Terrorism works, but only when governments allow it to

Published: April 28, 2014

 

Contact(s): Jakana Thomas , Andy Henion

 

Terrorism can be a successful strategy for rebel groups during civil war, but only when governments allow it to work, finds a new study by a Michigan State University political scientist.

 

English: Beaumont Tower marks the site of the ...

 

Responding to acts of terrorism with violence is more likely to prolong the conflict. However, if governments negotiate or use sound counterterrorism efforts, they stand a better chance of bringing about a peaceful resolution, said Jakana Thomas, assistant professor of political science. Continue reading “Terrorism works, but only when governments allow it to”

‘Hip-hop’ students unfairly targeted, study finds

Published: Jan. 10, 2014

Black and Latino “hip-hop” students are disproportionately punished in urban schools, finds a two-year study that sheds light on some of the unfair disciplinary practices newly targeted by the Obama administration.

Muhammad Khalifa, a Michigan State University assistant professor of education, found that students who identified with hip-hop culture were often removed from school because of their cultural behaviors and dress. His paper is published in the research journal Multicultural Learning and Teaching. Continue reading “‘Hip-hop’ students unfairly targeted, study finds”

Neurotoxicity of chemotherapy drugs / triggers changes in ion channels on dorsal root ganglia and dorsal horn neurons

Contact: Meng Zhao eic@nrren.org 86-138-049-98773 Neural Regeneration Research

Chemotherapy is one of the primary treatments for cancer. However, one of the most disturbing findings of recent studies of cancer survivors is the apparent prevalence of chemotherapy-associated adverse neurological effects, including vascular complications, seizures, mood disorders, cognitive dysfunctions, and peripheral neuropathies. In addition, chemotherapy triggers changes in ion channels on dorsal root ganglia and dorsal horn neurons that generate secondary changes resulting in neuropathic pains. Although a number of protective agents have been developed, their effects are not satisfactory. Chemotherapy drugs can cause changes in hippocampal neurogenesis and plasticity. A review reported in the Neural Regeneration Research (Vol. 8, No. 17, 2013) focuses on chemotherapy-induced neurodegeneration and hippocampal dysfunctions and related mechanisms as measured by in vivo and in vitro approaches, which is helpful in determining how best to further explore the causal mechanisms of chemotherapy-induced neurological side effects and in providing direction for the future development of novel optimized chemotherapeutic agents.

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Article: “Neurotoxicity of cancer chemotherapy,” by Miyoung Yang1, 2, Changjong Moon1 (1 Department of Veterinary Anatomy, College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Medical Institute, Chonnam National University, Gwangju 500-757, Republic of Korea; 2 Department of Physiology and Neuroscience Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA)

Yang MY, Moon CJ. Neurotoxicity of cancer chemotherapy. Neural Regen Res. 2013;8(17):1606-1614.

Contact:

Meng Zhao eic@nrren.org 86-138-049-98773 Neural Regeneration Research http://www.nrronline.org/

Full text: http://www.sjzsyj.org:8080/Jweb_sjzs/CN/article/downloadArticleFile.do?attachType=PDF&id=629

Honor among (credit card) thieves?

Published: April 22, 2013

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949 Andy.Henion@cabs.msu.edu, Thomas Holt Criminal Justice office: (517) 353-9563 holtt@msu.edu

A Michigan State University criminologist dug into the seamy underbelly of online credit card theft and uncovered a surprisingly sophisticated network of crooks that is unique in the cybercrime domain.

The thieves, Thomas Holt found, run an online marketplace for stolen credit data similar to eBay or Amazon where reputations drive sales. Thieves sell data and money laundering services, advertised via web forums, and send and receive payments electronically or through an intermediary. They even provide feedback on transactions to help weed out sellers who cannot be trusted to deliver the illegal goods.

Holt’s study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, is published in the research journal Global Crime.

“These aren’t just 15-year-olds stealing credit card info online and using it to buy pornography,” said Holt, associate professor of criminal justice. “These are thieves who come to trust one another. There’s a layer of sophistication here that can’t be understated, that’s very different than what we think about with other forms of crime.”

