News Roundup: Blood-Cell Drug Boosts Memory, Denture Danger, and More


Problem drug may improve memory
The drug erythropoietin has had a tough time recently. It's been in the news for athletic doping scandals, a stepped up warning for cancer patients, and possible overuse in people undergoing kidney dialysis. Now there’s some good news about the genetically engineered version of a natural hormone that spurs the growth of red blood cells. A new study in mice suggests that the drug does indeed have a memory-enhancing effect, which has been reported by patients taking it. Tests conducted on tissue from the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, found that it boosts “excitatory nerve impulses in certain neurons,” according to a report in the journal BMC Biology. Could the drug be useful for neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis? Maybe, say the German researchers.

Denture-cream fanatics experience brain problems
If you wear dentures, go easy on the denture cream. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas looked at four heavy denture-cream users who developed neurological problems. All the patients had abnormally high blood levels of zinc (an ingredient in the creams) and low levels of copper, according to the
study in the journal Neurology. Because the patients used "extremely large amounts" of the cream, the doctors hypothesize that the abnormal zinc infusion threw their zinc-copper balance out of whack. Symptoms such as weakness in the arms and legs, poor balance, incontinence, and cognitive decline improved when two of the patients stopped using cream and began taking copper supplements, Reuters Health reports. But don't assume denture cream is a serious health hazard. The study was tiny, and the patients' use was over the top: A typical tube lasts up to 10 weeks, but the patients used two tubes a week. The study's authors advise heavy denture-cream users to talk to their doctors about their dose.

Get it while you can: Free medical school
It sounds like a dream come true for medical students who rack up an average of $140,000 in debt along with their MD degree: The University of Central Florida’s brand new medical school is accepting applications for its first class, and is offering scholarships that cover tuition, fees, and living expenses, according to the Wall Street Journal’s health blog. No surprise that the school received nearly 3,000 applicants for the 40 slots, which are being funded by donations. The freebies won’t last; although scholarships will be offered for subsequent classes, the all-expenses-paid deal only applies to the university’s first class. The annual living stipend is $20,000, UCF Dean Deborah German told the WSJ. “If they live frugally, it will cover everything.”

"Fat" genes may be overcome with excessive exercise
Getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day is challenging enough. How about three to four hours? That's how much exercise it takes to maintain a normal weight if you have genetic predisposition toward obesity, which is found in roughly 30% of people of European descent. In a new study in Archives of Internal Medicine, Amish people living in Lancaster County, Pa., who had the genetic predisposition needed three to four hours of moderate activity every day to maintain a normal weight. If you think you're in the hefty gene pool, every bit of activity—such as eschewing elevators for stairs and walking instead of driving—helps, say the study's authors.

Casual dress code may undermine doctor cred
The National Health Service in the U.K. has a new dress code that says that doctors can’t wear ties or long-sleeve shirts, because they might spread infections in hospitals. But the new rule is controversial, according to a report in BJU International. Some doctors feel that the more casual look might undermine patient confidence, writes Tara Parker-Pope of The New York Times. And they say evidence is weak that such clothing items are any more likely to spread germs than pens or stethoscopes. Patients do prefer a physician with a more formal look, and a revealing or too casual look is a concern. What’s more, a focus on clothes may detract from one tried-and-true behavior that stops infections: hand washing.

Depression during pregnancy may harm child later
It's generally understood that maternal postpartum depression can impact a child's formative years, causing potential delays in cognitive, behavioral, emotional, or social development. Now, for the first time, researchers in the U.K. have posited that some of the same harmful effects may be caused by maternal depression during pregnancy. Researchers at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Health at the University of the West of England in Bristol found a 34% increase in the odds of developmental delay in children of mothers who were depressed while pregnant. The results appear to bolster previous hypotheses that anxiety in a mother can impact fetal development. Without suggesting specific remedies, lead author Toity Deave, PhD, told Reuters Health that concerned moms who feel depressed should see a health professional, adding that depressed parents can still promote their child's development with close parent-child interactions and stimulating and fun playtime activities.