Risk gene for Alzheimer’s has early effects on the brain

A genetic predisposition to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease affects how the brains of young adults cope with certain memory tasks. Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum report on this in the scientific journal Current Biology. Their findings are based on studies with magnetic resonance imaging in individuals at the age of about 20 years. The scientists suspect that the observed effects could be related to very early disease processes.

The causes for Alzheimer’s in old age are only poorly understood. It is believed that the disease is caused by an unfavorable interaction of lifestyle, external factors and genetic risks. The greatest genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease stems from inherited mutations affecting “Apolipoprotein E” (ApoE), a protein relevant for fat metabolism and neurons. Three variants of the ApoE gene are known. The most common form is associated with an average risk for Alzheimer’s. One of the two rarer variants stands for an increased risk, and the other for a reduced risk.

“We were interested in finding out whether and how the different gene variants affect brain function. That is why we examined the brains of young adults in the scanner while they had to solve a task that challenged their memory,” explained Dr. Hweeling Lee, who led the current study at the DZNE in Bonn.

Distinguishing similar events

The group of study participants comprised of 82 young men and women. They were on average 20 years old, and all of them were university students considered to be cognitively healthy. According to their genotype for ApoE, 33 of them had an average, 34 an increased and 15 a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease at a late age. During the study in the brain scanner, all individuals were presented with more than 150 successive images displayed on a monitor. These were everyday objects such as a hammer, a pineapple or a cat. Some pictures were repeated after a while, but sometimes the position of the displayed objects on the screen had changed. The study participants had to identify whether an object was “new” or had been shown before—and if so, whether its position had shifted.

“We tested the ability to distinguish similar events from one another. This is called pattern separation,” said Hweeling Lee. “In everyday life, for example, it’s a matter of remembering whether a key has been placed in the left or right drawer of a dresser, or where the car was parked in a parking garage. We simulated such situations in a simplified way by changing the position of the depicted objects.”

High-resolution through modern technology

Simultaneously to this experiment, the brain activity of the volunteers was recorded using a technique called “functional magnetic resonance imaging”. Focus was on the hippocampus, an area only a few cubic centimeters in size, which can be found once in each brain hemisphere. The hippocampus is considered the switchboard of memory. It also belongs to those sections of the brain in which first damages occur in Alzheimer’s disease.

When measuring brain activity, the scanner was able to show its full potential: It was an “ultra-high field tomograph” with a magnetic field strength of seven Tesla. Such devices can achieve a better resolution than brain scanners usually used in medical examinations. This enabled the researchers to record brain activity in various sub-fields of the hippocampus with high precision. “Up to now, there were no comparable studies with such level of detail in ApoE genotyped participants. This is a unique feature of our research,” said Hweeling Lee.

No differences in memory performance

There were no differences between the three groups of subjects with regard to their ability for pattern separation. “All study participants performed similarly well in the memory test. It did not matter whether they had an increased, reduced or average risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Such results are certainly to be expected in young healthy people,” said Nikolai Axmacher, Professor of Neuropsychology at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, who was also involved in the current study. “However, there were differences in brain activity. The different groups of study participants activated the various subfields of the hippocampus in different ways and to varying degrees. Their brains thus reacted differently to the memory task. In fact, we saw differences in brain activation not only between people with average and increased risk, but also between individuals with average and reduced risk.”

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If we spent the cost of COVID-19 on pandemic preparations it would have lasted 500 years

COVID-19 has taken advantage of a world in disorder, causing catastrophic health, social, and economic consequences and irreparable harm to humanity. The virus has killed close to a million people and many more may die as a result of its impact on health systems, food supplies, and the economy. The financial cost will be in the trillions.

This will not be the last global health emergency. The world simply cannot afford to be unprepared again, warns the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) in its second report “A World in Disorder,” released today.

Last year, the GPMB warned that the world was unprepared for the very real likelihood of a deadly pandemic spreading around the globe, killing millions of people, disrupting economies, and destabilizing national security. The Board called for urgent action to break the cycle of panic and neglect that has characterized the response to global health crises in the past.

In its new report, the GPMB provides a harsh assessment of the global COVID-19 response, calling it “a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response seriously and prioritize it accordingly.” In many countries, leaders have struggled to take early decisive action based on science, evidence and best practice. This lack of accountability by leaders has led to a profound and deepening deficit in trust that is hampering response efforts.

