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1.  Calculating the potential for within-flight transmission of influenza A (H1N1) 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:81.
Clearly air travel, by transporting infectious individuals from one geographic location to another, significantly affects the rate of spread of influenza A (H1N1). However, the possibility of within-flight transmission of H1N1 has not been evaluated; although it is known that smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, SARS and seasonal influenza can be transmitted during commercial flights. Here we present the first quantitative risk assessment to assess the potential for within-flight transmission of H1N1.
We model airborne transmission of infectious viral particles of H1N1 within a Boeing 747 using methodology from the field of quantitative microbial risk assessment.
The risk of catching H1N1 will essentially be confined to passengers travelling in the same cabin as the source case. Not surprisingly, we find that the longer the flight the greater the number of infections that can be expected. We calculate that H1N1, even during long flights, poses a low to moderate within-flight transmission risk if the source case travels First Class. Specifically, 0-1 infections could occur during a 5 hour flight, 1-3 during an 11 hour flight and 2-5 during a 17 hour flight. However, within-flight transmission could be significant, particularly during long flights, if the source case travels in Economy Class. Specifically, two to five infections could occur during a 5 hour flight, 5-10 during an 11 hour flight and 7-17 during a 17 hour flight. If the aircraft is only partially loaded, under certain conditions more infections could occur in First Class than in Economy Class. During a 17 hour flight, a greater number of infections would occur in First Class than in Economy if the First Class Cabin is fully occupied, but Economy class is less than 30% full.
Our results provide insights into the potential utility of air travel restrictions on controlling influenza pandemics in the winter of 2009/2010. They show travel by one infectious individual, rather than causing a single outbreak of H1N1, could cause several simultaneous outbreaks. These results imply that, during a pandemic, quarantining passengers who travel in Economy on long-haul flights could potentially be an important control strategy. Notably, our results show that quarantining passengers who travel First Class would be unlikely to be an effective control strategy.
PMCID: PMC2813231  PMID: 20034378
2.  Patient-centred tuberculosis treatment delivery under programmatic conditions in Tanzania: a cohort study 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:80.
Directly observed therapy (DOT) remains the cornerstone of the global tuberculosis (TB) control strategy. Tanzania, one of the 22 high-burden countries regarding TB, changed the first-line treatment regimen to contain rifampicin-containing fixed-dose combination for the full 6 months of treatment. As daily health facility-based DOT for this long period is not feasible for the patient, nor for the health system, Tanzania introduced patient centred treatment (PCT). PCT allows patients to choose for daily DOT at a health facility or at their home by a supporter of choice. The introduction of fixed dose combinations in the intensive and continuation phase made PCT feasible by eliminating the risk of selective drug taking by patients and reducing the number of tablets to be taken. The approach was tested in three districts with the objective to assess the effect of this strategy on TB treatment outcomes
Cohort analysis comparing patients treated under the PCT strategy (registered April-September 2006) with patients treated under health-facility-based DOT (registered April-September 2005). The primary outcome was the cure rate. Differences were assessed by calculating the risk ratios. Associations between characteristics of the supporters and treatment outcomes in the group of patients opting for home-based DOT were assessed through logistic regression.
In the PCT cohort there were 1208 patients and 1417 were included in the historic cohort. There was no significant difference in cure rates between the cohorts (risk ratio [RR]: 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.96-1.16). In the PCT cohort, significantly more patients had successful treatment (cure or treatment completed; RR: 1.10; 95%CI: 1.01-1.15). There were no characteristics of supporters that were associated with treatment outcome.
The PCT approach showed similar cure rates and better treatment success rates compared to daily health-facility DOT. The results indicate that there are no specific prerequisites for the supporter chosen by the patient. The programmatic setting of the study lends strong support for scaling-up of TB treatment observation outside the health facility.
PMCID: PMC2801503  PMID: 20025724
3.  Psychoeducation for depression, anxiety and psychological distress: a meta-analysis 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:79.
Given the high prevalence and burden associated with depression and anxiety disorders and the existence of treatment barriers, there is a clear need for brief, inexpensive and effective interventions such as passive psychoeducational interventions. There are no published meta-analyses of the effectiveness of passive psychoeducation in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety or psychological distress.
Cochrane, PsycInfo and PubMed databases were searched in September 2008. Additional materials were obtained from reference lists. Papers describing passive psychoeducational interventions for depression, anxiety and psychological distress were included if the research design was a randomized controlled trial and incorporated an attention placebo, no intervention or waitlist comparison group.
In total, 9010 abstracts were identified. Of these, five papers which described four research studies targeting passive psychoeducation for depression and psychological distress met the inclusion criteria. The pooled standardized-effect size (four studies, four comparisons) for reduced symptoms of depression and psychological distress at post-intervention was d = 0.20 (95% confidence interval: 0.01-0.40; Z = 2.04; P = 0.04; the number needed to treat: 9). Heterogeneity was not significant among the studies (I2 = 32.77, Q:4.46; P = 0.22).
