In brief

May/June 2017   Comments

Addiction in the locker room

Conventional wisdom would suggest that sport and physical activity go hand in hand with good mental health. But researchers from the University of Alberta and from a university in Wales have found that the culture of high-level sport may increase the risk of addiction for some athletes who are already vulnerable for other reasons. In a study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, the researchers interviewed 21 people who had developed, and subsequently received treatment for, substance addiction. Many of the participants had a background in elite sport. The research team found that the use of drugs and alcohol was socially accepted and normalized in sports, and the presence of role models did little to curb substance use — think of beer-filled locker rooms and the Stanley Cup brimming with champagne. The investigators were surprised about the extent to which drugs and alcohol were available to kids playing sports. A common trait among study participants was hypercompetitiveness, which manifested itself in heavy substance use and abuse. Some athletes wanted to be the best at whatever they did, even if that meant being the best heroin user.


Biking to better health in the ICU

Early bicycle exercise during their stay in a hospital intensive care unit may help some patients recover more quickly. Patients who survive their ICU stay are at high risk for muscle weakness and disability. Muscles start to atrophy and weaken within days of admission. Cycling targets the legs, especially the hip flexors, which are most vulnerable to these effects during bedrest.

A team led by researchers at McMaster University and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton has demonstrated that physiotherapists can safely start in-bed cycling sessions for critically ill patients. Their study, published in PLOS ONE, involved 33 adult patients who were receiving mechanical ventilation in the ICU and who had been walking independently before being admitted. The patients cycled 30 minutes per day, using a motorized stationary bicycle affixed to their bed. They cycled about nine kilometres on average during their ICU stay, an achievement that surprised even the researchers. More research is needed to determine if cycling in bed will allow critically ill patients to go home sooner and stronger.


Old trial raises new questions about morning sickness drug

Previously unpublished research calls into question the efficacy of the most commonly prescribed medication for nausea in pregnancy. The now-defunct Merrell-National Laboratories conducted a clinical trial in the 1970s to determine whether pyridoxine doxylamine (Diclectin in Canada) could alleviate morning sickness in the first trimester. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration used the trial findings to approve the drug. Pyridoxine-doxylamine has been prescribed to 33 million women worldwide and is used in half of Canadian pregnancies that result in live births.

The 40-year-old study was published in PLOS ONE as part of the RIAT (restoring invisible and abandoned trials) initiative, which examines unpublished or misreported studies to help determine the true value of a treatment. The two physicians who submitted the study said the trial should not be used as evidence that the drug is effective, because there is a high risk that the results are biased. One of their concerns is that many participants did not complete the trial, even though it lasted only one week.


Another reason to stick with music lessons

Learning to play a musical instrument may help people react faster, according to a new study from the University of Montreal. Published in Brain and Cognition, the study shows that musicians react more quickly than non-musicians to sensory stimuli. The researchers compared the reaction times of 16 musicians, all of whom had had at least seven years of musical training, and 19 non-musicians. The participants sat with one hand on a computer mouse and the index finger of the other hand on a small box that vibrated intermittently. They were told to click on the mouse when they heard a sound (a burst of white noise) from the speakers in front of them, when the box vibrated or when both happened. Each of the three stimulations — audio, tactile and audio-tactile — was done 180 times. The musicians had significantly faster reaction times than the non-musicians for the three types of stimulation. As people get older, their reaction times get slower. The lead researcher says playing an instrument may be helpful for them.


Drug pairing means double trouble for tumours

A promising combination of immunotherapies delivers a one-two punch to brain cancer tumours in mice, according to research published in Nature Communications. A team led by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario found that a combination of drugs known as Smac mimetic compounds and immune checkpoint inhibitors increases the kill rates of cancer tumour cells in laboratory testing. In addition, the team discovered a new mechanism by which the combination therapy promotes long-term immunity against glioblastoma tumours. They also found the treatment is highly effective against breast cancer and multiple myeloma.

The lead investigator says this research heightens our understanding of the mechanics behind this combination effect, which both enhances the immune response and weakens tumour cells to immune attack. Another investigator notes that two drug companies have initiated human clinical trials to assess the impact of this combination of drugs on patients with a variety of cancers.

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