“Transparency and accountability are essential in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Elhadj As Sy, co-Chair of the GPMB. “Trust is the foundation of government-community relationships for better health but that trust dissipates when governments and leaders do not deliver on their commitments.”

Responsible leadership and good citizenship have been key determinants of COVID-19’s impact, the report finds—systems are only as effective as the people who use them.

The report also finds that, while COVID-19 has demonstrated that the world is deeply interconnected through economics, trade, information, and travel, one of the greatest challenges of the pandemic has been faltering multilateral cooperation. Leadership by the G7, G20, and multilateral organizations has been hampered by geopolitical tensions. The Board calls on leaders to renew their commitment to the multilateral system and strengthen WHO as an impartial and independent international organization. Weakening and undermining the multilateral action will have serious consequences on global health security, it warns. No-one is safe until all are safe.


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“Viruses don’t respect borders. The only way out of this devastating pandemic is along the path of collective action, which demands a strong and effective multilateral system,” said H.E. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, co-chair of the GPMB. “The UN system, which includes the WHO, was created after World War II and has helped make the world a better place for billions of people. It needs to be defended, strengthened, and revitalized, not attacked and undermined.”

The report highlights how the devastating social and economic impact of pandemics, especially for the vulnerable and disadvantaged, is often underestimated and ignored. COVID-19’s long-term socioeconomic impacts are predicted to last for decades, with the World Bank’s conservative scenario estimating a US$ 10 trillion earning loss over time for the younger generation as a result of pandemic-related educational deficits.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of protecting lives and livelihoods and widening our understanding of preparedness to make education, social, and economic sectors pandemic proof. “A World in Disorder” reveals that the return on investment for pandemic preparedness is immense. It would take 500 years to spend as much on preparedness as the world is currently losing due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic has shown the fragility of not only our health systems, but also our global economy. The impact of COVID-19 has been huge in the world and particularly in my region, the Americas, with a sharp increase in health, social and economic inequities,” said Jeannette Vega, GPMB member and Chief Medical Innovation and Technology Officer, La Red de Salud UC-Christus, Chile. “Let’s hope that this time we finally learn the lesson and invest in preparedness and public goods for health to avoid similar tragedies in the future.”

The report highlights the actions that must be taken to end the COVID-19 pandemic and avoid the next catastrophe—to bring order out of chaos. It calls for responsible leadership, engaged citizenship, strong and agile systems for health security, sustained investment, and robust global governance for preparedness.

“A World in Disorder” identifies the specific commitments and actions leaders and citizens must take—boldly, decisively, and immediately. These include sustainable and predictable financing for global and national health security, and a call to hold a UN Summit on Global Health Security to develop an international framework for health emergency preparedness and response.

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What’s the best strategy to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks in schools? Let’s do the math

As Canadian public schools open up again this fall in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, things will be very different. Each province is bringing in its own rules and guidelines, and many jurisdictions are mandating that older students wear masks all day.

Others are using additional measures to minimize the chance of students contracting COVID-19. The country’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board, is implementing a rotation system for high school students. They will go to school on alternating days, with half of the class on one day and the other half on the next. The aim is to keep each group at 15 students per class. The teachers will be the same and they will repeat the lessons to each group.

What will such rotation do to reduce contagion risk?

Because we don’t have much in the way of experience with these measures for COVID-19, predicting what might happen requires some mathematics. Fortunately, that task has been done in a new study by economists Jeff Ely, Andrea Galeotti and Jakub Steiner. And what they find could give many places guidance as to how to use rotation as a tool to mitigate contagion.

Benefits of rotation

That study found there are potential benefits of having two separate groups of people who regularly interact with one another, but don’t come into contact with anyone outside of their group. If one person becomes infected and the virus spreads, it will be contained to a single group.

The study also showed the effectiveness of different rotation strategies depends on how much and how quickly school officials deal with potential infections. If they wait too long, it’s likely all of the groups will become infected. In that case, rotation isn’t effective in terms of reducing the scale of infections. If schools react quickly, however, one group could be isolated while the other group could keep going.

But there are some interesting other choices too. First, there is the issue of cadence. Is it better to have different groups on alternating days or a longer period —such as alternating weeks? And what about the teachers and staff who come into contact with both groups? Might that be enough to remove the benefits of group separation and rotation entirely?