Although it is commonly believed that psychoeducation interventions are ineffective, this meta-analysis revealed that brief passive psychoeducational interventions for depression and psychological distress can reduce symptoms. Brief passive psychoeducation interventions are easy to implement, can be applied immediately and are not expensive. They may offer a first-step intervention for those experiencing psychological distress or depression and might serve as an initial intervention in primary care or community models. The findings suggest that the quality of psychoeducation may be important.
PMCID: PMC2805686  PMID: 20015347
4.  Integrating complex genomic datasets and tumour cell sensitivity profiles to address a 'simple' question: which patients should get this drug? 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:78.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that cancer drug therapies can only reach their full potential through appropriate patient selection. Matching drugs and cancer patients has proven to be a complex challenge, due in large part to the substantial molecular heterogeneity inherent to human cancers. This is not only a major hurdle to the improvement of the use of current treatments but also for the development of novel therapies and the ability to steer them to the relevant clinical indications. In this commentary we discuss recent studies from Kuo et al., published this month in BMC Medicine, in which they used a panel of cancer cell lines as a model for capturing patient heterogeneity at the genomic and proteomic level in order to identify potential biomarkers for predicting the clinical activity of a novel candidate chemotherapeutic across a patient population. The findings highlight the ability of a 'systems approach' to develop a better understanding of the properties of novel candidate therapeutics and to guide clinical testing and application.
See the associated research paper by Kuo et al:
PMCID: PMC2799438  PMID: 20003409
5.  A systems analysis of the chemosensitivity of breast cancer cells to the polyamine analogue PG-11047 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:77.
Polyamines regulate important cellular functions and polyamine dysregulation frequently occurs in cancer. The objective of this study was to use a systems approach to study the relative effects of PG-11047, a polyamine analogue, across breast cancer cells derived from different patients and to identify genetic markers associated with differential cytotoxicity.
A panel of 48 breast cell lines that mirror many transcriptional and genomic features present in primary human breast tumours were used to study the antiproliferative activity of PG-11047. Sensitive cell lines were further examined for cell cycle distribution and apoptotic response. Cell line responses, quantified by the GI50 (dose required for 50% relative growth inhibition) were correlated with the omic profiles of the cell lines to identify markers that predict response and cellular functions associated with drug sensitivity.
The concentrations of PG-11047 needed to inhibit growth of members of the panel of breast cell lines varied over a wide range, with basal-like cell lines being inhibited at lower concentrations than the luminal cell lines. Sensitive cell lines showed a significant decrease in S phase fraction at doses that produced little apoptosis. Correlation of the GI50 values with the omic profiles of the cell lines identified genomic, transcriptional and proteomic variables associated with response.
A 13-gene transcriptional marker set was developed as a predictor of response to PG-11047 that warrants clinical evaluation. Analyses of the pathways, networks and genes associated with response to PG-11047 suggest that response may be influenced by interferon signalling and differential inhibition of aspects of motility and epithelial to mesenchymal transition.
See the related commentary by Benes and Settleman:
PMCID: PMC2803786  PMID: 20003408
6.  Combination strategies for pandemic influenza response - a systematic review of mathematical modeling studies 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:76.
Individual strategies in pandemic preparedness plans may not reduce the impact of an influenza pandemic.
We searched modeling publications through PubMed and associated references from 1990 to 30 September 2009. Inclusion criteria were modeling papers quantifying the effectiveness of combination strategies, both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical.
Nineteen modeling papers on combination strategies were selected. Four studies examined combination strategies on a global scale, 14 on single countries, and one on a small community. Stochastic individual-based modeling was used in nine studies, stochastic meta-population modeling in five, and deterministic compartmental modeling in another five. As part of combination strategies, vaccination was explored in eight studies, antiviral prophylaxis and/or treatment in 16, area or household quarantine in eight, case isolation in six, social distancing measures in 10 and air travel restriction in six studies. Two studies suggested a high probability of successful influenza epicenter containment with combination strategies under favorable conditions. During a pandemic, combination strategies delayed spread, reduced overall number of cases, and delayed and reduced peak attack rate more than individual strategies. Combination strategies remained effective at high reproductive numbers compared with single strategy. Global cooperative strategies, including redistribution of antiviral drugs, were effective in reducing the global impact and attack rates of pandemic influenza.
Combination strategies increase the effectiveness of individual strategies. They include pharmaceutical (antiviral agents, antibiotics and vaccines) and non-pharmaceutical interventions (case isolation, quarantine, personal hygiene measures, social distancing and travel restriction). Local epidemiological and modeling studies are needed to validate efficacy and feasibility.
PMCID: PMC2797001  PMID: 20003249
7.  Malaria paediatric hospitalization between 1999 and 2008 across Kenya 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:75.
Intervention coverage and funding for the control of malaria in Africa has increased in recent years, however, there are few descriptions of changing disease burden and the few reports available are from isolated, single site observations or are of reports at country-level. Here we present a nationwide assessment of changes over 10 years in paediatric malaria hospitalization across Kenya.
Paediatric admission data on malaria and non-malaria diagnoses were assembled for the period 1999 to 2008 from in-patient registers at 17 district hospitals in Kenya and represented the diverse malaria ecology of the country. These data were then analysed using autoregressive moving average time series models with malaria and all-cause admissions as the main outcomes adjusted for rainfall, changes in service use and populations-at-risk within each hospital's catchment to establish whether there has been a statistically significant decline in paediatric malaria hospitalization during the observation period.
