Robot babies don’t reduce teen pregnancies

Electronic baby dolls which are designed to simulate the “real experience” of having an infant don’t work to cut teen pregnancy rates, say Australian researchers, published in The Lancet. In fact, the researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute at the University of Western Australia found that teenage girls who used the dolls as part of a pregnancy prevention program were more, not less, likely to become pregnant. Similar programs are reportedly delivered in 89 countries, and the authors of this Australian trial warn that the intervention is likely to be an ineffective use of public funds to prevent teenage pregnancy. The Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) program is an Australian adaptation of the United States program RealityWorks (often referred to as “Baby Think It Over”). The VIP program is delivered in schools and includes educational sessions, a workbook, watching a video documentary of teenage mothers talking about their experiences, and caring for an infant simulator over the weekend. The infant simulator is a doll that cries when it needs to be fed, burped, rocked or changed and measures and reports on mishandling, crying time, the number of changes and general care. A total of 57 schools in Western Australia took part in the study. Schools were randomly allocated to receive either the VIP program (1267 girls), which is delivered by school nurses over 6 consecutive days, or to receive the standard health education curriculum (1567 girls). The researchers then linked this information to data from hospital records and abortion clinics. All girls were aged 13–15 at the start of the study and they were followed until the age of 20 years. Compared to girls in the control group, girls enrolled on the VIP program had higher rates of pregnancy and abortion – 8% (97/1267) of the girls in the intervention group had at least one birth, compared to 4% (67/1567) in the control group. Similarly, 9% (113/1267) of girls in the intervention group had an abortion, compared to 6% (101/1567) in the control group.

New technique aids IVF embryo selection

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have successfully trialed a new technique that could aid the process of choosing the “best” embryo for implantation and help to boost the chances of pregnancy success from the very first IVF cycle. The research, published in Molecular Reproduction and Development, used highly advanced digital imaging techniques and mathematical modelling to show differences in the viability of embryos, which are not otherwise seen by the human eye under a microscope. The key elements the researchers considered were the quality of the embryo’s metabolism and biomarkers for DNA damage that may have occurred during the embryo’s in vitro development. With assistance from researchers in the Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (an Australian Research Centre of Excellence, also based at the University of Adelaide), the team trialed a sophisticated, digital imaging technique – currently used for diagnosing cancer cells in patients – and mathematical modelling to create a “texture analysis” of the differences from one embryo to the next. “These techniques provide a depth of analysis that is not otherwise discernable by the human eye. They’re intentionally non-invasive to avoid causing any potential damage to the embryo or its environment,” lead author Dr Hannah Brown said.

Genes determine caffeine addiction

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, published in Scientific Reports, have identified a gene they say may determine how much coffee we drink. The researchers looked at the genetic code of 1213 Italians from seven villages and asked them how many cups of coffee they drank every day. They then repeated the experiment using 1713 Dutch people. The study found that those with a higher expression of the PDSS2 gene drank less coffee and vice versa. The authors suggested the PDSS2 gene protein might interfere with our ability to metabolise caffeine so people with a lower gene expression, and thus lower levels of the gene protein, break down caffeine more easily, and may therefore be likely to drink more coffee.

“Bagpipe lung” a worry for musicians

The moist interiors of wind instruments may foster the growth of fungi and moulds associated with inflammatory lung disease, according to British doctors writing in Thorax. The warning comes after a man died of the chronic inflammatory lung condition hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) — believed to have been triggered by the inhalation of mould and fungi from the moist interior of a set of bagpipes. HP is triggered by an immune response to an inhaled environmental antigen, and can progress to disabling or fatal lung disease. Doctors from the University Hospital of South Manchester described the case of a 61-year-old man with a 7-year history of dry cough and progressive breathlessness, despite treatment with immunosuppressant drugs. He was diagnosed with HP in 2009; however, the cause was not identified. He had never smoked. In 2014, his shortness of breath had worsened to the point that he could no longer walk more than 20 metres, and was admitted to hospital. It was noted from his history that, in 2011, he had been on a 3-month trip to Australia without his bagpipes (which he usually played daily) during which time his symptoms rapidly improved. This prompted samples to be taken for testing from areas inside the bagpipes, and several species of fungi were cultured, including Paecilomyces variotti, Fusarium oxysporum, Penicillium species, Rhodotorula mucilaginosa, Trichosporon mucoides and Exophiala dermatitidis. Despite treatment, the man subsequently deteriorated and died: a post mortem examination revealed extensive lung damage consistent with acute respiratory distress syndrome and tissue fibrosis (scarring). The authors warn that any type of wind instrument could be contaminated with yeasts and moulds, and that clinicians need to be aware of this potential trigger for HP.


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