How to rotate

With COVID-19, we know that many people —especially younger people—tend to be asymptomatic. That means it may be weeks before officials discover an outbreak. Add to that the time needed to have students tested for the virus and it’s plausible that it could take as long as 30 days for a school to notice and react to a potential outbreak in a group.

Now let’s consider a school with 500 students. Even with class rotations, students share common bathrooms and hallways. Without measures like social distancing, COVID-19 has a basic reproduction rate of about 2.2 to 2.5 —that is, every infected person is likely to infect two or so others if there aren’t any interventions going on.


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That means that once one person is infected, the number of infected people will double every five days or so (since this is how long it takes for an infected person to start infecting others). Wait 30 days before dealing with the problem (by a lockdown or mass testing) and you would have 16 people infected —that is, two to the power of four, where four is the number of doubling cycles in 30 days if you subtract eight days for weekends.

Now suppose we compare two options:

Option 1 (One half at school and one half at home): Suppose we took half of the students and asked them to learn remotely, with the other half attending class in person. The isolated students would be safe, but the other students would likely become infected at some point. In this case, we potentially get fewer infections. Specifically, if prevalence is low in the general population, the chances that the “seed” or “Student 0” infection is in the group at school is half what it would be if both groups attend class in person. Thus, the total expected number of infections is 8.5 —((1 + 16)/2).

Option 2 (One day on and one day off): Suppose we rotated the students in two groups of alternating days. In this case, chance will determine what happens and that is in our favour. There are 11 days of a month where a group with an infected student exposes others to contagion, so the total number of infections over those two maximum doubling cycles is four (or two to the power of two).

So option 2 is clearly better. With two separate groups, over the course of a month, students in one infected group are exposed to others half of the time (or 11 school days over a month). If we had one week on and one week off, the same outcome would arise.

What about the teachers?

In any rotation plan, the students spend time at school and then time at home. But the teachers are there all the time. What does that do to these calculations, given that teachers are mixing with both groups?

Such mixing does undermine the potential benefits of rotation —but not by much. If there is an outbreak in one group of 250 students, then the probability of infecting a teacher is not very high. And that means the probability of an outbreak jumping between groups is also low. This is certainly true if the frequency of rotations is high.

Rotation forces regular breaks in exposure, which is valuable when there aren’t other ways of preventing exposure. Rotation also reduces viral spread (that is, the reproduction number) because it forces a reduction in population density in a place. Again, it is precisely because these other interventions can reduce viral spread that they are substitute options to rotation.

Thus, while it is tempting to take a “kitchen sink” approach and take every intervention at your disposal, those interventions have costs. Masks must be procured and worn. COVID-19 tests require infrastructure. Finally, rotations mean kids spend more time at home, which has its own costs above the potential education costs.

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COVID-19 data shows triple the number of suspected cases and twice the risk for ethnic minorities

There were three times as many suspected COVID-19 cases presented to GPs during the peak of the pandemic than shown in official COVID-19 test results, according to research led by Queen Mary University of London.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, also shows that black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups were twice as likely to present with COVID-19, and this is not explained by other factors such as other health conditions, obesity and social deprivation.

Lead author Dr. Sally Hull from Queen Mary University of London said: “Our results suggest that COVID-19 prevalence during the peak of the epidemic was higher than previously thought. The official COVID-19 test statistics are likely to have underrepresented the extent of the epidemic, as many people with COVID-19 would not have been tested, including those with milder symptoms or those who could not access testing centers. Much of the COVID-19 epidemic is being managed in primary care which has had to adjust rapidly to online consultations. We need timely reporting of COVID-19 test results to practices, and diagnostic information from NHS 111, so that practices can provide continuing care to patients with more severe episodes. It’s going to be very important how GPs record and manage cases in their community, as this can provide an early warning system if cases are rising again in an area and if we’re about to see a second wave of infection.”

Attention on COVID-19 initially focused on hospital presentations and intensive care, but little was known about the pattern of early presentations at GP surgeries. Community testing ceased in England on 12 March 2020, hence the extent of asymptomatic and milder symptomatic cases in community settings remains unknown.