Among the 17 hospital sites, adjusted paediatric malaria admissions had significantly declined at 10 hospitals over 10 years since 1999; had significantly increased at four hospitals, and remained unchanged in three hospitals. The overall estimated average reduction in malaria admission rates was 0.0063 cases per 1,000 children aged 0 to 14 years per month representing an average percentage reduction of 49% across the 10 hospitals registering a significant decline by the end of 2008. Paediatric admissions for all-causes had declined significantly with a reduction in admission rates of greater than 0.0050 cases per 1,000 children aged 0 to 14 years per month at 6 of 17 hospitals. Where malaria admissions had increased three of the four sites were located in Western Kenya close to Lake Victoria. Conversely there was an indication that areas with the largest declines in malaria admission rates were areas located along the Kenyan coast and some sites in the highlands of Kenya.
A country-wide assessment of trends in malaria hospitalizations indicates that all is not equal, important variations exist in the temporal pattern of malaria admissions between sites and these differences require more detailed investigation to understand what is required to promote a clinical transition across Africa.
PMCID: PMC2802588  PMID: 20003178
8.  Recent developments in multiple sclerosis therapeutics 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:74.
Multiple sclerosis, the most common neurologic disorder of young adults, is traditionally considered to be an inflammatory, autoimmune, demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. Based on this understanding, the initial therapeutic strategies were directed at immune modulation and inflammation control. These approaches, including high-dose corticosteroids for acute relapses and long-term use of parenteral interferon-β, glatiramer acetate or natalizumab for disease modification, are at best moderately effective. Growing evidence supports that, while an inflammatory pathology characterizes the early relapsing stage of multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative pathology dominates the later progressive stage of the disease. Multiple sclerosis disease-modifying therapies currently in development attempt to specifically target the underlying pathology at each stage of the disease, while avoiding frequent self-injection. These include a variety of oral medications and monoclonal antibodies to reduce inflammation in relapsing multiple sclerosis and agents intended to promote neuroprotection and neurorepair in progressive multiple sclerosis. Although newer therapies for relapsing MS have the potential to be more effective and easier to administer than current therapies, they also carry greater risks. Effective treatments for progressive multiple sclerosis are still being sought.
PMCID: PMC3224941  PMID: 19968863
9.  Post-exposure prophylaxis during pandemic outbreaks 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:73.
With the rise of the second pandemic wave of the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus in the current season in the Northern Hemisphere, pandemic plans are being carefully re-evaluated, particularly for the strategic use of antiviral drugs. The recent emergence of oseltamivir-resistant in treated H1N1 patients has raised concerns about the prudent use of neuraminidase inhibitors for both treatment of ill individuals and post-exposure prophylaxis of close contacts.
We extended an established population dynamical model of pandemic influenza with treatment to include post-exposure prophylaxis of close contacts. Using parameter estimates published in the literature, we simulated the model to evaluate the combined effect of treatment and prophylaxis in minimizing morbidity and mortality of pandemic infections in the context of transmissible drug resistance.
We demonstrated that, when transmissible resistant strains are present, post-exposure prophylaxis can promote the spread of resistance, especially when combined with aggressive treatment. For a given treatment level, there is an optimal coverage of prophylaxis that minimizes the total number of infections (final size) and this coverage decreases as a higher proportion of infected individuals are treated. We found that, when treatment is maintained at intermediate levels, limited post-exposure prophylaxis provides an optimal strategy for reducing the final size of the pandemic while minimizing the total number of deaths. We tested our results by performing a sensitivity analysis over a range of key model parameters and observed that the incidence of infection depends strongly on the transmission fitness of resistant strains.
Our findings suggest that, in the presence of transmissible drug resistance, strategies that prioritize the treatment of only ill individuals, rather than the prophylaxis of those suspected of being exposed, are most effective in reducing the morbidity and mortality of the pandemic. The impact of post-exposure prophylaxis depends critically on the treatment level and the transmissibility of resistant strains and, therefore, enhanced surveillance and clinical monitoring for resistant mutants constitutes a key component of any comprehensive plan for antiviral drug use during an influenza pandemic.
PMCID: PMC2794871  PMID: 19954514
10.  Can we improve outcomes in AF patients by early therapy? 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:72.
Atrial fibrillation affects at least 1% of the population and causes marked society-wide morbidity and mortality. Current management of atrial fibrillation including antithrombotic therapy and management of concomitant conditions in all patients, rate control therapy in most patients, and rhythm control therapy in patients with severe atrial fibrillation-related symptoms can alleviate atrial fibrillation-related symptoms but can neither effectively prevent recurrent atrial fibrillation nor suppress atrial fibrillation-related complications. Hence, there is a need for better therapy of atrial fibrillation.
