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Eye tracking tests may predict Alzheimer’s risk

New research finds that eye tracking tests can accurately detect people who have a form of mild cognitive impairment that predisposes them to Alzheimer’s disease. The direction of a person’s gaze can be a telltale sign of cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s disease often evolves from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — a small decline in memory and…

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Eye tracking tests may predict Alzheimer’s risk

New research finds that eye tracking tests can accurately detect people who have a form of mild cognitive impairment that predisposes them to Alzheimer’s disease.
The direction of a person’s gaze can be a telltale sign of cognitive impairment.

Alzheimer’s disease often evolves from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — a small decline in memory and reasoning that is not serious enough to interfere with daily activities, but that is noticeable to the person who develops the condition.

In fact, according to some studies, 46% of people with an MCI diagnosis go on to develop dementia within 3 years. By comparison, only 3% of adults of the same age experience Alzheimer’s in the same time span.

However, MCI does not always develop into full blown dementia. It often remains stable and sometimes the symptoms disappear completely with the person reverting to a normal, healthy cognition.

Experts have divided MCI into two forms: amnesic (aMCI) and nonamnesic (naMCI). The former describes impairment that predominantly affects memory, whereas the latter affects other cognitive skills.

Having aMCI raises the risk of Alzheimer’s significantly more than naMCI. Detecting Alzheimer’s as early as possible improves a person’s brain health and may reduce their symptoms, especially if a reversible form of MCI is the cause.

For these reasons, devising an accurate method of diagnosing the various subtypes of MCI is critical.

Researchers led by Thom Wilcockson, from the School of Sports, Exercise, and Health Sciences at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, set out to use eye tracking technology to distinguish between the two subtypes of MCI.

Wilcockson and his colleagues published the results of this first-of-its-kind study in the journal Aging.

‘Eye tracking as useful diagnostic biomarker’

Previous research has found that people with Alzheimer’s show signs of eye movement impairment before any cognitive symptoms appear.

The inability to direct the gaze in the appropriate direction often accompanies the very early stages of Alzheimer’s, and standard eye tracking tests can reveal this sign of dementia.

In the new study, Wilcockson and team set out to use these eye tracking tests to detect MCI subtypes.

The research involved 42 participants with a diagnosis of aMCI, 47 people with naMCI, 68 participants whom doctors had diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and 92 age-matched controls who were cognitively healthy.

As part of the research, the scientists asked the participants to complete antisaccade tasks. These are computer-based tasks wherein the participants must avoid looking at a distracting stimulus, such as a dot that appears at random points on the screen.

Using an eye tracker with a 500 Hertz sampling technology, the researchers calculated the “antisaccade error rate,” or the total number of times that a participant failed the task and looked at the stimulus.

The analysis revealed that it was possible to distinguish between the participants who had aMCI and those who had naMCI from their eye tracking results. Furthermore, the eye tracking results of those with aMCI closely resembled the scores of those with full blown Alzheimer’s.

“The work provides further support for eye tracking as a useful diagnostic biomarker in the assessment of dementia,” conclude the authors.

‘This research is extremely important’

“Given that people with MCI are more likely to develop dementia due to [Alzheimer’s] than cognitively healthy adults,” add the authors, “and, in particular, that people with [aMCI] are at the highest risk of progressing to a full dementia syndrome, this may also offer an additional prognostic tool for predicting which people with a diagnosis of MCI are more likely to progress to [Alzheimer’s].”

The study’s lead author also comments on the significance of the findings, saying, “The results indicate that it is possible to predict which MCI patients are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

“This would help with monitoring disease progression and may ultimately help identify whether treatments would be effective,” adds Wilcockson.

“This research is extremely important as an earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease would enable effective treatments, when available, to be administered before pathological changes to the brain are widespread and permanent.”

Thom Wilcockson

“I hope to build on this research and continue the development of eye tracking methodologies for early diagnosis,” concludes the lead researcher.
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Lax gun laws in neighboring states may increase firearm deaths

A US study suggests strong gun control regulations reduce a state’s firearm deaths, but having neighbors with more lenient laws undermines their effect.Share on PinterestNew research suggests that one state’s lax gun laws could undo the effects of its neighbor’s stricter firearm regulations.In 2017, 39,773 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States, according…

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Lax gun laws in neighboring states may increase firearm deaths