The researchers studied anonymised data from the primary care records of approximately 1.2 million adults registered with 157 practices in four east London clinical commissioning groups (Newham, Tower Hamlets, City and Hackney, and Waltham Forest) during the peak of the London epidemic during March and April. Three of the four boroughs had death rates in the top five for London boroughs and 55 percent of the population are from ethnic minorities, hence the area is well placed to examine the over-representation of black and South Asian populations in suspected COVID-19.

The study found that:

  • GPs recorded 8,985 suspected COVID-19 cases between 14 February and 30 April 2020—triple the number who tested positive at government test centers over that period.
  • There was a two-fold increase in the odds of suspected COVID-19 for South Asian and black adults compared with white adults. This risk remains even after accounting for other factors, such as multiple health conditions, obesity and social deprivation, which are also strongly associated with increased risk of a suspected COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • The odds of suspected COVID-19 increased with social deprivation, numbers of long-term conditions and BMI.
  • There was a seven-fold increase in risk of suspected COVID-19 for those with dementia, which may reflect the excess risks to older people living in care homes.
  • In contrast with other studies, the current study did not find an excess of male cases, but found that females had a slight increase in risk of suspected COVID-19, which suggest that the known higher risks for men emerge later in the disease trajectory.
  • There was a sharp seasonal decline in upper and lower respiratory infections during the period that saw a rise in suspected COVID-19 cases, which may have been magnified by social distancing.

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Could magnesium pills be the secret to staying strong in later life?

Could magnesium pills be the secret to staying strong in later life? Research suggests links between physical strength and the levels of the mineral in muscle tissue

Preparing for her 14th marathon later this year, 77-year-old Sylvia Jennings offers some words of reassurance: ‘As long as you can get your shoes on and get out of the door, I think you’re OK.’

She first took up running age 59, and believes her remarkable athletic performance in older age is linked to a mineral many of us apparently lack.

There’s no doubt that Sylvia, who has four children and nine grandchildren, takes keeping fit more seriously than most.

Around 16 per cent of over-65s are getting less than the recommended minimum daily intake of 270mg for women and 300mg for men, according to an analysis of data from Public Health England’s ongoing National Diet and Nutrition Survey [File photo]

‘I have kept up my exercise routine during lockdown by running about ten to 12 miles a week, but I’ll have to get it up to 16 or 18 ahead of the marathon,’ she says.

‘On Mondays and Fridays, I used to swim 20 lengths, but since the lockdown I’ve been going out cycling. I used to go to a weekly yoga class, and now I do it online.’

And the retired florist, who lives in Bexley, Kent, with her husband Fred, 77, a retired police officer, thinks her muscle power and stamina may be helped by the daily magnesium supplements she started taking ten years ago.

‘I read about the benefits and decided to try it,’ she says. ‘I just felt it might keep my bones and muscles going a bit longer.

‘I’ve not had tests to see if I have a deficiency, but I thought it was likely I was lacking it in my diet.’

Research suggests there may be something in her thinking.

A recently published study from the University of East Anglia, involving 441 people, found a direct link between physical strength in older people and the amount of magnesium present in their muscle tissue.

The mineral, known to regulate muscle function, is found in beans, nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, fish, meat and dairy. One sign of a deficiency is frequent cramps.

Yet, as with many other nutrients, our magnesium intake has declined due to our increasing reliance on processed foods, as well as falling levels of nutrients in soil.

Around 16 per cent of over-65s are getting less than the recommended minimum daily intake of 270mg for women and 300mg for men, according to an analysis of data from Public Health England’s ongoing National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

‘Decades of intensive farming have depleted soil nutrient levels, making it harder to maintain healthy levels of magnesium,’ says Robert Pickard, an emeritus professor of neurobiology at Cardiff University, who led the study. ‘It is definitely a worrying trend.’

The discovery of a link between muscle power in older people and the magnesium content of their muscle tissue was made with a scanning technique — magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) — used to detect magnesium molecules. 

A team of researchers from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and experts from the National Institute on Aging, in the U.S., investigated muscle strength in the 441 people, aged 24 to 98, who are volunteers in a long-term study of the effects of ageing, set up by the U.S. government.

The scientists asked volunteers to perform a variety of physical tests over a three-day period and the results, published in the journal Frontiers In Physiology, showed muscle power was directly linked to the presence of magnesium in muscle tissue.

‘No one has ever done a large-scale study of this kind,’ said Dr Donnie Cameron, the lead researcher from the University of East Anglia.

