Umbilical cord blood protein may keep ageing brains healthy, researchers say

Elderly mice showed improved learning, memory and ability to adapt to new situations, such as a maze they were able to get out of, but experts not involved in the research say it is not certain same effect will be seen in human brains

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 11:09am

Lab tests in which elderly mice were injected with a protein found in human umbilical cord blood have potential implications for keeping our brains healthy as we age, scientists say.

The protein, TIMP2, has previously been found to play a role in the development of the hippocampus – the part of the brain that processes memories and enables spatial navigation. TIMP2 is plentiful in the plasma of umbilical cords, but levels of it decline with age.

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A team led by Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford University in California injected ageing mice with TIMP2. The injections boosted activity in the rodents’ hippocampus, and their learning, memory and ability to adapt to new information all improved, notably in their ability to extract themselves from a lab maze. TIMP2 – or the brain cells that the protein acts upon – could be useful targets for drugs to fight cognitive decline among the elderly, according to the study, published in the journal Nature.

Outside commentators said the findings were exciting, but a hefty dose of caution was needed.

“The study shows that a human protein can reverse cognitive ageing in mice,” says Jennifer Wild, a researcher in clinical psychology at Oxford University. “This does not mean that the protein can cure dementia or cognitive ageing in humans.”

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Alzheimer’s experts say that the success with the lab mice touched on cognitive decline that comes naturally in ageing This is a different process to dementia, which is caused by disease. “Although the treatments tested here boosted some aspects of learning and memory in mice, we don’t know how relevant the findings might be to people,” say David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Good sleeping, eating and screen time routines improve emotional health in toddlers

Regular bedtimes, mealtimes and limited screen time appear to be linked to better emotional health in preschoolers, and that might lower the chances of obesity later, a new study suggests.

“This study provides more evidence that routines for preschool children are associated with their healthy development and could reduce the likelihood that these children will be obese,” says lead author Sarah Anderson of Ohio State University in the US.

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The study, which appears in the International Journal of Obesity, looks at the link between early childhood routines and self-regulation, and their potential association with weight problems during pre-teen years.

Researchers evaluated three household routines when children were three years old: bedtimes, mealtimes and whether parents limited television and video watching to an hour or less daily. Then they compared those to parents’ reports of two aspects of children’s self-regulation at that same age. Lastly, they investigated how the routines and self-regulation worked together to affect obesity at age 11. The study was based on international criteria. The US criteria for childhood obesity is set lower and would have included more children.

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The research included 10,955 children who are part of the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term study of a diverse population of children born in Britain between September 2000 and January 2002. At the age of three, 41 per cent of children had a regular bedtime, 47 per cent had a regular mealtime and 23 per cent were limited to an hour or less daily of TV and videos. At the age of 11, about 6 per cent were obese.

Women with brittle bones benefit most from post-menopausal hormone therapy

Women at the highest genetic risk for broken bones benefit the most from hormone therapy, according to a first-of-its-kind study at the University at Buffalo, in New York state. The study included nearly 10,000 participants from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a US-wide, long-term study of more than 150,000 women, science news service EurekAlert reported.

“We found that women who are genetically at the highest risk of fracture can enjoy the greatest protection from fracture when they use hormone therapy,” says Heather Ochs-Balcom, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the university’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, who led the research team. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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“This study provides a better understanding of who can benefit the most, in terms of bone health from hormone therapy use,” says Ochs-Balcom, adding that the results have implications for personalised medicine. “It’s important information as women and their doctors make decisions about hormone therapy use.”

The study, believed to be the first to investigate the effect of gene-hormone therapy on fractures in postmenopausal white women, utilises the largest set of known genes linked to fracture risk from a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies.

Researchers looked at a subset of 9,922 women from among the more than 27,000 who had participated in WHI’s hormone therapy clinical trials. They wondered whether women who are more genetically susceptible to fractures could benefit from hormone therapy.