The etiology of atrial fibrillation is complex. Most of the causes of atrial fibrillation which are known at present perpetuate themselves in vicious circles, and presence of the arrhythmia by itself causes marked damage of atrial myocardium. These pathophysiological insights suggest that early diagnosis and comprehensive therapy of atrial fibrillation, including adequate therapy of all atrial fibrillation-causing conditions, rate control, and rhythm control therapy, could help to prevent progression of atrial fibrillation and reduce atrial fibrillation-related complications. Such a therapy should make use of safe and effective therapeutic modalities, some of which have become available recently or will become available in the near future. The hypothesis that early diagnosis and early, comprehensive therapy of atrial fibrillation can improve outcomes requires formal testing in controlled trials.
PMCID: PMC2788576  PMID: 19941634
11.  Migraine pathogenesis and state of pharmacological treatment options 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:71.
Migraine is a largely inherited disorder of the brain characterized by a complex, but stereotypical, dysfunction of sensory processing. Often the most obvious clinical symptom is head pain, but non-headache symptoms such as photophobia, phonophobia and nausea are clearly part of the typical presentation. This review discusses the current pathophysiological concepts of migraine and migraine aura, such as a possible brainstem dysfunction and cortical spreading depression. Acute and preventive migraine treatment approaches are briefly covered with a focus on shortcomings of the currently available treatment options. A number of different receptors, such as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), TRPV1 and glutamate receptors, are currently being targeted by potential novel migraine therapeutics. The prospects of this research are exciting and are likely to improve patient care.
PMCID: PMC2784479  PMID: 19917094
12.  Oral high dose ascorbic acid treatment for one year in young CMT1A patients: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II trial 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:70.
High dose oral ascorbic acid substantially improved myelination and locomotor function in a Charcot-Marie-Tooth type 1A mouse model. A phase II study was warranted to investigate whether high dose ascorbic acid also has such a substantial effect on myelination in Charcot-Marie-Tooth type 1A patients and whether this treatment is safe.
Patients below age 25 years were randomly assigned to receive placebo or ascorbic acid (one gram twice daily) in a double-blind fashion during one year. The primary outcome measure was the change over time in motor nerve conduction velocity of the median nerve. Secondary outcome measures included changes in minimal F response latencies, compound muscle action potential amplitude, muscle strength, sensory function, Charcot-Marie-Tooth neuropathy score, and disability.
There were no significant differences between the six placebo-treated (median age 16 years, range 13 to 24) and the five ascorbic acid-treated (19, 14 to 24) patients in change in motor nerve conduction velocity of the median nerve (mean difference ascorbic acid as opposed to placebo treatment of 1.3 m/s, confidence interval -0.3 to 3.0 m/s, P = 0.11) or in change of any of the secondary outcome measures over time. One patient in the ascorbic acid group developed a skin rash, which led to discontinuation of the study medication.
Oral high dose ascorbic acid for one year did not improve myelination of the median nerve in young Charcot-Marie-Tooth type 1A patients. Treatment was relatively safe.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN56968278, NCT00271635.
PMCID: PMC2784478  PMID: 19909499
13.  Human papillomavirus testing with Pap triage for cervical cancer prevention in Canada: a cost-effectiveness analysis 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:69.
Recently published results from a large randomized trial (Canadian Cervical Cancer Screening Trial study group) suggest that human papillomavirus testing followed by Pap smear-based triage for human papillomavirus positive women may be an effective way to screen women for cervical cancer. We determined the potential cost-effectiveness of including human papillomavirus tests for cervical cancer screening for Canada and three provinces: Alberta, Newfoundland and Ontario.
We developed four Markov decision models using data from relevant Canadian and provincial studies and databases. The models were used to determine the number of false positive test results, cancers, lifetime costs and life-expectancy for 27 different screening strategies that varied by age to begin screening (18 or 25 years), screening interval (one, two, three, or five years) and whether the currently recommended strategy (screening every year from age 18 until 21 and then every three years afterwards with conventional Paps) was conducted prior to age 25. Strategies were compared using incremental cost-effectiveness ratios.
Screening strategies beginning at age 18 were associated with a substantial increase in the number of false-positive test results but only small differences in the number of cancers compared to the same strategy conducted beginning at age 25. Strategies of human papillomavirus testing first, followed by triage with Pap smears were associated with lower costs and greater increases in life-expectancy than the currently recommended screening strategy in Canada.
A strategy of human papillomavirus testing beginning at age 25, with Pap triage for women with positive human papillomavirus results may be more effective at reducing cervical cancer at a lower cost than the current recommended strategy for screening in Canada.
PMCID: PMC2780455  PMID: 19900264
14.  STAT1-dependent expression of energy metabolic pathways links tumour growth and radioresistance to the Warburg effect 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:68.
The Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 1 (STAT1) has traditionally been regarded as a transmitter of interferon signaling and a pro-apoptotic tumour suppressor. Recent data have identified new functions of STAT1 associated with tumourigenesis and resistance to genotoxic stress, including ionizing radiation (IR) and chemotherapy. To investigate the mechanisms contributing to the tumourigenic functions of STAT1, we performed a combined transcriptomic-proteomic expressional analysis and found that STAT1 is associated with regulation of energy metabolism with potential implication in the Warburg effect.
