Mass General Research Roundup for May 2019

Research Roundup is a brief recap of recent research news from investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Experiencing adverse events at a young age may increase risk of mental health disorder

A recent MGH study found that children who experience adverse events such as poverty, family and financial instability, and abuse before the age of 3 may be more likely to have changes in gene function that may negatively impact their mental health later in life.

The report – which analyzed data from more than 1,000 randomly selected mother and child pairs – found the timing of adverse experiences before age 3 has a more powerful effect than the number of such experiences or how recently they took place.

“One of the major unanswered questions in child psychiatry has been ‘How do the stressors children experience in the world make them more vulnerable to mental health problems in the future?’” says Erin Dunn, ScD, MPH, of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit in the Center for Genomic Medicine, the corresponding author of the study.

If the findings are replicated, they could help to prioritize treatment strategies to help children in this vulnerable group.


Are women paying too much for skin care products?

Over-the-counter facial moisturizers are a widely used and commonly recommended skin care product, but a new study from MGH dermatologists finds that, when it comes to price, men’s and women’s products are not considered equal.

The team reports finding significant, gender-based price discrepancies in a 2018 survey of 110 facial moisturizing products from three top online retailers – Amazon, Target and Walmart.

They found that, on average, skin care products targeted at women cost $3.09 more per ounce than those marketed to men. The total number of fluid ounces per bottle was not significantly different between the groups.

“If skin is dehydrated, it can lead to serious problems like eczema and rosacea,” says the study’s lead author Maryanne Senna, MD, of the Department of Dermatology. “Despite some recent government-led efforts to restrict gender-based pricing differences in the retail market, our study shows that discriminatory pricing persists and remains a real issue when it comes to dermatologic products.”


A better model for testing new cancer treatments

MGH researchers have developed a new zebrafish model for testing cancer treatments that is less expensive, easier to use and can provide cellular level detail of interactions between drugs and cancer cells.

The fish have been genetically engineered to have compromised immune systems, which enables scientists to implant and grow human cancer cells within them. The fish are also transparent, which allows researchers to observe drug characteristics and cellular processes in real time.

The study was led by David Langenau, PhD, of the MGH Molecular Pathology Unit and the MGH Cancer Center.

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