First, credit card information is stolen from an individual or group. Tactics can include hacking into the database of a bank, retailer or other service provider; sending emails to consumers masquerading as a bank to acquire sensitive details such as usernames and passwords (called phishing); and skimming. Examples of skimming include attaching a hard-to-spot device on an ATM machine or a crooked waiter who wears an electronic belt that can capture a card’s details.

The thief then advertises his haul in an online forum, with details such as card type, country of origin and asking price. Holt said a Visa Classic card, for example, might go for $5 to $20 per card, with a price discount for buying large amounts of data.

The winning buyer finalizes the deal online and sends the money through an electronic payment service. If the seller isn’t known or trusted, a middleman, called a guarantor, is used to assure the data is good before payment is sent – minus a fee.

For the buyers, there is any number of illicit service providers to then help them make purchases in a way that doesn’t raise suspicion or to pull money directly from the accounts – minus a fee.

All of this is done in a rather democratic fashion – unlike, say, the hierarchical structure of the mafia, said Holt, who monitored two English-language and two Russian-language forums for the study.

Some policymakers have called for flooding the online forums with bogus comments in an attempt to build mistrust and bring them down. But Holt said this strategy won’t necessarily work for organized forums with managers who can monitor and remove comments as in the forums he sampled.

A better strategy, he said, might be for law enforcement authorities to infiltrate the sophisticated networks with a long-term undercover operation. It’s a challenge, but one that might be more effective than other strategies called for by researchers.

Building healthy bones takes guts : Lactobacillus reuteri, significant increase in bone density after four weeks

Building healthy bones takes guts

Contact(s): Andy McGlashen Media Communications office: (517) 355-5158 cell: (517) 420-1908 andy.mcglashen@cabs.msu.edu, Laura McCabe Physiology and Radiology office: (517) 884-5152 mccabel@msu.edu

In what could be an early step toward new treatments for people with osteoporosis, scientists at Michigan State University report that a natural probiotic supplement can help male mice produce healthier bones.

Interestingly, the same can’t be said for female mice, the researchers report in the Journal of Cellular Physiology.

“We know that inflammation in the gut can cause bone loss, though it’s unclear exactly why,” said lead author Laura McCabe, a professor in MSU’s departments of Physiology and Radiology. “The neat thing we found is that a probiotic can enhance bone density.”

Probiotics are microorganisms that can help balance the immune system. For the study, the researchers fed the mice Lactobacillus reuteri, a probiotic known to reduce inflammation, a sometimes harmful effect of the body’s immune response to infection.

“Through food fermentation, we’ve been eating bacteria that we classify as probiotics for thousands of years,” said co-author Robert Britton, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. “There’s evidence that this bacterium as a species has co-evolved with humans. It’s indigenous to our intestinal tracts and is something that, if missing, might cause problems.”

In the study, the male mice showed a significant increase in bone density after four weeks of treatment. There was no such effect when the researchers repeated the experiment with female mice, an anomaly they’re now investigating.

By 2020, half of all Americans over 50 are expected to have low bone density or osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. About one in two women and one in four men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

Drugs to prevent bone loss in osteoporosis patients are already in wide use, but over the long term they can disrupt the natural remodeling of bone tissue and could potentially have negative side effects that include unusual bone fractures and joint and muscle pain.

McCabe and Britton are quick to point out that this line of research is in its early stages and that results in mice don’t always translate to humans. But they’re hopeful the new study could point the way toward osteoporosis drugs that aren’t saddled with such side effects, especially for people who lose bone density from an early age because of another chronic condition.

“People tend to think of osteoporosis as just affecting postmenopausal women, but what they don’t realize is that it can occur with other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and Type 1 diabetes,” she said. “You don’t want to put your child on medications that reduce bone remodeling for the rest of their life, so something natural could be useful for long-term treatment of bone loss that begins at childhood.”