We generated a stable knockdown of STAT1 in the SCC61 human squamous cell carcinoma cell line, established tumour xenografts in athymic mice, and compared transcriptomic and proteomic profiles of STAT1 wild-type (WT) and knockdown (KD) untreated or irradiated (IR) tumours. Transcriptional profiling was based on Affymetrix Human GeneChip® Gene 1.0 ST microarrays. Proteomes were determined from the tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) data by searching against the human subset of the UniProt database. Data were analysed using Significance Analysis of Microarrays for ribonucleic acid and Visualize software for proteins. Functional analysis was performed with Ingenuity Pathway Analysis with statistical significance measured by Fisher's exact test.
Knockdown of STAT1 led to significant growth suppression in untreated tumours and radio sensitization of irradiated tumours. These changes were accompanied by alterations in the expression of genes and proteins of glycolysis/gluconeogenesis (GG), the citrate cycle (CC) and oxidative phosphorylation (OP). Of these pathways, GG had the most concordant changes in gene and protein expression and demonstrated a STAT1-dependent expression of genes and proteins consistent with tumour-specific glycolysis. In addition, IR drastically suppressed the GG pathway in STAT1 KD tumours without significant change in STAT1 WT tumours.
Our results identify a previously uncharacterized function of STAT1 in tumours: expressional regulation of genes encoding proteins involved in glycolysis, the citrate cycle and mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, with predominant regulation of glycolytic genes. STAT1-dependent expressional regulation of glycolysis suggests a potential role for STAT1 as a transcriptional modulator of genes responsible for the Warburg effect.
PMCID: PMC2780454  PMID: 19891767
15.  Adherence to isoniazid prophylaxis among HIV-infected children: a randomized controlled trial comparing two dosing schedules 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:67.
Tuberculosis contributes significantly to morbidity and mortality among HIV-infected children in sub-Saharan Africa. Isoniazid prophylaxis can reduce tuberculosis incidence in this population. However, for the treatment to be effective, adherence to the medication must be optimized. We investigated adherence to isoniazid prophylaxis administered daily, compared to three times a week, and predictors of adherence amongst HIV-infected children.
We investigated adherence to study medication in a two centre, randomized trial comparing daily to three times a week dosing of isoniazid. The study was conducted at two tertiary paediatric care centres in Cape Town, South Africa. Over a 5 year period, we followed 324 HIV-infected children aged ≥ 8 weeks. Adherence information based on pill counts was available for 276 children. Percentage adherence was calculated by counting the number of pills returned. Adherence ≥ 90% was considered to be optimal. Analysis was done using summary and repeated measures, comparing adherence to the two dosing schedules. Mean percentage adherence (per child during follow-up time) was used to compare the mean of each group as well as the proportion of children achieving an adherence of ≥ 90% in each group. For repeated measures, percentage adherence (per child per visit) was dichotomized at 90%. A logistic regression model with generalized estimating equations, to account for within-individual correlation, was used to evaluate the impact of the dosing schedule. Adjustments were made for potential confounders and we assessed potential baseline and time-varying adherence determinants.
The overall adherence to isoniazid was excellent, with a mean adherence of 94.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] 93.5-95.9); similar mean adherence was achieved by the group taking daily medication (93.8%; 95% CI 92.1-95.6) and by the three times a week group (95.5%; 95% CI 93.8-97.2). Two-hundred and seventeen (78.6%) children achieved a mean adherence of ≥ 90%. Adherence was similar for daily and three times a week dosing schedules in univariate (odds ratio [OR] 0.88; 95% CI 0.66-1.17; P = 0.38) and multivariate (adjusted OR 0.85; 95% CI 0.64-1.11; P = 0.23) models. Children from overcrowded homes were less adherent (adjusted OR 0.71; 95% CI 0.54-0.95; P = 0.02). Age at study visit was predictive of adherence, with better adherence achieved in children older than 4 years (adjusted OR 1.96; 95% CI 1.16-3.32; P = 0.01).
Adherence to isoniazid was excellent regardless of the dosing schedule used. Intermittent dosing of isoniazid prophylaxis can be considered as an alternative to daily dosing, without compromising adherence or efficacy.
Trial registration
Clinical Trials NCT00330304
PMCID: PMC2777189  PMID: 19886982
16.  Accumulation of neutral lipids in peripheral blood mononuclear cells as a distinctive trait of Alzheimer patients and asymptomatic subjects at risk of disease 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:66.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common progressive neurodegenerative disease. In recent years, numerous progresses in the discovery of novel Alzheimer's disease molecular biomarkers in brain as well as in biological fluids have been made. Among them, those involving lipid metabolism are emerging as potential candidates. In particular, an accumulation of neutral lipids was recently found by us in skin fibroblasts from Alzheimer's disease patients. Therefore, with the aim to assess whether peripheral alterations in cholesterol homeostasis might be relevant in Alzheimer's disease development and progression, in the present study we analyzed lipid metabolism in plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells from Alzheimer's disease patients and from their first-degree relatives.
Blood samples were obtained from 93 patients with probable Alzheimer's disease and from 91 of their first-degree relatives. As controls we utilized 57, cognitively normal, over-65 year-old volunteers and 113 blood donors aged 21-66 years, respectively. Data are reported as mean ± standard error. Statistical calculations were performed using the statistical analysis software Origin 8.0 version. Data analysis was done using the Student t-test and the Pearson test.