‘We showed that there’s as strong a relationship between magnesium and muscle strength in men as there is in women, but women are more at risk of muscle weakness and mobility issues in old age because they have worse rates of magnesium deficiency.

The discovery of a link between muscle power in older people and the magnesium content of their muscle tissue was made with a scanning technique — magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) — used to detect magnesium molecules [File photo]

‘This is a new finding. We originally thought this deficiency might be related to the menopause because women tend to lose more magnesium at menopause, but we also looked at younger women and they have lower magnesium levels than men of the same age.

‘We are going to have to do more research to tease out the reasons for this. It could be to do with the interaction between magnesium and sex hormones.’

Another four-year analysis, also by the University of East Anglia, using data from 500,000 people aged 40 to 69 involved in the UK Biobank study of ageing, has shown that those who had the highest magnesium intakes had significantly bigger and stronger muscles than those with the least.

The fact is, everyone’s muscles gradually shrink and lose power, says Ailsa Welch, a professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of East Anglia.

‘And, while we have incomplete information on this, it is likely that people who eat more magnesium have better muscle mass and power as they age.’

She thinks that extra magnesium may eventually be shown to help halt muscle loss.

‘It may well be worth giving [older people] supplements,’ she adds, ‘but we haven’t got there with the evidence yet.’

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New virus cases decline in the US and experts credit masks

The number of Americans newly diagnosed with the coronavirus is falling—a development experts credit at least partly to increased wearing of masks—even as the outbreak continues to claim nearly 1,000 lives in the U.S. each day.

About 43,000 new cases have been reported daily over the past two weeks across the country, down 21 percent since early August, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. While the U.S., India and Brazil still have the highest numbers of new cases in the world, the trend down is encouraging.

“It’s profoundly hopeful news,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious-diseases expert at the University of California, San Francisco, who credits the American public’s growing understanding of how the virus spreads, more mask-wearing and, possibly, an increasing level of immunity.

“Hopefully all those factors are coming into play to get this virus under control in this country that’s really been battered by the pandemic,” she said.

The virus is blamed for more than 5.7 million confirmed infections and about 178,000 deaths in the U.S. Worldwide, the death toll is put at more than 810,000, with about 23.7 million cases.

Jeffrey Shaman, a public health expert at Columbia University, said he is skeptical enough people are immune to significantly slow the spread. But he agreed that changes in Americans’ behavior could well be making a difference, recalling the impact that people’s actions had in containing Ebola in West Africa several years ago.

“Ebola stopped for reasons we didn’t anticipate at the time. It was so horrifying that people stopped touching each other,” Shaman said. Something similar may be happening with the coronavirus, he said.

“I know I don’t have nearly the number of contacts that I used to,” Shaman said. “But if we relax that, if we get complacent, will we just see another outbreak?”

The decline in newly reported cases in the U.S. comes even as deaths from the virus remain alarmingly high. Over the past two weeks, state officials have reported an average of 965 deaths a day from COVID-19, down from 1,051 a day in early August.

The percentage of those testing positive for the disease has also declined over the past two weeks, from 7.3% to 6.1%. But that comes as the total number of tests administered has fallen from its August peak of more than 820,000 daily, leveling off in recent weeks at about 690,000 a day.

It’s not clear what will happen to case numbers as more school districts bring students back to classrooms and colleges reopen their campuses. In recent weeks, schools including the University of North Carolina and Notre Dame have moved instruction online after outbreaks on their campuses.

Officials at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville said Monday that four students are facing disciplinary proceedings after three hosted off-campus parties with no mask or other distancing and another left isolation to meet with others despite testing positive for the virus.

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A tool that automatically scores dream reports used to test the ‘continuity hypothesis’

A team of researchers from Università degli studi di Roma Tre and Nokia Bell Laboratories has developed a tool that automatically scores dream reports, greatly speeding what is normally a slow and time-consuming manual process. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the group describes the factors that went into the development of their tool and how well it compared to reports done manually.

Human beings have pondered the meaning of their dreams for thousands of years, and scientists have been studying them for centuries. As a way to interpret their meaning in the modern age, scientists have created systems to score dreams based on a variety of factors such as which characters were in them, and how they interacted. Such systems have led many in the field to conclude that dreams are nothing more than a continuum of our daily lives.