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and MSU. Research assistants Regina Irwin and Laura Schaefer co-authored the paper

Homicide spreads like infectious disease

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949 Andy.Henion@cabs.msu.edu, April Zeoli Criminal Justice office: (517) 353-9554 zeoli@msu.edu

Homicide moves through a city in a process similar to infectious disease, according to a new study that may give police a new tool in tracking and ultimately preventing murders.

Using Newark, N.J., as a pilot case, a team of Michigan State University researchers led by April Zeoli successfully applied public health tracking methods to the city’s 2,366 homicides between 1982 and 2008. They found the killings were not randomly located but instead followed a pattern, evolving from the city’s center and moving southward and westward over time.

Like a flu bug that spreads to susceptible groups such as children and the elderly, homicide clusters in Newark – often fueled by gangs and guns – spread to areas consisting largely of poor and minority residents. Over time, the concentration of homicides effectively disappeared from one area and settled in another.

“By using the principles of infectious disease control, we may be able to predict the spread of homicide and reduce the incidence of this crime,” said Zeoli, public health researcher in MSU’s School of Criminal Justice.

The study is one of the first to use analytic software from the field of medical geography to track long-term homicide trends. Zeoli said the method can be done in real time which would allow police to identify emerging hotspots.

The researchers also identified areas of Newark that had no homicide clusters during the 26-year time frame of the study, despite being surrounded by deadly violence.

“If we could discover why some of those communities are resistant,” Zeoli said, “we could work on increasing the resistance of our communities that are more susceptible to homicide.”

Joining Zeoli on the study were criminal justice researchers Jesenia Pizarro and Christopher Melde and medical geographer Sue Grady.

The study is published in Justice Quarterly, a research journal.

Exposure to insecticide may play role in obesity epidemic among some women: DDE, DDT

Contact: Jason Cody
codyja@msu.edu
517-432-0924
Michigan State University

Researchers study fish-eater cohort along Lake Michigan

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Prenatal exposure to an insecticide commonly used up until the 1970s may play a role in the obesity epidemic in women, according to a new study involving several Michigan State University researchers.

More than 250 mothers who live along and eat fish from Lake Michigan were studied for their exposure to DDE – a breakdown of DDT. The study, published as an editor’s choice in this month’s edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzed DDE levels of the women’s offspring.

Compared to the group with the lowest levels, those with intermediate levels gained an average of 13 pounds excess weight, and those with higher levels gained more than 20 pounds of excess weight.

“Prenatal exposure to toxins is increasingly being looked at as a potential cause for the rise in obesity seen worldwide,” said Janet Osuch, a professor of surgery and epidemiology at MSU’s College of Human Medicine, who was one of the lead authors of the study. “What we have found for the first time is exposure to certain toxins by eating fish from polluted waters may contribute to the obesity epidemic in women.”

Though DDT was banned in 1973 after three decades of widespread use, the chemical and its byproducts remain toxic in marine life and fatty fish. The study was funded by a $300,000 grant from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Osuch said the study’s findings can have a huge impact on how researchers treat – and seek to prevent – obesity. The research team has been awarded a $1 million grant from the same federal agency, the ATSDR, to assess the impact of pollutants and toxins on a wide variety of disorders by determining the importance of second- and third-generation health effects.

“This line of research can transform how we think about the causes of obesity and potentially help us create prenatal tests to show which offspring are at higher risks,” she said.

The mothers who were studied are part of a larger cohort of Michigan fish eaters along Lake Michigan who were recruited in the early 1970s. In 2000, Osuch and research partners approached the cohort and began to identify daughters aged 20 to 50 years old.

“These findings not only apply to the offspring of women in our cohort but to any woman who has been exposed to high levels of DDE when she was growing in her mother’s womb,” Osuch said. “Mothers with the highest DDE levels are women who have consumed a lot of fish or high-fat meats.”

Current recommendations for eating fish call for limiting it to two meals per week; including tuna fish sandwiches. The study also looked at the effects of a second pollutant, PCBs, but found no correlation with weight and body mass index.