Data reported here show high neutral lipid levels and increased ACAT-1 protein in about 85% of peripheral blood mononuclear cells freshly isolated (ex vivo) from patients with probable sporadic Alzheimer's disease compared to about 7% of cognitively normal age-matched controls. A significant reduction in high density lipoprotein-cholesterol levels in plasma from Alzheimer's disease blood samples was also observed. Additionally, correlation analyses reveal a negative correlation between high density lipoprotein-cholesterol and cognitive capacity, as determined by Mini Mental State Examination, as well as between high density lipoprotein-cholesterol and neutral lipid accumulation. We observed great variability in the neutral lipid-peripheral blood mononuclear cells data and in plasma lipid analysis of the subjects enrolled as Alzheimer's disease-first-degree relatives. However, about 30% of them tend to display a peripheral metabolic cholesterol pattern similar to that exhibited by Alzheimer's disease patients.
We suggest that neutral lipid-peripheral blood mononuclear cells and plasma high density lipoprotein-cholesterol determinations might be of interest to outline a distinctive metabolic profile applying to both Alzheimer's disease patients and asymptomatic subjects at higher risk of disease.
PMCID: PMC2777188  PMID: 19883495
17.  Development of lower limb range of motion from early childhood to adolescence in cerebral palsy: a population-based study 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:65.
The decreasing range of joint motion caused by insufficient muscle length is a common problem in children with cerebral palsy (CP), often worsening with age. In 1994 a CP register and health care programme for children with CP was initiated in southern Sweden. The aim of this study was to analyse the development of the passive range of motion (ROM) in the lower limbs during all the growth periods in relation to gross motor function and CP subtype in the total population of children with CP.
In total, 359 children with CP born during 1990-1999, living in the southernmost part of Sweden in the year during which they reached their third birthday and still living in the area in the year of their seventh birthday were analysed. The programme includes a continuous standardized follow-up with goniometric measurements of ROM in the lower limbs. The assessments are made by each child's local physiotherapist twice a year until 6 years of age, then once a year. In total, 5075 assessments from the CPUP database from 1994 to 1 January 2007 were analysed.
The study showed a decreasing mean range of motion over the period 2-14 years of age in all joints or muscles measured. The development of ROM varied according to GMFCS level and CP subtype.
We found a decreasing ROM in children with CP from 2-14 years of age. This information is important for both the treatment and follow-up planning of the individual child as well as for the planning of health care programmes for all children with CP.
PMCID: PMC2774339  PMID: 19863779
18.  Transforming medical professionalism to fit changing health needs 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:64.
The professional organization of medical work no longer reflects the changing health needs caused by the growing number of complex and chronically ill patients. Key stakeholders enforce coordination and remove power from the medical professions in order allow for these changes. However, it may also be necessary to initiate basic changes to way in which the medical professionals work in order to adapt to the changing health needs.
Medical leaders, supported by health policy makers, can consciously activate the self-regulatory capacity of medical professionalism in order to transform the medical profession and the related professional processes of care so that it can adapt to the changing health needs. In doing so, they would open up additional routes to the improvement of the health services system and to health improvement. This involves three consecutive steps: (1) defining and categorizing the health needs of the population; (2) reorganizing the specialty domains around the needs of population groups; (3) reorganizing the specialty domains by eliminating work that could be done by less educated personnel or by the patients themselves. We suggest seven strategies that are required in order to achieve this transformation.
Changing medical professionalism to fit the changing health needs will not be easy. It will need strong leadership. But, if the medical world does not embark on this endeavour, good doctoring will become merely a bureaucratic and/or marketing exercise that obscures the ultimate goal of medicine which is to optimize the health of both individuals and the entire population.
PMCID: PMC2773806  PMID: 19857246
19.  Defective oxytocin function: a clue to understanding the cause of autism? 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:63.
The autism spectrum disorders are a group of conditions with neurobehavioral impairment affecting approximately 0.6% of children. The clinical presentation is complex and the etiology is largely unknown, although a major role of genetic factors is widely accepted. A number of genetic studies led to the identification of genes and/or copy number variants whose alterations are associated with autism, but no specific factor has been found so far to be responsible for a substantial proportion of cases. Epigenetic modifications may also play a role, as demonstrated by the occurrence of autism in genetic conditions caused by mutations in imprinted genes or regions.
The article by Gregory et al. published this month in BMC Medicine, reports on genomic and epigenetic alterations of OXTR, the gene encoding the receptor for oxytocin. The involvement of this gene was suggested by its deletion in an autistic patient. The subsequent analysis of a group of unrelated autistic subjects did not show an OXTR deletion, but rather hypermethylation of the gene promoter, with a reduced mRNA expression.
These findings address two major points of the current debate on the etiology and pathogenesis of autism: the role of oxytocin, known to be involved in modeling human behavior, and the possible involvement of epigenetic mechanisms. The nature of this epigenetic dysregulation is unknown but, if proved to be true, might explain the failure to identify sequence alterations in a host of candidate genes. Practical implications of these findings may be forthcoming, however not before extension and validation on a larger scale have confirmed their value.
