In brief

July / August 2017   Comments

Early exposure to pets may reduce allergies and obesity

If you need a reason to love dogs, how about their ability to help protect kids from allergies and obesity? In a University of Alberta study published in Microbiome, babies from families with pets — most of which were dogs — showed higher levels of two types of microbes that have been linked with lower risks of allergies and obesity. The researchers examined the microbe content of fecal samples from 746 infants registered in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study. They found that pet exposure affected the population of microbes in the infant’s gut after birth but also while the baby was still in the womb. This study builds on two decades of research showing that children who grow up with dogs have lower rates of asthma. The theory is that exposure early in life to dirt and bacteria — for example, in a dog’s fur and on its paws — can create early immunity. According to the lead author, it is possible that at some point in the future the pharmaceutical industry may produce a supplement with these microbes — a “dog in a pill.”

Grab a coffee, save a life

Coffee shops and ATMs are ideal locations for automated external defibrillators (AEDs), according to a new study led by researchers from the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s Hospital. A quick response when someone suffers cardiac arrest can mean the difference between life and death, which makes it important for people nearby to have immediate access to an AED. In their study, published in Circulation, the researchers identified all businesses and municipal facilities (such as libraries) with 20 or more locations in Toronto and looked at the number of cardiac arrests that occurred within 100 metres of each location when it was open. Three coffee shop chains — Tim Hortons, Starbucks and Second Cup — and the five largest Canadian banks, with many ATM locations, made their top 10 list of prime spots to place AEDs. In Toronto alone, Tim Hortons shops would have provided AED coverage for more than 200 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests over a nine-year period. The researchers hope their study findings will lead to AEDs being placed in these optimal locations.

IBD on the rise in young Canadians

Canada has one of the highest rates of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the world. The number of Canadian children under five being diagnosed with IBD increased by 7.2 per cent every year between 1999 and 2010, according to a new study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. A team of researchers from several institutions used health administrative data from five provinces for the study. Twenty years ago, IBD was almost unheard of in children; today, almost 3,000 Canadians under the age of 16 are living with the disease. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the principal types of IBD.

Researchers say a change in the bacterial composition of the gut may be to blame, but they don’t know what is causing the change. They suspect a combination of environmental risk factors may play a role, such as antibiotic exposure in early life, diet or low levels of vitamin D. Further research is needed to identify the triggers, understand the biology behind the changes resulting in IBD and develop interventions to prevent the disease in this vulnerable age group.

Blood pressure measurement: More precision with automatic devices

A research team headed by an investigator from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre has found that more than half of Canada’s family doctors are still using manual devices to measure blood pressure. This dated technology often leads to misdiagnosis. In its 2015 guidelines, the Canadian Hypertension Education Program recommended measuring blood pressure with automatic electronic measuring devices, known as oscillometric devices, because this method is more precise. An increasing number of medical clinics are equipped with automatic devices, but when the researchers surveyed family doctors in spring 2016, only 43 per cent of the 769 respondents said they used them to screen for hypertension. The investigators published their findings in Canadian Family Physician.

A fresh salvo against superbugs

A team led by McMaster University researchers has found a new way to treat the world’s worst infectious diseases — the superbugs that are resistant to all known antibiotics. In a study published in Nature Microbiology, the researchers focused on Gram-negative bacteria, which are resistant to all antibiotics including last-resort drugs such as colistin. These bacteria have an intrinsically impenetrable outer shell that is a barrier to many otherwise effective antibiotics. This makes infections caused by the bacteria deadly, particularly in hospital settings. The team tested a collection of 1,440 off patent drugs in search of one that might compromise that barrier. The scientists discovered that the anti-fungal medication pentamidine disrupts the bacteria’s cell surface. When used in combination with antibiotics, the drug was particularly effective against Acinetobacter baumannii and the enterobacteriaceae — two of the three pathogens the World Health Organization has identified as the most critical priorities for the development of new antibiotics. The combination therapy was found to be effective in the lab and in mice, but more work is needed to ensure that it is safe for human use.

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