A US study suggests strong gun control regulations reduce a state’s firearm deaths, but having neighbors with more lenient laws undermines their effect.Share on PinterestNew research suggests that one state’s lax gun laws could undo the effects of its neighbor’s stricter firearm regulations.In 2017, 39,773 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.Overall, research indicates that stronger state laws governing the sale and ownership of firearms reduce firearm-related deaths. However, some states have relatively high rates of gun deaths despite strict regulations. To investigate why this might be the case, scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the Boston University School of Public Health at Boston, MA, looked into the effects of firearm laws in neighboring states.They used the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System to obtain figures for firearm-related deaths in the 48 adjacent U.S. states from 2000 to 2017. There were 578,022 firearm deaths in total, including homicides and suicides, but excluding deaths due to shootings by police or other law enforcement agents. The scientists also searched the State Firearm Laws Database for laws in each state regarding:background checksgun dealer regulationsbuyer regulationsgun-trafficking lawsThe team used the number of these laws as a proxy for gun control strength in each state.If you would like to check your registration status or register to vote, we have added some useful links at the bottom of this article.Overall, stronger state gun laws were associated with reduced firearm deaths, but having a neighboring state with more permissive laws undermined this protective effect.Larger policy differences across state borders were associated with increased gun-related deaths, suicides, and homicides, though the results were statistically stronger for suicide than homicide.The authors conclude:“This study adds to the growing literature emphasizing the role played by neighboring states’ firearm regulations in addition to own-state firearm regulations in firearm deaths. Failing to account for neighboring states with weaker laws, in some instances, can make a state’s own regulations appear less effective in reducing firearm deaths.”The scientists calculate that, on average, failure to account for weaker firearm laws in neighboring states make it appear as though a state’s laws were about 20% less effective at reducing deaths than they really were.They report their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.The researchers write that higher prices and strong marketing regulations can lead consumers to purchase firearms in adjacent, relatively unregulated markets. They say these are a frequent source of the guns used in crimes.They believe their work supports the case for more cooperative legislation between neighboring states and at the federal level.“I think the main message of this study is that to solve a nationwide problem we need to think of a nationwide or at least a regional-level (i.e. multistate) approach, like we may also need for the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Ye Liu, who is a doctoral student in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy at the University of Alabama and the first author of the study. “An ‘each state on its own’ approach is ultimately inadequate to address one of the biggest public health challenges in this country,” Dr. Liu adds.The authors acknowledge the number of gun-control laws may not perfectly reflect the strictness of a state’s regulations. In addition, they note states may vary in how diligently they enforce these laws.They call for further studies that might use alternative measures of regulatory strength, focus on specific categories of law, or explore the effects of regulations in more distant states. To check your voter registration status, click here to visit VoteAmerica, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout. They can also help you register to vote, vote by mail, request an absentee ballot, or find your polling place.
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COVID-19 will eventually become seasonal, researchers predict

A new study argues that COVID-19 is likely to become a seasonal disease similar to influenza — but not before a vaccine and greater herd immunity are achieved.Share on PinterestResearchers warn that COVID-19 outbreaks may become a seasonal occurrence.New research published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is likely to be…

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COVID-19 will eventually become seasonal, researchers predict

A new study argues that COVID-19 is likely to become a seasonal disease similar to influenza — but not before a vaccine and greater herd immunity are achieved.Share on PinterestResearchers warn that COVID-19 outbreaks may become a seasonal occurrence.New research published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is likely to be affected by the changing seasons in a way similar to other human coronaviruses and influenza.In temperate regions, this would mean reduced infections in the summer and peaks in the winter. However, this seasonality is only likely to occur once a vaccine is developed and greater herd immunity is achieved.Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.The sudden emergence and rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19, have left scientists urgently attempting to develop vaccines to combat the virus and treatments for its disease.Another key area of research is how the virus is transmitted from one person to another.Understanding how the virus spreads is crucial, as it allows governments to enact policies that effectively limit viral transmission.While policies have varied from country to country, they have generally involved maintaining social distance, washing the hands regularly, and wearing face masks.This is because the virus can be transmitted on surfaces, through direct human contact, and via droplets expelled when a person sneezes, coughs, or talks.In addition to transmitting through droplets from the respiratory tract, the virus may also spread through aerosols: very small droplets that are expelled alongside larger ones or that form when larger droplets evaporate.Determining precisely how the virus transmits requires time and research. However, given the lethality of COVID-19, policy decisions need to be made urgently, based on the best evidence currently available. Making the best suggestions requires scientists to analyze emerging research on COVID-19 and past studies that have looked at similar viruses.Doing so may also allow researchers to better predict how the virus will react in the future.In the present study, the team pooled the latest research on COVID-19 and compared it with information about other viruses that affect the respiratory tract. They did this to predict whether the novel coronavirus is likely to become seasonal — particularly severe in the winter in temperate regions — or whether it will circulate throughout the year.The researchers noted that many other human coronaviruses are more prevalent in winter than in summer, as is the influenza virus thought to react to temperature similarly to SARS-CoV-2.They argue that this seasonal pattern will likely develop in SARS-CoV-2, due to the effects of the climate on the virus and on humans.First, the researchers point out, the climate can affect the stability of the virus. Previous research has suggested that enveloped viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, become more stable in cold weather. This means that they are able to survive for longer periods between hosts.Cold weather may also allow the virus to travel through the air more easily, while higher levels of ultraviolet radiation in the summer may be more likely to kill the virus.Second, cold weather may affect our physiology, making it easier for the virus to infect us. People also generally get less vitamin D in the winter, when sunlight is less intense, which has been linked to a weakened immune response to respiratory infections. In addition, people are more likely to stay indoors during the winter months, increasing the risk of viral transmission at home, work, and school, for example.While cold weather may increase the rate of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the prevalence of the virus in countries with significant heat and high levels of moisture suggest that climatic conditions alone are not enough to make the virus seasonal.Instead, the researchers argue that seasonality is only likely once an effective vaccine has been developed and deployed, and once a greater level of herd immunity comes about as more people develop the infection.That means that, in the meantime, emergency measures remain crucial for limiting the spread of the virus — no matter the time of year.As study co-author Hadi Yassine, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Qatar University, in Doha, notes: “The highest global COVID-19 infection rate per capita was recorded in the Gulf states, regardless of the hot summer season. Although this is majorly attributed to the rapid virus spread in closed communities, it affirms the need for rigorous control measures to limit virus spread until herd immunity is achieved.”As senior study author Hassan Zaraket, an assistant professor of virology at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, observes, “COVID-19 is here to stay, and it will continue to cause outbreaks year-round until herd immunity is achieved.”“Therefore, the public will need to learn to live with it and continue practicing the best prevention measures, including wearing of masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoidance of gatherings,” he adds.The authors stress that their study is a “best guess” at how SARS-CoV-2 may react to changing weather conditions. Although it can behave similarly to previous viruses, the new virus is unique and may react in unexpected ways.“This remains a novel virus, and despite the fast-growing body of science about it, there are still things that are unknown. Whether our predictions hold true or not remains to be seen in the future. But we think it’s highly likely, given what we know so far, [that] COVID-19 will eventually become seasonal, like other coronaviruses.”– Hassan Zaraket, Ph.D.For live updates on the latest developments regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, click here.
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COVID-19: Antibody fragment could prevent infection

