Bullying and mental health problems

A twins study published in JAMA Psychiatry has asked to what degree does childhood exposure to bullying contribute to mental health difficulties and whether the direct contributions of exposure to bullying persist over time. The study by Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault, from University College London, and co-authors included 11 108 twins who were an average age of 11 years when they were first assessed and about 16 years at the last assessment. Mental health assessments at those ages included anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and impulsivity, inattention, conduct problems and psychotic-like experiences, such as paranoid thoughts or cognitive disorganisation. Exposure to bullying was measured using a self-reported peer-victimisation scale. The “twin differences” design of the study used one twin as a control for the other, thereby accounting for shared environmental and genetic sources of other potential mitigating factors. The study suggests that childhood exposure to bullying contributes to multiple mental health issues, particularly anxiety, depression, paranoid thoughts and cognitive disorganisation. This dissipated or was reduced after 5 years. Limitations of the study include that a twin differences study design does not account for non-shared environmental mitigating factors, which might exaggerate the contribution of childhood exposure to bullying.

Parental murder witnesses need more support

Research from Monash University’s Accident Research Centre (MUARC) has called for support for children bereaved by fatal intimate partner violence. The study, published in PLOS ONE, suggests that the children not only need support to cope with the sudden loss but also with unaddressed histories of domestic violence and exposure to graphic homicide scenes. The lead researcher behind the study, Dr Eva Alisic from the Trauma Recovery Lab at MUARC, is establishing a better understanding of the circumstances, needs and perspectives of children affected by domestic homicide. Along with an international team, Dr Alisic has published findings about 256 children in the Netherlands who lost a parent to intimate partner homicide. She anticipates that the data can be used to further raise awareness of the need to support those affected in Australia. The study found that of the children in the Netherlands who had been exposed to domestic violence, over 40% had not been known to professional services before the homicide. The impact on children was heightened by the finding that many were in the same building as their parent at the time of the killing. Dr Alisic believes that as most of the killings involved weapons such as knives and guns, the children were probably exposed to graphic homicide scenes. The findings were the result of the cross-examination of eight different types of data for the decade running from 2003 to 2012, scrutinising legal verdicts, child protection information, newspaper reports, and criminological data, among others. Dr Alisic said that the study was made even more challenging because relevant information about the children was often missing. She said the next step will be to analyse the research team’s interviews with young people and their caregivers, and to start data collection in other countries.

Squirtable elastic glue could transform surgery

A highly elastic and adhesive surgical glue that quickly seals wounds without the need for common staples or sutures could transform how surgeries are performed, according to biomedical engineers from the University of Sydney and the US, published in Science Translational Medicine. Called MeTro, the glue’s high elasticity makes it ideal for sealing wounds in body tissues that continually expand and relax – such as lungs, hearts and arteries – that are otherwise at risk of reopening. The material also works on internal wounds that are often in hard-to-reach areas and have typically required staples or sutures due to surrounding body fluid hampering the effectiveness of other sealants. MeTro sets in 60 seconds once treated with ultraviolet light, and the technology has a built-in degrading enzyme which can be modified to determine how long the sealant lasts – from hours to months, in order to allow adequate time for the wound to heal. The liquid or gel-like material has quickly and successfully sealed incisions in the arteries and lungs of rodents and the lungs of pigs, without the need for sutures and staples.

Biosensor mouse lights up health and disease

Researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney and Francis Crick Institute in the UK have developed a glow-in-the-dark biosensor mouse that gives a real-time readout of the rapidly changing “skeleton” within cells in living tissues. The mouse contains a fluorescent version of a protein called RhoA, which controls the shape of the cell’s skeleton. RhoA is thought be particularly important in “mechanosensing”, the process by which cells remodel their own skeleton in response to the softness or rigidity of their surrounding environment. For this reason, RhoA and its signalling pathway within cells is becoming an attractive new drug target in cancer. RhoA oscillates rapidly between two states, active and inactive, in response to chemical and physical cues in the environment. When RhoA is active, the biosensor glows blue-green; when inactive, the biosensor glows red. Using sophisticated intravital imaging technology, the researchers can watch where RhoA is, and measure how its activity changes, in any organ in the body. Using the biosensor mouse, the researchers were able to explore the progression of breast cancer and pancreatic cancer in detail. They went on to show that the activity of anticancer drugs could be readily assessed in the biosensor mouse. The mouse is the latest in a growing canon of groundbreaking biosensor mice developed by the researchers, including a biosensor mouse that makes it possible to watch in real time as pancreatic cancer cells prepare to spread beyond the primary tumour. The new biosensor mouse has just been published in the journal Cell Reports.


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