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Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving

Superman-Strength Bacteria Produce 24-Karat Gold : Microbial alchemy ( neo-alchemy )

A bioreactor uses a gold-loving bacteria to turn liquid gold into useable, 24-karat gold. (Credit: Photo by G.L. Kohuth)

ScienceDaily (Oct. 2, 2012) — At a time when the value of gold has reached an all-time high, Michigan State University researchers have discovered a bacterium’s ability to withstand incredible amounts of toxicity is key to creating 24-karat gold.

“Microbial alchemy is what we’re doing — transforming gold from something that has no value into a solid, precious metal that’s valuable,” said Kazem Kashefi, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.

He and Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and intermedia, found the metal-tolerant bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on massive concentrations of gold chloride — or liquid gold, a toxic chemical compound found in nature.

In fact, the bacteria are at least 25 times stronger than previously reported among scientists, the researchers determined in their art installation, “The Great Work of the Metal Lover,” which uses a combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-karat gold. The artwork contains a portable laboratory made of 24-karat gold-plated hardware, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria, a combination that produces gold in front of an audience.

Brown and Kashefi fed the bacteria unprecedented amounts of gold chloride, mimicking the process they believe happens in nature. In about a week, the bacteria transformed the toxins and produced a gold nugget.

“The Great Work of the Metal Lover” uses a living system as a vehicle for artistic exploration, Brown said.

In addition, the artwork consists of a series of images made with a scanning electron microscope. Using ancient gold illumination techniques, Brown applied 24-karat gold leaf to regions of the prints where a bacterial gold deposit had been identified so that each print contains some of the gold produced in the bioreactor.

“This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy,” Brown said. “Science tries to explain the phenomenological world. As an artist, I’m trying to create a phenomenon. Art has the ability to push scientific inquiry.”

It would be cost prohibitive to reproduce their experiment on a larger scale, he said. But the researchers’ success in creating gold raises questions about greed, economy and environmental impact, focusing on the ethics related to science and the engineering of nature.

“The Great Work of the Metal Lover” was selected for exhibition and received an honorable mention at the cyber art competition, Prix Ars Electronica, in Austria, where it’s on display until Oct. 7. Prix Ars Electronica is one of the most important awards for creativity and pioneering spirit in the field of digital and hybrid media, Brown said.

“Art has the ability to probe and question the impact of science in the world, and ‘The Great Work of the Metal Lover’ speaks directly to the scientific preoccupation while trying to shape and bend biology to our will within the postbiological age,” Brown said.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121002150031.htm

Study links breast cancer risk to early-life diet and metabolic syndrome: ” totally independent of the body’s production of the hormone estrogen”

Contact: Patricia Bailey
pjbailey@ucdavis.edu
530-752-9843
University of California – Davis

Striking new evidence suggesting that diet and related factors early in life can boost the risk for breast cancer — totally independent of the body’s production of the hormone estrogen — has been uncovered by a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis.

The findings provide new insights into the processes that regulate normal breast development, which can impact the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The study will be published Sept. 17 in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s long been assumed that circulating estrogens from the ovaries, which underlie normal female reproductive development, were crucial for the onset of breast growth and development,” said Russ Hovey, a UC Davis associate professor of animal science and senior author on the study.

“Our findings, however, suggest that diet and shifts in body metabolism that parallel changes seen during obesity and Type 2 diabetes can also stimulate breast growth entirely independent of estrogen’s effects,” he said.

The studies with mice used a diet supplemented with a form of the fatty acid known as 10, 12 conjugated linoleic acid or 10, 12 CLA, which mimics specific aspects of a broader metabolic syndrome.

In humans, this syndrome is linked to a broad array of changes associated with obesity that can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The 10, 12 CLA was added to the diet of the test group of mice because it is known to disrupt normal metabolic processes. In this study, the supplement stimulated the mammary ducts to grow, despite the fact that the mice lacked estrogen.

The researchers demonstrated that the diet-induced breast development also increased the formation of mammary tumors in some of the mice.

They ruled out a role for estrogen as the possible cause for how diet increased growth of the breast tissues by giving the supplement to male mice and to female mice in which the function of estrogen was blocked.