See the associated research paper by Gregory et al:
PMCID: PMC2770459  PMID: 19845973
20.  Genomic and epigenetic evidence for oxytocin receptor deficiency in autism 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:62.
Autism comprises a spectrum of behavioral and cognitive disturbances of childhood development and is known to be highly heritable. Although numerous approaches have been used to identify genes implicated in the development of autism, less than 10% of autism cases have been attributed to single gene disorders.
We describe the use of high-resolution genome-wide tilepath microarrays and comparative genomic hybridization to identify copy number variants within 119 probands from multiplex autism families. We next carried out DNA methylation analysis by bisulfite sequencing in a proband and his family, expanding this analysis to methylation analysis of peripheral blood and temporal cortex DNA of autism cases and matched controls from independent datasets. We also assessed oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene expression within the temporal cortex tissue by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Our analysis revealed a genomic deletion containing the oxytocin receptor gene, OXTR (MIM accession no.: 167055), previously implicated in autism, was present in an autism proband and his mother who exhibits symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The proband's affected sibling did not harbor this deletion but instead may exhibit epigenetic misregulation of this gene through aberrant gene silencing by DNA methylation. Further DNA methylation analysis of the CpG island known to regulate OXTR expression identified several CpG dinucleotides that show independent statistically significant increases in the DNA methylation status in the peripheral blood cells and temporal cortex in independent datasets of individuals with autism as compared to control samples. Associated with the increase in methylation of these CpG dinucleotides is our finding that OXTR mRNA showed decreased expression in the temporal cortex tissue of autism cases matched for age and sex compared to controls.
Together, these data provide further evidence for the role of OXTR and the oxytocin signaling pathway in the etiology of autism and, for the first time, implicate the epigenetic regulation of OXTR in the development of the disorder.
See the related commentary by Gurrieri and Neri:
PMCID: PMC2774338  PMID: 19845972
21.  Review of epidemiologic data on the debate over smokeless tobacco's role in harm reduction 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:61.
Some tobacco researchers have argued that the European Union should remove its ban on a form of low-nitrosamine smokeless tobacco referred to as Swedish 'snus'. This argument has developed in to an international debate over the use of smokeless tobacco as a measure of harm reduction for smokers. Leading authorities in the USA have firmly stated that there is no safe tobacco - a message which does not allow for any discussion of comparative tobacco risks. This commentary is intended to review the origin of the controversy over Swedish 'snus', to examine briefly the meta-analysis on cancer risks by Peter Lee and Jan Hamling (published in July in BMC Medicine) and to discuss the anticipated direction of the debate on tobacco-harm reduction in the USA. We anticipate that much of the debate will shift from the discussion of epidemiologic data to the discussion of the marketing, health communication and economics of smokeless tobacco. While the Food and Drug Administration's newly approved authority over tobacco will undoubtedly affect the smokeless products, it may not be the sole determinant of harm reduction's fate in the USA.
See associated research article by Lee and Hamling:
PMCID: PMC2771035  PMID: 19840371
22.  Suicidal ideation during treatment of depression with escitalopram and nortriptyline in Genome-Based Therapeutic Drugs for Depression (GENDEP): a clinical trial 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:60.
Suicidal thoughts and behaviours during antidepressant treatment, especially during the first weeks of treatment, have prompted warnings by regulatory bodies. The aim of the present study is to investigate the course and predictors of emergence and worsening of suicidal ideation during tricyclic antidepressant and serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment.
In a multicentre part-randomised open-label study, 811 adult patients with moderate to severe unipolar depression were allocated to flexible dosage of escitalopram or nortriptyline for 12 weeks. The suicidality items of three standard measures were integrated in a suicidal ideation score. Increases in this score were classified as treatment emergent suicidal ideation (TESI) or treatment worsening suicidal ideation (TWOSI) according to the absence or presence of suicidal ideation at baseline.
Suicidal ideation decreased during antidepressant treatment. Rates of TESI and TWOSI peaked in the fifth week. Severity of depression predicted TESI and TWOSI. In men, nortriptyline was associated with a 9.8-fold and 2.4-fold increase in TESI and TWOSI compared to escitalopram, respectively. Retirement and history of suicide attempts predicted TWOSI.
Increases in suicidal ideation were associated with depression severity and decreased during antidepressant treatment. In men, treatment with escitalopram is associated with lower risk of suicidal ideation compared to nortriptyline. Clinicians should remain alert to suicidal ideation beyond the initial weeks of antidepressant treatment.
Trial registration
EudraCT (No.2004-001723-38) and ISRCTN (No. 03693000).
PMCID: PMC2768737  PMID: 19832967
23.  Trends of public health research output from India during 2001-2008 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:59.
An understanding of how public health research output from India is changing in relation to the disease burden and public health priorities is required in order to inform relevant research development. We therefore studied the trends in the public health research output from India during 2001-2008 that was readily available in the public domain.
