Open Reading Frame brings together a selection of recent publication highlights from elsewhere in  the open access ecosystem. This week we take a look at the past few weeks in medicine.


DNA test for improved detection of schistosomiasis
Schistosomiasis, a disease carried by parasitic worms, is currently diagnosed by the detection of parasite eggs in the urine or feces using microscopy. However, infections are often missed in travelers if egg excretion has not yet started, and more sensitive diagnostic techniques are required. Now, researchers have developed a PCR-based technique for improved detection of the Schistosoma haematobium parasite. The technique, which identifies parasite DNA, was found to be more sensitive than microscopy for diagnosing infection, and offers a promising new approach for improved diagnosis of the disease.
Cnops et al. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases


Linking stress, nutrition and diabetes in African-Americans
Poor nutrition combined with high stress levels can increase type 2 diabetes risk, and it is known that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by lack of access to a healthy diet in the USA. A new study could explain how African-Americans can reduce stress and cut diabetes risk. Researchers from the University of Michigan, USA found that those who integrate their family’s culture into mainstream American culture have reduced stress and stress-influenced eating behavior. This in turn could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, suggesting that sociocultural orientation could be very important for reducing disease risk in ethnic minorities, as well as improving quality of life.
Hasson et al. Journal of Obesity


What determines high quality primary care?
The quality of primary care varies across countries and regions, and there are many different models currently in use. As primary care is the first point of consultation for patients in most countries, it is important to ensure that a high quality service is provided. Research carried out in Canada has identified the characteristics of primary care practices that are associated with high quality of care. These include physician remuneration, sharing administrative resources and the monitoring of competence. Given that these characteristics are largely affected by the organization of primary care practices, the authors conclude that decision-makers should help to improve the quality of healthcare through investing in effective team-based care.
Beaulieu et al. CMAJ


siRNA: a new approach to treat pancreatic fibrosis?
Pancreatic fibrosis – the accumulation of connective tissue occurring in patients with chronic pancreatitis – disrupts the production of hormones by the pancreas. There is currently no approved treatment for this disease. New research carried out in rats has identified siRNA as a potential therapy for the condition. Researchers showed that siRNA against the collagen protein gp46 can be specifically targeted to fibrotic areas of the pancreas, and that treatment with this siRNA reduces the degree of fibrosis. Further investigations into the off-target effects of this approach are now required in order to validate the potential of siRNA- based therapies to treat pancreatic fibrosis.
Ishiwatari et al. Gut


‘Mini-brains’ could aid understanding of neurological diseases
Due to the complexity of the human brain, it is extremely difficult to study brain disorders in animal models, and there is a need to develop models that mimic human disease more closely. Now, in research freely available in Nature, it has been shown that given the right conditions, human stem cells can assemble into miniature regions of the brain. These ‘mini brains’ were used to model some aspects of microcephaly, a condition causing reduced brain growth and cognitive impairment. The authors conclude that, although research is at an early stage, stem-cell derived models are a promising approach to improve understanding of complex neurological diseases and aid in the development of new therapies.
Lancaster et al. Nature


Passive smoking linked to type 2 diabetes
The negative effects of smoking are well-known and new harms are increasingly being identified. Now, collaborative research from France, the US and Mexico has shown that second-hand smoke exposure could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Through analyzing records, the researchers found that women with at least one parent who smoked have an 18 percent increased risk of developing diabetes, and adult second-hand smoke exposure is also associated with elevated risk. The authors speculate that higher fat mass caused by early nicotine exposure could explain the link, providing further evidence for the importance of smoke-free environments.
Lajous et al. Diabetes Care


Dairy products and colorectal cancer risk
Mounting evidence suggests that consumption of dairy products is linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. New research from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) consortium has investigated this association further, to uncover whether different types of dairy products affect cancer risk. The authors divided dairy products into skimmed, semi-skimmed and whole milk, together with yoghurt and cheese, and found that the fat content of dairy products does not influence cancer risk. The results confirmed the protective role of dairy products against colorectal cancer, but suggest that the type of dairy product consumed does not affect the relationship.
Murphy et al. PLOS One


New program for managing fatigue in MS
In patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), fatigue is one of the most commonly-reported and disabling symptoms, and is very difficult to treat. A clinical trial carried out in the UK has investigated the effectiveness of a new group-based fatigue management program – the FACETS intervention – for these patients. The results showed that the program reduces fatigue severity in MS patients, suggesting that this approach could be integrated into MS care practice to help improve quality of life in these patients.
Thomas et al. BMJ Open


Written by Claire Barnard, Senior Editor for BMC Medicine.


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