The research team also discovered that various mouse strains responded differently to the dietary supplement despite similar metabolic changes, suggesting that there may be a genetic component for how diet and related metabolic changes affect breast cancer risk in different populations, Hovey said.

He noted that results from the study would likely have significant implications for better understanding human breast development before puberty and after menopause, when estrogens are less present.

“The findings of this study are particularly important when we superimpose them on data showing that girls are experiencing breast development at earlier ages, coincident with a growing epidemic of childhood obesity,” Hovey said.

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Other members of the research team are graduate students Grace Berryhill and Julia Gloviczki, Project Scientist Josephine Trott, postdoctoral researchers Lucila Aimo and Whitney Petrie, undergraduate student Carly Paul, and Professor Robert Cardiff, all of UC Davis; Research Assistant Professor Jana Kraft of the University of Vermont and Assistant Professor Adam Lock of Michigan State University.

The study was supported in part by Dairy Management Inc., the UC Davis Cancer Center and the Department of Defense.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 32,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget that exceeds $684 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Media contact(s):

— Russell Hovey, Animal Science, (530) 752-1682, rchovey@ucdavis.edu

— Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843, pjbailey@ucdavis.edu

Witch hunts targeted by grassroots women’s groups: Yes, Actual Witch Hunts ( India )

Contact:   Andy Henion, Media Communications, Office: (517) 355-3294, Cell: (517) 281-6949, Andy.Henion@cabs.msu.edu; Soma Chaudhuri, Sociology, Office: (517) 353-0874, chaudh30@msu.edu

Published: Sept. 04, 2012

 

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Witch hunts are common and sometimes deadly in the tea plantations of Jalpaiguri, India. But a surprising source – small groups of women who meet through a government loan program – has achieved some success in preventing the longstanding practice, a Michigan State University sociologist found.

Soma Chaudhuri spent seven months studying witch hunts in her native India and discovered that the economic self-help groups have made it part of their agenda to defend their fellow plantation workers against the hunts.

“It’s a grassroots movement and it’s helping provide a voice to women who wouldn’t otherwise have one,” said Chaudhuri, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice. “I can see the potential for this developing into a social movement, but it’s not going to happen in a day because an entire culture needs to be changed.”

Witch hunts, she explained, are fueled by the tribal workers’ belief in the existence of witches and the desperate need of this poor, illiterate population to make sense of rampant diseases in villages with no doctors or medical facilities. There are some 84 million tribal people in India, representing about 8 percent of the country’s population.

In 2003, at a tea plantation in Jalpaiguri, five women were tied up, tortured and killed after being falsely accused of witchcraft in the death of a male villager who had suffered from a stomach illness.

Chaudhuri interviewed the villagers at length and found that such attacks are often impulsive and that the “witch” is often killed immediately. Widespread alcoholism is also a factor, she found.

But the study also documents examples of the women’s groups stopping potential attacks. In one case, a woman was accused of causing disease in livestock and an attack was planned. Members of the self-help groups gathered in a vigil around the woman’s home and surrounded the accuser’s home as well, stating their case to the accuser’s wife. Eventually the wife intervened and her husband recanted and “begged for forgiveness.”

Through the loan program, each woman is issued a low-interest, collateral-free “microcredit” loan of about 750 rupees ($18) to start her own business such as basket weaving, tailoring or selling chicken eggs. Participants meet in groups of about eight to 10 to support one another.

Chaudhuri said the loan program is run by nongovernmental activists who have been successful in encouraging the groups to look beyond the economic aspects and mobilize against domestic abuse, alcoholism and the practice of witch hunts.

Through the bonds of trust and friendship, group members have established the necessary social capital to collectively resist the deep-seated tradition of witch hunts, Chaudhuri said.

“Why would they go against something so risky, something that breaks tradition?” she said. “They do it because they believe in the ideals of the microcredit group – in women’s development, family development and gender equality.”

The study, which Chaudhuri co-authored with Anuradha Chakravarty of the University of South Carolina, appears in Mobilization, an international research journal.

