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Cate Swannell
Med J Aust 2015; 203 (11): 427-428. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.n1214
Published online: 14 December 2015

Loneliness can be a killer

A new study from the United States’ National Institutes of Health shows that loneliness can increase the risk of premature death in older adults by as much as 14%, Forbes reports. “The research team found that perceived social isolation—the ‘feeling of loneliness’—was strongly linked to two critical physiological responses in a group of 141 older adults: compromised immune systems and increased cellular inflammation. Both outcomes are thought to hinge on how loneliness affects the expression of genes through a phenomenon the researchers call conserved transcriptional response to adversity, or CTRA. The longer someone experiences loneliness, the greater the influence of CTRA on the expression of genes related to white blood cells (aka, leukocytes, the cells involved in protecting us against infections) and inflammation. A lessened ability to fight infections along with a slow erosion of cellular health leaves the body open to a host of external and internal problems, some of which worsen over time with few distinct symptoms.” The researchers said the results were specific to “perceived social isolation” and were unrelated to stress and depression.

Fifth retraction for former Baker IDI heart researcher

Retraction Watch reports that JAMA has issued a second retraction for former Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute researcher Anna Ahimastos. In September, JAMA announced that Ahimastos had “fabricated [records] for trial participants that did not exist” in a trial for a blood pressure drug. That trial was retracted, along with a subanalysis. The second paper — Effect of perindopril on large artery stiffness and aortic root diameter in patients with Marfan syndrome: a randomized controlled trial — has been retracted at the request of Ahimastos’ coauthors because it included data from the first discredited paper. The retraction is the fifth for Ahimastos, who has admitted to fabricating data for studies published in the Journal of Hypertension and Annals of Internal Medicine. Three more are expected.

WHO partly to blame for Ebola deaths

An independent group of public health researchers, published in The Lancet, has called for big changes to the World Health Organization in the wake of the 11 000 deaths from Ebola, Wired reports. Suerie Moon from Harvard, a co-author of the report, said: “Ebola was really a wake-up call. If we don’t get together to make reforms after something as devastating as Ebola, you really have to wonder when we will.” According to Wired “in the early days of the Ebola outbreak, WHO’s response was so lackadaisical it [messed] up even the chlorine — the disinfectant doctors got was expired”. The researchers called for a new WHO centre “dedicated to emergency outbreak response, and an independent commission that will hold the agency accountable for its actions”. WHO has since convened another group of independent experts to assess its response to the Ebola outbreak.

Naegleria warning in WA

In the wake of an episode of the ABC’s Australian Story program, the Western Australian Health Department has issued an official warning about the lethal amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, and the subsequent risk of Amoebic meningitis, Outbreak News Today reports. Australian Story told of the Keough family whose son Lincoln who died of the illness after playing in infested water from a garden hose. N. fowleri can be found in any fresh water body or poorly treated water. It thrives in warm water temperatures, between 28oC and 40oC. Amoebic meningitis only occurs if water containing active amoeba goes up the nose and then to the brain. The warning recommended swimming only in saltwater or chlorinated pools.

New president for RCPA

Dr Michael Harrison has been confirmed as the new president of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia. Dr Harrison, who has been vice-president for the past 4 years, replaces Associate Professor Peter Stewart in the role. He has been a consultant pathologist with Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology for 30 years, first in their clinical chemistry and microbiology division and then as CEO and Managing Partner for the past 12 years.

  • Cate Swannell


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