Snapshot of Science for July 2018

Snapshot twitter banner_ July 2018What’s new in research at Mass General? Here’s a snapshot of studies recently published in top-tier scientific journals:

Understanding the biological pathways underlying atrial fibrillation

A team led by Patrick Ellinor, MD, PhD, at the Mass General Heart Center conducted a massive genomic analysis for atrial fibrillation (AF) – an irregular and often rapid heart rate. Using data from over 50 studies throughout the world, they identified nearly 100 genetic regions associated with AF, including 70 of which were not previously linked to irregular heartbeat. The detected genetic regions implicate genes involved in the heart’s development and function. These results, published in Nature Genetics, could help in developing new treatments for AF.

Impact of quantity and quality of sleep on cardiovascular risk factors in adolescents

Earlier research has linked shorter sleep duration with increased obesity levels in children, but few studies have examined the effects of too little sleep on other risk factors—such as blood pressure—or examined associations of sleep quality with these outcomes.

A new study led by Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, from the MassGeneral Hospital for Children, found that both the amount of time spent sleeping and the percentage of sleep that is undisturbed in young adolescents have significant effects on aspects of cardiovascular health such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and abdominal fat deposition.

Their findings suggest a lack of good sleep could be setting kids up for serious health issues later in life, and emphasize the importance of establishing healthy sleep patterns.

Identifying the genetic roots and transfer of cholera

Recent data show that new cholera epidemics like those in Haiti, Africa, and Yemen are imported from cholera’s ancestral home in South Asia. This means we need to understand cholera in South Asia to control cholera globally.

In this study, a team led by Edward Ryan, MD, of the Infectious Diseases Division analyzed the organism that causes cholera in its ancestral home in Bangladesh. They found that multiple strains of cholera can circulate simultaneously, even within a single individual. This can lead to genetic transfers and formation of new strains.

They also found that all currently circulating strains in Bangladesh descended from a common ancestor dating to massive regional floods in the 1980s, suggesting that a given strain can massively explode when optimal conditions come into existence, giving rise to new and evolving sub-strains in South Asia, and facilitating spin outs of new epidemics into other at-risk communities such as in Haiti or Yemen.

Effects of police killings on mental health of black Americans

Recent research led by Alexander Tsai, MD, PhD, and published in The Lancet found that when the police kill an unarmed black American, there is significant collateral mental health fallout among black Americans in the general population who are not directly affected by the killings (i.e., friends/family). Only police killings of unarmed blacks (not armed, not white) resulted in mental health impacts, and only among blacks (not whites)—suggesting that the social meaning of these killings explained the findings.

At the population level, these killings result in more than 50 million additional days of poor mental health per year among black Americans, comparable to the population mental health burden due to diabetes.

To learn about more recent research, check out our Snapshot of Science page.

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