February 28th, 2014
08:17 AM ET
Here's a roundup of five medical studies published this week that might give you new insights into your health, mind and body. Remember, correlation is not causation – so if a study finds a connection between two things, it doesn't mean that one causes the other.
Your nurse needs a break. I wouldn’t complain if I were you
An overworked nursing staff raises the risk of patients dying, while hiring better-educated nurses reduces those odds, a study of European Union hospitals that have undergone recent staffing cuts concludes.
Adding one patient to a nurse’s workload raises the chances of a patient dying by 7%. But a 10% increase in nurses with bachelor’s degrees reduced those odds by the same amount, researchers from several EU countries reported in The Lancet.
“Nurse staffing cuts to save money might adversely affect patient outcomes. An increased emphasis on bachelor's education for nurses could reduce preventable hospital deaths,” they concluded.
The study examined discharge data from more than 400,000 patients over 50 from 300 hospitals in nine European countries.
Mice skin cells transformed into liver cells
In a development that could give hope to patients awaiting transplants, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco and its affiliated Gladstone Institute have been able to reprogram skin cells into working liver cells in mice. The scientists caution that the results are early, but the cell growth showed no signs of slowing down after nine months.
“In the future, our technique could serve as an alternative for liver-failure patients who don’t require full-organ replacement, or who don’t have access to a transplant due to limited donor organ availability,” UCSF scientist Holger Willenbring said in announcing the results.
The study involved using reprogramming genes and chemical compounds to take skin cells back to a form that resembles endoderm cells, which mature into many of the body’s major organs. Willinbring and Gladstone senior investigator Sheng Ding cultivated the cells in a petri dish, then “coaxed” them into growing into liver cells through another set of genes and chemicals.
“Many questions remain, but the fact that these cells can fully mature and grow for months post-transplantation is extremely promising,” Willenbring said.
Twins’ brains show same marks of Alzheimer’s
Twins who died after suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease had similar areas of damage to their brains, a project by researchers in California and Sweden concluded.
The scientists studied the brains of seven pairs of twins who died after years of diagnostic tests - among them the brains of identical twins who died at age 98 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The results support previous findings that genetics may determine how vulnerable someone is to Alzheimer’s and other conditions, said University of Southern California psychologist Margaret Gatz, who led the study.
"We looked not just at the hallmark indicators of Alzheimer's, but at all the other damage in the brain. Across the whole array of neuropathological changes, the identical twins appeared to have more similar pathologies," Gatz said in announcing the findings. "This is fascinating. It's not just a key pathology related to the twins' diagnoses but the combination of things happening in their brains.”
Gatz and Diego Iacono of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute drew their subjects from the Swedish Twin Registry, which Gatz has delved into for decades to study aging. The findings add more data to suggest that rather than a single cause, Alzheimer’s develops from a range of factors that genetics may affect.
The kids are all right: The rest of you, hit the gym
Despite years of warnings about obesity, the number of severely overweight Americans hasn’t changed in a decade. On the bright side, it hasn’t gotten any worse, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service found.
Researchers calculated that 17% of children and 35% of adults were obese in 2011-2012. The figures show “no significant changes” since 2003, they reported.
There is one bright spot in the study: a “significant decrease” in obesity rates in children between the ages of 2 and 5, from 14% in 2003 to about 8% in the 2011-2012 figures. But that drop was offset by a sharp increase in women over 60, the researchers found.
“Obesity prevalence remains high, and thus it is important to continue surveillance,” they noted.
New knowledge literally reshapes your mind
University of British Columbia researchers have found that learning brings together a fatty acid and a brain protein that combine to connect brain cells - a finding that may provide an explanation for some mental disabilities.
The biochemical change “is essential in producing the changes in brain cell connectivity associated with learning,” the Vancouver-based university said in announcing the results. And it’s the first time scientists have described the role of that protein, known as delta-catenin, in the process of forming memories.
Animals who were exposed to new environments had almost twice the amount of modified delta-catenin in their brains, co-authors Shernaz Bamji and Stefano Brigidi reported. Learning more about the role the protein plays in building brain cells could help understand how degenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Disease work, they say.
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.