It’s rush hour in Philadelphia for thousands of baby toads as they hop across a busy residential street on a rainy summer night.
Why do toadlets cross the road? To get to the woods on the other side — where they will live, eat mosquitoes and grow up to be full-sized American toads, bufo Americanus. After a couple of years, they’ll make the reverse trek as adults — unless they get squashed by a car.
Infants exposed to rodent and pet dander, roach allergens and a wide variety of household bacteria in the first year of life appear less likely to suffer from allergies, wheezing and asthma, according to results of a study conducted by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and other institutions.
Previous research has shown that children who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates, a phenomenon attributed to their regular exposure to microorganisms present in farm soil. Other studies, however, have found increased asthma risk among inner-city dwellers exposed to high levels of roach and mouse allergens and pollutants. The new study confirms that children who live in such homes do have higher overall allergy and asthma rates but adds a surprising twist: those who encounter such substances before their first birthdays seem to benefit rather than suffer from them. Importantly, the protective effects of both allergen and bacterial exposure were not seen if a child’s first encounter with these substances occurred after age one, the research found.
Wireless Radiation Linked to Risks to Brain Development
An international group of doctors and scientific experts is joining with non-profit organizations today to urge pregnant women to limit their exposure to wireless radiation from cellphones and other devices by taking simple steps to protect themselves and their unborn children. The national public awareness campaign, called the BabySafe Project, is being coordinated by Grassroots Environmental Education and Environmental Health Trust, and is based on independent scientific research linking exposure to wireless radiation from cellphones during pregnancy to neurological and behavioral problems in offspring that resemble Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children.
Placenta is Key to Why Female Babies Survive More Often
Sexual inequality between boys and girls starts as early as in the mother’s womb – but how and why this occurs could be a key to preventing higher rates of preterm birth, stillbirth and neonatal death among boys.
A team from the Univ. of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute has been studying the underlying genetic and developmental reasons why male babies generally have worse outcomes than females, with significantly increased rates of pregnancy complications and poor health outcomes for males.
Music can be soothing or stirring, it can make us dance or make us sad. Blood pressure, heartbeat, respiration and even body temperature – music affects the body in a variety of ways. It triggers especially powerful physical reactions in pregnant women. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have discovered that pregnant women compared to their non-pregnant counterparts rate music as more intensely pleasant and unpleasant, and found that listening to music while pregnant was associated with greater changes in blood pressure. Music appears to have an especially strong influence on pregnant women, a fact that may relate to a prenatal conditioning of the fetus to music.
In a study in mice, Harvard Univ.’s Catherine Dulac has pinpointed galanin neurons in the brain’s medial preoptic area (MPOA), that appear to regulate parental behavior. If similar neurons are at work in humans, it could offer clues to the treatment of conditions like post-partum depression. The study is described in Nature.
"If you look across different animal species, there are some species in which the father contributes to caring for the young – sometimes the work is divided equally, sometimes the father does most of the work – and there are species in which the father does nothing," Dulac says. "The essential question is where is that variability coming from? We may be tempted to say that the mom has the neurons required to engage in parental behavior, and dads don’t – this paper shows that’s wrong."
Longer Caffeine Exposure is Even More Helpful to Preemies
The caffeine in coffee that might help get you going in the morning can be lifesaving for premature babies. For more than a decade, neonatologists have routinely given premature newborns caffeine as a respiratory stimulant, helping their immature lungs and brains remember to breathe and reducing episodes of intermittent hypoxia (IH) — short, repetitive drops in blood oxygen levels.
Typically, babies are weaned off caffeine once they’re developmentally mature enough to breathe normally without help, usually around 34 weeks’ gestational age.
Few problems in developing countries are as gut-wrenching as high infant mortality — and yet it is a problem that has solutions. A policy change in Thailand’s health care system has quickly led to significantly lower infant mortality rates among less-wealthy citizens, as a study co-authored by MIT economists shows.
“It’s a very dramatic shift,” says Robert Townsend, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, and a co-author of a new paper outlining the findings. The study was conducted along with Jon Gruber, an MIT professor of economics and health care expert, and Nathaniel Hendren, an economist at Harvard Univ.
A mother’s diet before conception can permanently affect how her child’s genes function, according to a study published in Nature Communications. The first such evidence of the effect in humans opens up the possibility that a mother’s diet before pregnancy could permanently affect many aspects of her children’s lifelong health.
Researchers from the MRC International Nutrition Group, based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and MRC Unit, The Gambia, utilized a unique, “experiment of nature,” in rural Gambia, where the population’s dependence on own grown foods and a markedly seasonal climate impose a large difference in people’s dietary patterns between rainy and dry seasons.
Mothers give a newborn baby a gift of germs — germs that help to kick-start the infant’s immune system. But antibiotics, used to fend off infection, may paradoxically interrupt a newborn’s own immune responses, leaving already-vulnerable premature babies more susceptible to dangerous pathogens.
A new animal study, by neonatology researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), sheds light on immunology in newborns by revealing how gut microbes play a crucial role in fostering the rapid production of infection-fighting white blood cells, called granulocytes.
In a first-of-its-kind study, a team of environmental engineers from the Cockrell School of Engineering at The Univ. of Texas at Austin found that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from crib mattresses while they sleep.
Analyzing the foam padding in crib mattresses, the team found that the mattresses release significant amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), potentially harmful chemicals also found in household items such as cleaners and scented sprays.
A second baby born with the AIDS virus may have had her infection put into remission and possibly cured by very early treatment — in this instance, four hours after birth.
Doctors revealed the case at an AIDS conference in Boston. The girl was born in suburban Los Angeles last April, a month after researchers announced the first case from Mississippi. That was a medical first that led doctors worldwide to rethink how fast and hard to treat infants born with HIV, and the California doctors followed that example.
Tobacco smoke contains thousands of compounds, many of them toxic and capable of causing injury throughout the body. Because of this high toxicity of tobacco smoke, many diseases have long been causally linked to tobacco smoking – both to active smoking and to passive exposure of non-smokers who inhale the mixture of exhaled smoke and smoke given off by the smoldering cigarette, generally referred to as secondhand smoke or SHS.
The journal Tobacco Control recently published findings on smoking and pregnancy outcomes from a very large U.S. study, the Women’s Health Initiative. The authors assessed whether active smoking by the mother while pregnant and exposure of non-smoking mothers to SHS led to an increased risk of spontaneous abortion, stillbirth and tubal ectopic pregnancy (that is, implantation of the fertilized egg into the fallopian tube, rather than the uterus). Overall, the study found that both active smoking and SHS exposure increased all of these risks for pregnancy.
The DNA of a baby boy who was buried in Montana more than 12,000 years ago has been recovered, and it provides new indications of the ancient roots of today’s Native American and other native peoples of the Americas.
The boy was part of the Clovis culture, which existed in North America from about 13,000 years ago to about 12,600 years ago.