News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized forms.

1. OCD related to educational underachievement

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is often treated as a personality quirk by the public. However, more than that, a European study that looked at 15,000 people, found a link between children and adolescents diagnosed with OCD and educational underachievement.

"OCD was associated with pervasive academic underachievement across the lifespan, compared to matched population controls," says Dr Ana Perez-Vigil, lead author of the study. There was no association with a specific school subject.

The association was also stronger in individuals first diagnosed in children and adolescents. However, patients with a later stage of diagnosis were quite impaired across the board.

"We also observe that it is difficult for young people to return to school even if they have had a successful treatment with us. Considerable efforts are needed from the families, schools and mental health professionals to try to get these kids back on track," Perez-Vigil adds, hoping the newfound data may create awareness about the impact of OCD on the young.

2. Worms provide clues on cancer spread

A still from a video of an invading cell in the lab worm C. elegans shows a fleeting protrusion that may help explain how cancer spreads. Photo credit: Kaleb Naegeli/Duke University.
A still from a video of an invading cell in the lab worm C. elegans shows a fleeting protrusion that may help explain how cancer spreads. Photo credit: Kaleb Naegeli/Duke University.

Part of the reason cancer is such a deadly disease is due to its ability to metastasise, or spread, allowing fast propagation throughout the cells of the human body. As such, researchers have been trying to better understand the spread of cancer cells.

Recently, a group of scientists from Duke University, has come one step closer in understanding the way cancer cells spread. By studying the transparent worm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), scientists visualised in real-time the spread of cancer cells via the use of time-lapse photography. Working at an unregulated pace, the cells spread by penetrating a dense layer of tissue before expanding to allow for further spread. Functionally, it is similar to a balloon catheter.

The team has also identified a signalling pathway that regulates such behaviour. The pathway is also found to be upregulated in most invasive brain tumours, skin cancers and most deadly cancers like pancreatic cancer. The group is now working on creating stop signals to prevent the spread of cancer cells.

3. Antibiotic resistance in the absence of antibiotics

Superbugs are often considered the next big threat to the ever-dwindling arsenal of antibiotics. Now, researchers from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University have found evidence that bacteria are able to swap antibiotic resistance, regardless of antibiotics being present or not.

When in the presence of bacteria with antibiotic resistance, sensitive (non-antibiotic resistant) bacteria were found to gain the resistances – without the presence of antibiotics. This persistence in resistance within an antibiotic colony is best explained by horizontal gene transfer, where genetic data (antibiotic resistance) is passed from one bacteria to another.

The team’s findings suggest that, in tackling superbugs, simply reducing antibiotic dependence would be insufficient. Rather, a strategy to prevent the spread of resistance bacteria may be a more effective way of tackling persistent resistance.

4. Tackling “voices” with therapy

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder affecting the daily lives of millions around the world. One of the ways it manifests is with patients hearing “voices”, which gives them irrational instructions and commands that disrupt an otherwise normal livelihood.

Looking to solve this issue, a team of researchers from the King’s College London, have adopted the use of a computer program as a form of therapy to help quell the voices. The “avatar therapy”, first invented in 2008, helps patients put a face to the voice by creating a virtual avatar of the voices that they hear. Complete with facial details, movement and even speech, the patients learn to conquer their avatars as they gradually build up self-esteem against the voices in their head.

However, "It's not for everyone," says social psychology Professor Tom Craig at King's College London, who conducts and researches avatar therapy. "Some people find it a bit too frightening to take the therapy on board." On the other hand, for those who have participated in the therapy, the results have been positive.

5. Controlling seizures in children with epilepsy with diet

The ketogenic diet is recommended to help children reduce the frequency of seizure attacks.
The ketogenic diet is recommended to help children reduce the frequency of seizure attacks.

The American Epilepsy Society has endorsed a new diet as a means of controlling seizure attacks in children with epilepsy. The diet, known as the ketogenic diet, is a balanced diet aimed at relying on the body’s ability to break down fat as a source of energy rather than having to rely on carbohydrates.

Two studies have thus far been carried out and found this diet to be an effective method of controlling seizure attacks in children.

"Although medical therapy is our mainstay for treatment, ketogenic dietary therapy can be a very effective option," says Dr James Wheless, a spokesman for the American Epilepsy Society.

Despite the initial connotations, the ketogenic diet is a very carefully planned diet. All foods need to be weighed and high-fat foods which are high in sugar, such as cookies, sweets and desserts, are disallowed. Moreover, carbohydrate intake also has to be strictly regulated, with vitamin supplements provided to make up the deficiencies.

With such strict guides, the ketogenic diet can be very difficult to follow and even then, it is not guaranteed to work on every child. Current recommendations suggest a six-week trial of the diet before committing to the diet full-time. MIMS

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