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UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Bipolar illness linked with abnormal genes

BOSTON, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- A team of U.S.-led scientists says it has found genetic abnormalities that balance sodium and calcium in brain cells linked with bipolar disease.

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Researchers said they made the discovery during the largest genetic analysis of its kind to date for bipolar disorder. They found the association between the disorder and variation in two genes. The genes make components of channels that manage the flow of the elements into and out of cells, including neurons.

"A neuron's excitability -- whether it will fire -- hinges on this delicate equilibrium," explained Dr. Pamela Sklar of the Massachusetts General Hospital. "Finding statistically robust associations linked to two proteins that may be involved in regulating such ion channels -- and that are also thought to be targets of drugs used to clinically to treat bipolar disorder -- is astonishing."

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Sklar, who led the study, said the results point to the possibility bipolar disorder might stem, at least in part, from the malfunction of ion channels.

The study that included Shaun Purcell of MGH, Dr. Nick Craddock of Cardiff University and a large group of international researchers report their findings in the online edition of the journal Nature Genetics.


Hair study may lead to better shampoos

BAYREUTH, Germany, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- German scientists say their detailed microscopic analysis of hair fibers interacting with each other will lead to better shampoos and conditioners.

The chemists from Bayreuth, Germany, said they conducted the first detailed microscopic analysis of what happens to individual hair fibers when they interact with each other.

"For the first time, we present an experimental setup that allows measuring the subtle forces, both physical and chemical, that arise when single hairs slide past each other or are pressed against each other," said doctoral student Eva Max of the University of Bayreuth, a study co-author.

The researchers said they invented a technology for analyzing hair that involves mounting individual hair fibers on a cantilever tip of an atomic force microscope and measuring their interactions as they touch each other.

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"The system will allow scientists to explore how different hair care products affect hair-to-hair interactions so that these products can be optimized in a more systematic fashion," Max said.

The study included Claudia Wood, a senior scientist at the BASF Care Chemicals Division in Bayreuth, which sponsored the study. The findings were presented Sunday in Philadelphia during the American Chemical Society's 236th national meeting.


FDA OKs drug for Huntington's chorea

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced approval of Xenazine (tetrabenazine) for the treatment of chorea in people with Huntington's disease.

The FDA said Xenazine is a new drug and the first treatment of any kind approved in the United States for any symptom of Huntington's disease. Currently there are no other drugs that are FDA-approved to treat chorea -- the jerky, involuntary movement that occurs in people with the disease.

The federal agency said side effects reported with use of Xenazine include depression and suicidal thoughts and actions and the drug should not be used in patients who are actively suicidal or in patients with untreated depression.

While the drug has been shown to decrease chorea in the short-term, the FDA said it also produced slight worsening in mood, cognition, rigidity, and functional capacity in clinical trials. Officials said health care professionals and family members of patients taking the drug should pay attention to all of the facets of the disease.

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Xenazine is manufactured by Prestwick Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Washington, D.C.


Grazing animals may lessen Arctic warning

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Aug. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've determined the impact of global warming in the Arctic may differ from computer predictions because of grazing animals.

Pennsylvania State University scientists, led by Associate Professor Eric Post and graduate student Christian Pederson, said most computer models indicate shrubs will thrive as a result of global warming. And since shrubs have an increased ability over grasses and other small plants to absorb carbon dioxide, many scientists believe shrubs will thereby lessen the impact of climate change in the Arctic.

But Post and Pederson argue grazing by muskoxen and caribou will reduce the carbon-mitigating benefit of the plants.

"If you imagine a chessboard on which the dark squares are shrubs and the light squares are grasses, warming alone would tend to increase the size of the dark squares until the chess board is completely filled in," said Post. "Our experiment suggests that herbivores, like caribou and muskoxen, will slow this process, inhibit it, or perhaps even increase the size of the white squares on the chessboard."

The research appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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