This “continuity hypothesis” suggests that our dreams are the mind’s way of processing events during the day. Prior research has shown the reverse to be true, as well—stressful dreams lead to reduced stress throughout the day. One of the most well-known sleep systems developed for creating dream reports (for therapists treating patients) is called the Hall and Van de Castle system. It is a system for codifying dreams, which allows for standardized assessments.

The team with this new effort based their tool on the Hall and Van de Castle system—the tool automatically scores dream reports. The researchers operationalized those factors they felt were most important in the system in a way that could be crunched by a computer. They then validated their tool by running it on 24,000 dream accounts and compared what it produced with those that had been done manually. They found it to have an error rate of just 0.24 percent.

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Mum says 'flashing the wilderness' helped her love her post-mastectomy body

Could the secret to body confidence post-mastectomy lie in stripping off in the middle of the wilderness?

Cat Levitt reckons so.

The mum-of-one was diagnosed with stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer in June 2018.

Within months she had a double mastectomy, followed by four rounds of gruelling chemotherapy.

Thankfully, Cat has been given the all-clear – but she has struggled with the feeling of ‘not being a full woman’ since losing both nipples.

Rather than mourning her old body, Cat, 35, decided to celebrate her post-cancer breasts… by trekking to the top of mountains, getting topless, and ‘flashing the wilderness’.

She credits those excursions with helping her to embrace her body again.

So far, Cat has visited – and flashed – more than 10 beauty spots, including Ice Lake in Colorado, US, and has sparked a trend among other breast cancer survivors.

Cat, from Aspen, in Colorado, US, said: ‘Flashing the wilderness is a way for me to show everybody there’s strength in your scars and strength in breast cancer.

‘I never thought I’d get to where I am now and love my scars. After you go through these surgeries you feel really awful.

‘At first I didn’t have confidence and self-love – now I do. I felt like a piece of what made me a woman and a mother were missing. I felt like I wasn’t whole.

‘I know a lot of women that are going through chemotherapy, or who have just had surgery, and they don’t know if they’ll ever get that strength back. It takes a while but you do.

‘I do it a lot – I’ve always flashed the wilderness.’

Cat’s flashing photos are taken by her boyfriend Isaac, who saved her life by finding a lump in her breast and urging her to get checked.

‘We met a couple of months before I was diagnosed,’ says Cat ‘We were at a brewery and our dogs got tangled up. It’s like a Hollywood movie.

‘That was a month before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We weren’t together very long and he found my breast cancer.’

At the end of 2019, Cat was given the all-clear and told she was finally in remission after a challenging 18 months of juggling being a mum to her little girl Addie, five, and going through treatment for cancer.

Now she uses her following to teach women of all ages that they’re ‘not dead after a breast cancer diagnosis’.

Cat said: ‘Now I have no evidence of disease. I was given the all-clear around October 2019.

‘On January 1 [2019], I had my exchange surgery where they exchange the expanders [that stretch remaining breast tissue and skin] and put in the implants.

‘Then I had a fat transfer surgery from my stomach to the top of my breasts to make them fuller [in May 2019].

‘It’s really common not to reconstruct the nipple. There’s advocacy for surgeons paying more attention and doing nipple reconstruction.

‘It was definitely something I struggled with but flashing the wilderness is a way for me to process it as well.’

Cat says she’s received messages from women all around the world who have been inspired to do their own topless photos to embrace their bodies.

And as well as inspiring others, the mountain-top adventures has helped Cat, too.

‘Sometimes I feel like I’m not a full woman because I don’t have nipples,’ the mum says. ‘It’s a way for me to build confidence too.

‘I hike a lot so it’s really freeing to feel like I did it [each time]. I’m free and open and it’s a much more positive way to look at my boobs, as opposed to most of the other pictures that are posted.

‘I try to post pictures that are really positive associations with breast cancer and how we look afterwards. It reminds people to check their breasts.

‘That’s why I do the wilderness posts too. I’ve always hiked and I can show people that you can conquer anything after a breast cancer diagnosis, you can still feel alive.

‘It’s not just women over 50 who suffered with this awful disease. I know so many women that are my age or younger that have it – hundreds of women.

‘We can empower each other through these pictures and stories, and letting people know breast cancer doesn’t look like what it used to in the past.

‘I have loads of comments from people who say how important it is for them to see this.’