The scope and type of the published research from India in 2007 that was included in the PubMed database was assessed and compared with a previous similar assessment for 2002. Papers were classified based on the review of abstracts and original public health research papers were assessed in detail. Impact factors for the journals were used to compute quality-adjusted research output. The websites of governmental organizations, academic and research institutions and international organizations were searched in order to identify and review reports on original public health research produced in India from 2001 to 2008. The reports were classified based on the topics covered and quality and their trends over time were assessed.
The number of original health research papers from India in PubMed doubled from 4494 in 2002 to 9066 in 2007. This included a 3.1-fold increase in public health research papers, but these comprised only 5% of the total papers in 2007. Within public health, the increase was lowest for the health system and policy category. Several major causes of disease burden in India continued to be underrepresented in the quality-adjusted public health research output in 2007. The number of papers evaluating population health interventions increased from 2002 to 2007, but there were none on the leading non-communicable causes of disease burden or on road traffic injuries. The number of identified original public health research reports increased by 64.7% from 204 in 2001-2004 to 336 in 2005-2008. The proportion of reports on reproductive and child health was very high but decreased slightly from 38.7% of the total in 2001-2004 to 31.5% in 2005-2008 (P = 0.09); those on the leading chronic non-communicable conditions and injuries increased from 6.4% to 13.4% (P = 0.01) but this was still much lower than their contribution to the disease burden. Health system/policy issues were the topic in 27.4% reports but health information issues were covered in a miniscule 0.6% reports. The proportion of reports that were evaluations increased slightly from 26% in 2001-2004 to 31.5% in 2005-2008, with this proportion being higher among the reports commissioned by international organizations (P < 0.001). The proportion of reports commissioned by Indian governmental organizations alone, or in collaboration with international organizations, doubled from 2001-2004 to 2005-2008 (P < 0.001). Only 25% of the total 540 reports had a quality score of adequate or better. The quality of reports produced by collaborations between Indian and international organizations was higher than those produced by Indian or international organizations alone (P < 0.001).
This is the first analysis from India that includes research reports in addition to published papers. It provides the most up-to-date understanding of public health research output from India. The increase in available public health research output and the increase in commissioning of this research by Indian governmental organizations are encouraging. However, the distribution of research topics and the quality of research reports continue to be unsatisfactory. It is necessary for health policy to address these continuing deficits in public health research in order to reduce the very large disease burden in India.
PMCID: PMC2766381  PMID: 19828017
24.  Chronic fatigue syndrome: identifying zebras amongst the horses 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:58.
There are currently no investigative tools or physical signs that can confirm or refute the presence of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). As a result, clinicians must decide how long to keep looking for alternative explanations for fatigue before settling on a diagnosis of CFS. Too little investigation risks serious or easily treatable causes of fatigue being overlooked, whilst too many increases the risk of iatrogenic harm and reduces the opportunity for early focused treatment. A paper by Jones et al published this month in BMC Medicine may help clinicians in deciding how to undertake such investigations. Their results suggest that if clinicians look for common psychiatric and medical conditions in those complaining of prolonged fatigue, the rate of detection will be higher than previously estimated. The most common co-morbid condition identified was depression, suggesting a simple mental state examination remains the most productive single investigation in any new person presenting with unexplained fatigue. Currently, most diagnostic criteria advice CFS should not be diagnosed when an active medical or psychiatric condition which may explain the fatigue is identified. We discuss a number of recent prospective studies that have provided valuable insights into the aetiology of chronic fatigue and describe a model for understanding chronic fatigue which may be equally relevant regardless of whether or not an apparent medical cause for fatigue can be identified.
See the associated research paper by Jones et al:
PMCID: PMC2766380  PMID: 19818158
25.  An evaluation of exclusionary medical/psychiatric conditions in the definition of chronic fatigue syndrome 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:57.
The diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in research studies requires the exclusion of subjects with medical and psychiatric conditions that could confound the analysis and interpretation of results. This study compares illness parameters between individuals with CFS who have and those who do not have exclusionary conditions.
We used a population-based telephone survey of randomly selected individuals, followed by a clinical evaluation in the study metropolitan, urban, and rural counties of Georgia, USA. The medical and psychiatric histories of the subjects were examined and they underwent physical and psychiatric examinations and laboratory screening. We also employed the multidimensional fatigue inventory (MFI), the medical outcomes survey short form-36 (SF-36) and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention symptom inventory (SI).
Twenty-nine percent (1,609) of the 5623 subjects who completed the detailed telephone interview reported exclusionary diagnoses and we diagnosed an exclusionary condition in 36% of 781 clinically evaluated subjects. Both medical and psychiatric exclusionary conditions were more common in women, blacks and participants from rural areas. Subjects with and without exclusions had similar levels of fatigue and impairment as measured by the MFI and SF-36; those with CFS-like illness (not meeting the formal CFS definition) were more likely to have an exclusionary diagnosis. After adjusting for demographics, body mass index, fatigue subscales, SF-36 subscales and CFS symptoms, CFS-like illness did not remain significantly associated with having an exclusionary diagnosis.
Medical and psychiatric illnesses associated with fatigue are common among the unwell. Those who fulfill CFS-like criteria need to be evaluated for potentially treatable conditions. Those with exclusionary conditions are equally impaired as those without exclusions.
PMCID: PMC2768736  PMID: 19818157

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