Research suggests that an antibody fragment, or “nanobody,” can neutralize SARS-CoV-2. The authors also say that it is possible to produce the nanobody cheaply and at scale, making it a promising candidate for the widespread prevention of COVID-19.As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, the search for an effective vaccine against the disease continues. A…

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COVID-19: Antibody fragment could prevent infection

Research suggests that an antibody fragment, or “nanobody,” can neutralize SARS-CoV-2. The authors also say that it is possible to produce the nanobody cheaply and at scale, making it a promising candidate for the widespread prevention of COVID-19.As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, the search for an effective vaccine against the disease continues. A recent report provides encouraging results for a vaccine candidate under development in Russia, but there are still no data showing that any vaccine can prevent COVID-19. It could be months, if not years, before a vaccine reaches the general population.In the meantime, however, scientists are busy looking for an effective treatment to mitigate symptoms or, even better, to prevent infection from occurring in the first place.Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.In a new study in the journal Nature Communications, a group of researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden describe one such treatment.They outline the production of an antibody fragment that binds strongly to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to neutralize the virus. They also say that it is possible to produce the fragment cheaply and at scale, and that it has good potential as an antiviral agent against the new coronavirus.A nanobody, which is a fragment of an antibody, is less than one-tenth of the size of a normal antibody. Although much smaller, nanobodies are just as specific and effective as regular antibodies.Camelids — the family of animals including camels, llamas, and alpacas — naturally produce nanobodies. In this study, the nanobody came from an alpaca.To obtain the nanobody, the scientists injected the alpaca with the spike protein of the new coronavirus back in February. The virus uses the spike protein to enter cells, but by itself, it is harmless.After 60 days, the researchers took blood samples from the alpaca. The blood samples revealed that its immune system had responded to the spike protein by generating several nanobodies. The researchers then analyzed the sequences of these nanobodies to see if any had the potential to become a treatment option.They found one nanobody in particular, called Ty1, that binds strongly to the part of the spike protein that usually binds to its receptor, ACE2.Cells in the body express ACE2, and the virus uses it to access and infect cells. Stopping the interaction between the spike protein and the ACE2 receptor, as this nanobody does, can effectively prevent infection.“Using cryo-electron microscopy, we were able to see how the nanobody binds to the viral spike at an epitope [that] overlaps with the cellular receptor ACE2-binding site, providing a structural understanding for the potent neutralization activity,” explains first study author Dr. Leo Hanke.The scientists suggest that, if further development is successful, it may be possible to use the nanobody to prevent infection in those with the highest risk of COVID-19.It could also be usable on a bigger scale to allow larger sections of the population to safely return to work, school, and other currently restricted activities. The authors claim that such widespread use of the nanobody is viable because manufacturers can produce it cheaply and on a large scale. This is because nanobodies are smaller and easier to manufacture than regular antibodies and because bacteria can express them in large quantities. Scientists can also make the nanobodies safe for use in humans by using existing methods. Indeed, previous research has suggested that they can help prevent respiratory infections.The team is currently exploring strategies to improve the potency of the nanobody and planning preclinical studies in animals to assess whether or not the treatment can help prevent COVID-19. The researchers have also made the nanobody sequence freely available online to facilitate collaborative research efforts and enable rapid production.“We hope our findings can contribute to the amelioration of the COVID-19 pandemic by encouraging further examination of this nanobody as a therapeutic candidate against this viral infection.”– Senior study author Prof. Gerald McInerneyFor live updates on the latest developments regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, click here.
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