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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One in three gained weight during the COVID-19 lock down, according to new national study

Nearly a third of people in Ireland gained weight during the COVID-19 lock down, according to a new food study.

The National COVID-19 Food Study found that many people, most notably those aged 25 to 44-years-old, changed their eating and alcohol habits much more than expected.

However despite the increase in weight gain, one-in-five people also expressed worry about not having enough food to eat during the lock down.

“While we saw some positive elements… a significant proportion [of people] reported eating more than usual, exercising less, and weight gain,” said Dr. Eileen Gibney, deputy director of the UCD Institute of Food and Health.

“Worryingly, the restrictions seemed to impact food availability, with some people reporting concerns about getting the food they wanted or having enough food in their household.”

The National COVID-19 Food Study was carried out by the UCD Institute of Food and Health in collaboration with Dublin City University.

Using an online-only survey, information was gathered on changes in food and drink behaviors among adults in Ireland during the COVID-19 restrictions.

Cause for concern, the study notes, is that a number of children in Ireland were experienced hunger in absence of school meals.

“These services are extremely vulnerable to shocks as such COVID-19 and the government must ensure that emergency planning includes food provision services, rather than relying on the benevolence of charitable services,” said Dr. Celine Murrin, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science.

Vulnerable groups including refugees, low-income earners, and those living with a disability or addiction were also significantly impacted by the lock down.

“[Many] had real challenges affording food with the extra ‘hidden’ costs of lock down,” said Dr. Sharleen O’Reilly, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science. “Higher household bills, loss of income and eating more family meals at home all added to the stress of living life at home 24/7.”

“The study shows that this relatively short period of time had a major impact on people’s lives,” said Dr. Emma Feeney.

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New connections reveal how cancer evades the immune system

If cancer is a series of puzzles, a new study pieces together how several of those puzzles connect to form a bigger picture.

One major piece is the immune system and the question of why certain immune cells stop doing their job. Another piece involves how histones are altered within immune cells. A third piece is how a cell’s metabolism processes amino acids.

“Nobody knew if those questions were all connected. We were able to place several of these puzzles together and see how it works,” says Weiping Zou, M.D., Ph.D., Charles B. de Nancrede and a Professor of Surgery, Pathology, Immunology and Biology at the University of Michigan and director of the Center of Excellence for Immunology and Immunotherapy at the U-M Rogel Cancer Center.

Zou is senior author on a paper published in Nature that includes multiple labs from the Rogel Cancer Center and collaborators from Poland.

The study found a connection between these three separate puzzles that suggests targeting the amino acid methionine transporter in tumor cells could make immunotherapy effective against more cancers.

It starts with T cells, the soldiers of the immune system. Cancer can turn these cells abnormal, preventing T cells from mounting an attack against it. The question is: what causes this?

Researchers looked at the tumor microenvironment, specifically how tumors metabolize amino acids. They found an amino acid called methionine had the most impact on T cell survival and function. T cells with low levels of methionine became abnormal. Low methionine in the T cells also altered histone patterns that caused T cells to be impaired.

Introducing tumor cells to the picture creates a fight between the tumor cells and the T cells for methionine. Over and over, the tumor cells win, taking the methionine from the T cells and rendering them ineffective.

Previous research has considered a systemic approach to starve tumor cells of methionine, with the idea that the tumor cells are addicted to it. But, Zou says, this study shows why that approach may be a double-edged sword.

“You have competition between tumor cells and T cells for methionine. The T cells also need it. If you starve the tumor cells of methionine, the T cells don’t get it either. You want to selectively delete the methionine for the tumor cells and not for the T cells,” Zou says.

In fact, the study found that supplementing methionine actually restored T cell function. High enough levels of methionine meant there was enough for both tumor cells and T cells.

One key is that tumor cells have more of the transporters that deliver methionine. The researchers found that impairing those transporters resulted in healthier T cells as the T cells could compete for methionine.

Zou was awarded a $3.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to advance this work.

“There are still a lot of mechanistic details we have not worked out, particularly the detailed metabolic pathways of methionine metabolism. We also need to understand how metabolism pathways may be different from tumor cells and T cells. We hope to find a target that is relatively specific to tumor cells so that we do not harm the T cells but impact the tumor,” Zou says. This work will be the focus of the new grant.

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