women in The Gambia where the population’s reliance on home-grown food sees great variation in diets between dry and rainy seasons.

By comparing six genes in children born to women that had conceived in the rainy season to those who conceived in the dry season when harvests mean women have a more well-rounded diet, the team found that a diet deficient in nutrients disrupts and ‘silences’ the expression of certain genes in their children. This deactivation of genes could predispose children to certain diseases. The findings are the first demonstration in humans that a mother’s nutritional well-being at the time of conception could change how her child’s genes will be interpreted.

“Pre-conceptional folic acid is already used to prevent defects in embryos. Now our research is pointing towards the need for a cocktail of nutrients, which could come from the diet or from supplements,” said Professor Andrew Prentice, head of the MRC nutrition group.

Potential new treatment for Friedreich’s ataxia

Vitamin B3 has been identified as a potential new treatment for the inherited disease Friedreich’s ataxia, a childhood degenerative condition which currently has no treatment or cure.

In a clinical trial published in theLancet, Professor Richard Festenstein and his team at Imperial College London tested the ability of nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3, to increase levels of the protein frataxin, which is normally reduced in patients with the condition. The team found that when taking nicotinamide twice a day for up to two months, levels of frataxin increased to resemble that of people without Friedreich’s ataxia.

Dr Vincenzo Libri, Head of Clinical Studies at the NIHR/Wellcome Trust Imperial Clinical Research Facility, said: “Finding a cure for Friedreich’s ataxia is what every researcher in the field dreams about. Our results help us understand the key elements of how nicotinamide may work… However, given the exploratory nature of our investigation, our results should be interpreted with caution and require further substantiation from larger confirmatory studies before we can make our vision of a cure a reality”.

Antipsychotic medication associated with reduced rate of violent crime

C0021281 TabletsPeople who take antipsychotic medication (such as clozapine or risperidone) to treat psychiatric illness are significantly less likely to be involved in violent crime compared to when they are not using such medication, according to new research published in The Lancet.

The study, part funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by Dr Seena Fazel of Oxford University, used Swedish national health registries to study psychiatric diagnoses and any subsequent criminal convictions, in over 80,000 patients (40,937 men and 41,710 women) who were prescribed antipsychotic or mood stabilising medication, from 2006 to 2009. Compared with periods when participants were not on medication, violent crime fell by 45% in patients receiving antipsychotics, and by 24% in patients prescribed mood stabilisers.

“Patients with psychiatric disorders are at risk of perpetrating violent acts, as well as being victims. Until now, we have not known whether antipsychotics and mood stabilizers reduce risks of violence,” said Dr Fazel. “Our study provides evidence of potentially substantial reductions in risk of violence, and suggests that violence is to a large extent preventable in patients with psychiatric disorders.”

In other news:

  • Nine Wellcome Trust funded researchers have been elected as Fellows of the Royal Society in recognition of their outstanding contribution to science.
  • Congratulations to the members of the Wellcome Trust community, both funded researchers and committee members, who have been made Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences.
  • The Wellcome Trust has joined over 170 partners, including educators, industry and government in supporting the Your Life campaign, encouraging more women to participate in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
  • Well done to the Wellcome-funded Centre for Medical Humanities for receiving being highly commended in the Health (organisation) category of the 2014 UK Blog Awards.
  • Around 100,000 Britons will be invited to undergo detailed imaging of their brain, heart and other vital organs as part of the Wellcome Trust-funded UK Biobank, the world’s biggest scanning project. The Biobank aims to improve diagnosis and treatment of a range of human diseases including cancer, heart disease, and depression.

Image credit: “Maternity Curves” by Sean McGrath, CC-BY on Flickr, Tablets – Wellcome Library, London 

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