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Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges

Computer viruses could take a lesson from showy peacocks ” digital organisms evolve, just like living things”

Contact:   Layne Cameron, Media Communications, Office: (517) 353-8819, Cell: (765) 748-4827, Layne.Cameron@cabs.msu.edu; Ian Dworkin, Zoology, Office: 517-432-6733, idworkin@msu.edu

Published: Aug. 29, 2012 E-mail Editor
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MSU researchers explore what would happen if computer viruses had to find mates in order to reproduce. Photo illustration by G.L. Kohuth

Click on an image to view a larger or high-resolution version.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Computer viruses are constantly replicating throughout computer networks and wreaking havoc. But what if they had to find mates in order to reproduce?

In the current issue of Evolution, Michigan State University researchers created the digital equivalent of spring break to see how mate attraction played out through computer programs, said Chris Chandler, MSU postdoctoral researcher at MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

“This is actually a big question that still generates a lot of debate,” said Chandler, who co-authored the study with Ian Dworkin, assistant professor of zoology, and Charles Ofria, associate professor of computer science and engineering. “People have some good ideas, but they can be hard to test really well in nature, so we decided to take a different approach.”

The novel approach involved creating promiscuous programs in a virtual world called Avida, a software environment in which specialized computer programs compete and reproduce. Because mutations happen when Avidians copy themselves, which lead to differences in reproductive rates, these digital organisms evolve, just like living things, added Ofria, who created Avida.

The researchers programed the Avidians with the ability to grow sexual displays – e-peacock tails of sorts. They also allowed them to choose mates randomly. As the researchers predicted, they usually went for the showiest mates. But why?

“One school of thought argues that the main benefit of choosing an attractive partner is that your offspring also will be sexy,” said Dworkin. “In the other camp are those who argue that these sexual ornaments are a sign of good health, and so choosing a showy mate ensures that you’ll get good genes to pass on to your offspring.”

Traditionally, biologists thought that ornamental displays clue in potential mates about an individual’s virility because the structures are costly, biologically speaking; only an animal in really good health could bear the burden they impose. So the researchers altered Avidians’ genetic code to allow them to grow exaggerated displays practically for free.

They expected this change to diminish the evolutionary benefits of preferring showy mates, since even the wimpiest of Avidians could now grow enormous digital tail feathers.

“I was surprised when we didn’t find that at all,” Chandler said. “Even when we eliminated the costs of these displays, they still evolved to be an indicator of a male’s genetic quality.”

MSU’s BEACON Center is funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges

Study reveals ‘huffing’ household chemicals connected to teen suicide

Contact: Dave Brendsel dbrendse@du.edu 303-871-2775 University of Denver

Girls who ‘huff’ are at higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors

DENVER— With suicide as the third leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States, a new University of Denver (DU) study reveals inhaling or “huffing” vapors of common household goods, such as glue or nail polish, are associated with increased suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Of the study’s participants, 33 percent reported having inhaled volatile solvents, 25 percent had attempted suicide, and 58 percent reported suicidal thoughts.

Stacey Freedenthal and Jeffrey M. Jenson of DU’s Graduate School of Social Work joined researchers from Chapel Hill and the University of Pittsburgh in a study of 723 incarcerated youth. “Inhalant Use and Suicidality among Incarcerated Youth” appeared in the September 2007 issue of the academic journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The study was the first work to categorize both levels of severity of inhalant use and gender in relation to suicidal ideas and suicide attempts.

The investigators found a significant increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts with higher use of volatile solvents. Researchers did not determine which problem came first, the huffing or the suicidal behavior, but showed that the two are undeniably connected, even when accounting for numerous other factors. Freedenthal warns parents to be aware of the possibility of suicidal thoughts in children who have been caught inhaling household chemicals.

