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June 9th, 2010
09:29 PM ET

New autism genes found

By Saundra Young
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Researchers have identified dozens of genes that increase the risk of an individual getting autism, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

Genetic data were collected from 1,000 people with autism spectrum disorder  and 1,300 from individuals without ASD. Researchers found those with autism had more genetic insertions and deletions–called copy number variants or CNV–in their genome than those who did not have the disorder. Some of the variants seemed to be inherited while others appeared to be new, meaning they were found only in the affected children, but not their parents.

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June 9th, 2010
09:10 PM ET

Doctor: Talk to patients about distracted driving

By Leslie Wade
CNN Medical Producer

Blood pressure? Check. Weight? Check. Cholesterol levels?  Check.  Driving habits?  What?

A doctor in Boston is urging her colleagues to talk to their patients about the potential health consequences of talking on the phone or texting while driving.

In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Ann N. Ship writes that doctors should have the conversation with patients during annual exams.

The Assistant Professor of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston writes that mobile device usage is a growing cause of automobile accidents in the United States.

You can read Ship's article here.


June 9th, 2010
10:30 AM ET

Want kids to achieve? Pay attention to their friendships

By Stephanie Smith
CNN Medical Producer

A key factor for academic success among adolescents turns out to be the number of friendships they have at school, according to a new UCLA study published in the online edition of the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

"We found that adolescents with more in-school friends, compared with out-of-school friends, had higher grade point averages," said study authors.

Why would the type of friend matter? It seems that having friends - period - should stoke a child's creativity, drive and grades. As it turns out, there may be something about having more friends at school (as opposed to outside of school) that gives kids the feeling that toiling away doing homework, or studying hard for that big exam is normal and not as much of a grind.

Researchers looked at more than 600 Los Angeles-area  12th-graders from ethnically diverse backgrounds who were already part of a broader long-term study. They answered questionnaires in class and completed a 14-day take-home diary of checklists.  The question topics included friendships, their study habits and how much the students identified with their school.

It could be as simple as kids' perception that they are in the trenches together, commiserating, getting through it together. And having friends at school shapes how kids view school in general, engendering a sense of belonging.

"Having friends at school may therefore make time spent on academic pursuits relatively more motivating, such that adolescents are more likely to put in the necessary study time to be successful," according to the study.

Then again, you could chalk it up to something else: Kids who achieve may simply be drawn to other kids who achieve.  But study authors believe that there is something about carving out those friendships at school that may make a difference.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 9th, 2010
10:30 AM ET

Study: Racial disparities exist with asthma care

By Leslie Wade
CNN Medical Producer

African American and Hispanic children may not be receiving the same care and treatment for asthma as Caucasian children, even when they have the same access to care.

A study published in this week's medical journal, Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, examined more than 800,000 children who were covered by the same health insurance system provided by the U.S. military. They found the prevalence and severity of asthma were higher in black and Hispanic children than their white peers.

Researchers suspect that  just because patients used the same health plan didn't necessarily mean they were getting the same care. Experts say this may be a result of the differences in the way various ethnic groups utilize the health care system or differences in the treatments received.

"Whether they had the same trust of the system, willingness to access the system, whether the physicians provided the same quality of care, is not clear," says Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, pediatric allergist and immunologist, and adviser for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Researchers found that African Americans and Hispanics were less likely to see specialists, such as a pediatric allergist or pulmonologist, than white children. They say this could be due to a couple of factors, including whether minority families seek referrals, or whether doctors are less likely to offer them to  minorities.

Genetics and environment may also play a role, researchers say. Certain ethnic groups may be more predisposed to asthma than others. Doctors know indoor environments and pollutants can worsen asthma symptoms. And because the study had more blacks and Hispanics living in the south than whites – where there tend to be more indoor pollutants – this may explain some of the differences in health outcomes.

Researchers point out that more than health care insurance coverage is needed to provide care for asthmatic children regardless of their race or ethnicity

"This is an important finding because it tells us something we really didn't know before," says Dr. Thomas Croghan of Georgetown University School of Medicine, one of the study authors. Croghan is also a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.  

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 9th, 2010
09:30 AM ET

New tool may help ID acid reflux disease

By Trisha Henry
CNN Medical Producer

Researchers in India say they are developing a tool for identifying acid reflux disease that could lead to improved treatments.

Using a molecular imaging device for the first time in this manner, researchers were able to examine the differences between a healthy esophageal muscle and an unhealthy one. They found that a lack of tone or motility in the esophageal muscles may determine whether  someone will develop gastro-esophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.  When this muscle fails to work properly the stomach acids back up into the esophagus.

Studies suggest more than 15 million people in the United States suffer symptoms of GERD each day.

The molecular imaging study, presented at the Society of Nuclear Medicine's annual meeting, included 49 participants who were scanned upright with a special molecular imaging device to see how their esophagus muscles and lower-esophageal sphincter were functioning. According to Society of Nuclear Medicine research chair, Dr. Peter S. Conti, what is different about this study is the specific test that was performed and how it was done.  "By positioning the patient different, you trigger the dis-motility, by making it more obvious on the scan, which then allows you to make the correlation better," says Conti.  In addition, a more traditional gastric reflux study was done on the patients while they were lying face down. While the participants reported varying degrees of symptoms, almost half showed some sort of problem with their esophagus muscle while lying down. This suggests the possibility that abnormal esophageal motility may be the main contributor to developing acid reflux disease.

Normally when you swallow, the lower esophageal sphincter – acts as a trap door and it relaxes, allowing for food and liquids to move into the stomach. The muscle then tightens, closing the gateway. When GERD is present, this circular muscle doesn't work, it either doesn't close all the way or it opens too often, so the gastric acid becomes stuck in the food pipe. This can cause inflammation in the esophagus, acid indigestion, or "heartburn" and can cause discomfort.  If these acids aren't removed from the esophagus, over time, they can lead to more serious issues, such as bleeding or breathing problems and even cancer.

While more research is needed to confirm the finding, it could lead to new drug treatments to correct the muscular movements in the esophageal wall. Conti says this new way of testing could also help doctors pinpoint the disease, which could lead to better diagnosis and follow-up examinations.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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