“Inhalant use has many serious, physiological consequences, including death,” says Freedenthal. “Now we are learning ever more strongly that they are also linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

The study found the correlation between huffing and suicidality greater in girls than boys. More than 80 percent of girls who abused inhalants revealed a history of suicide attempts, while less than 60 percent of boys showed the same history. The study also indicated that suicidal thoughts were much higher for girls than boys. Suicidal thoughts and attempts were considered two separate constructs, since thoughts do not always lead to attempts, and attempts are not always preceded by much thought.

The study involved 723 participants incarcerated by the Missouri Division of Youth Services, 629 boys and 94 girls at an average age of 15. Participants were asked if they huffed any of the 35 common household substances, such as paint, paint thinner, shoe polish, spot remover, floor polish, kerosene, gasoline, antifreeze, permanent markers, nail polish remover, mothballs, waxes, lighter fluid, and others.

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The University of Denver (www.du.edu), the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain region, enrolls approximately 11,117 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Denver as a Research University with high research activity.

Total undergraduate enrollment for fall 2007 is 5,311, including 1,140 first-time, first-year students, compared to 1,142 last year. Graduate enrollment is 5,806

*Reposted for Filing

Common parasite may trigger suicide attempts – “seven times more likely to attempt suicide”

Contact:   Jason Cody, Media Communications, Office: (517) 432-0924, Cell: (734) 755-0210, Jason.Cody@cabs.msu.edu; Lena Brundin, College of Human Medicine, Office: (616) 234-0996, lena.brundin@hc.msu.edu

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A parasite thought to be harmless and found in many people may actually be causing subtle changes in the brain, leading to suicide attempts.

New research appearing in the August issue of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry adds to the growing work linking an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite to suicide attempts. Michigan State University’s Lena Brundin was one of the lead researchers on the team.

About 10-20 percent of people in the United States have Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, in their bodies, but in most it was thought to lie dormant, said Brundin, an associate professor of experimental psychiatry in MSU’s College of Human Medicine. In fact, it appears the parasite can cause inflammation over time, which produces harmful metabolites that can damage brain cells.

“Previous research has found signs of inflammation in the brains of suicide victims and people battling depression, and there also are previous reports linking Toxoplasma gondii to suicide attempts,” she said. “In our study we found that if you are positive for the parasite, you are seven times more likely to attempt suicide.”

The work by Brundin and colleagues is the first to measure scores on a suicide assessment scale from people infected with the parasite, some of whom had attempted suicide.

The results found those infected with T. gondii scored significantly higher on the scale, indicative of a more severe disease and greater risk for future suicide attempts. However, Brundin stresses the majority of those infected with the parasite will not attempt suicide: “Some individuals may for some reason be more susceptible to develop symptoms,” she said.

“Suicide is major health problem,” said Brundin, noting the 36,909 deaths in 2009 in America, or one every 14 minutes. “It is estimated 90 percent of people who attempt suicide have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder. If we could identify those people infected with this parasite, it could help us predict who is at a higher risk.”

T. gondii is a parasite found in cells that reproduces in its primary host, any member of the cat family. It is transmitted to humans primarily through ingesting water and food contaminated with the eggs of the parasite, or, since the parasite can be present in other mammals as well, through consuming undercooked raw meat or food.

Brundin has been looking at the link between depression and inflammation in the brain for a decade, beginning with work she did on Parkinson’s disease. Typically, a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, have been the preferred treatment for depression. SSRIs are believed to increase the level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin but are effective in only about half of depressed patients.

Brundin’s research indicates a reduction in the brain’s serotonin might be a symptom rather than the root cause of depression. Inflammation, possibly from an infection or a parasite, likely causes changes in the brain’s chemistry, leading to depression and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide, she said.

“I think it’s very positive that we are finding biological changes in suicidal patients,” she said. “It means we can develop new treatments to prevent suicides, and patients can feel hope that maybe we can help them.

“It’s a great opportunity to develop new treatments tailored at specific biological mechanisms.”

Brundin and co-senior investigator Teodor Postolache of the University of Maryland led the research team. Funding for the project came from several sources, most notably the Swedish Research Council and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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http://news.msu.edu/story/common-parasite-may-trigger-suicide-attempts/