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New non-invasive technique improves monitoring of foetal heartbeat

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Pregnant Women

London, Sep 12: Researchers have developed a technique that can accurately separate foetal heartbeat from background noise in acoustic recordings, a finding that could potentially lead to cheap and non-invasive foetal monitoring while making pregnancy much safer.

The new technique involves doctors examining the sounds in a mother’s abdomen, by placing cheap vibration sensors on the mother’s belly and recording the acoustic signals emitted by the foetal heart.

In fact, it is simple enough so that a mother could potentially place the sensors on her belly in the comfort of her home and make recordings that her doctor can analyse later, the researchers said.

“Our work suggests that there is potential for low cost and continuous recordings of foetal heart sounds in the home… Our results should help doctors to make pregnancy safer,” said Elisavet Koutsiana, a researcher at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

So far, the low acoustic energy of the foetal heartbeat, along with conflicting sounds such as the mother’s own heartbeat and breathing and noise from her digestive system had made it difficult to accurately pick out the sound of the foetal heart from the recording. 

For the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, the team used mathematical analysis technique called Wavelet Transform-Fractal Dimension — to de-noise lung and bowel sounds.

The researchers could clearly discern the foetal heart sounds in both authentic foetal recordings and simulations of healthy hearts, and only slightly less clearly in simulations of abnormally fast or slow heartbeats.

They could still recognise the heart sounds even when unexpected noises were present.

Further, they could also distinguish between the different segments of the foetal heartbeat, which could be useful for doctors in their assessment of foetal health.

IANS

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Father’s stress linked to kids’ brain development

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New York, Feb 17: Fathers, take note! Taking too much stress may affect the brain development of your kids, a new study has claimed.

According to the researchers, the stress changes the father’s sperm which can then alter the brain development of the child.

This new research provides a much better understanding of the key role that fathers play in the brain development of their kids, the researchers said.

Previously, the researchers including Tracy Bale at the University of Maryland School, found that adult male mice, experiencing chronic periods of mild stress, have offspring with a reduced response to stress; changes in stress reactivity have been linked to some neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and PTSD.

They isolated the mechanism of the reduced response; they found that the father’s sperm showed changes in a genetic material known as microRNA. MicroRNA are important because they play a key role in which genes become functional proteins.

Now, the researchers have unravelled new details about these microRNA changes.

In the male reproductive tract, the caput epididymis, the structure where sperm matures, releases tiny vesicles packed with microRNA that can fuse with sperm to change its cargo delivered to the egg, they said.

The caput epididymis responded to the father’s stress by altering the content of these vesicles, the researchers added.

The result of the study, presented at AAAS 2018 annual meeting in Austin, suggests that even mild environmental challenges can have a significant impact on the development and potentially the health of future offspring.

The researchers also noted that by learning more about links between a father’s exposure to stress and the risks of disease for his kid, we can better understand, detect, and prevent these disorders.

IANS

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How asthma may affect your chances of pregnancy

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Sydney, Feb 16: Certain asthma medication, especially the “quick-acting” relievers, may affect women’s ability to conceive, warns a new study.

The study of more than 5,600 women showed that asthma patients who only use these short-acting asthma relievers take longer to become pregnant than other women.

But those who use long-acting asthma preventers conceive as quickly as other women, said the study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

While the short-acting asthma relievers provide quick relief of symptoms, long-acting asthma preventers are used to control the condition instead of getting quick relief.

“This study shows that women using short-acting asthma relievers take longer to get pregnant,” said lead researcher Luke Grzeskowiak from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“On the other hand, continued use of long-acting asthma preventers to control asthma seems to protect fertility and reduce the time it takes women with asthma to become pregnant. This could lead to a reduction in the need for fertility treatments,” Grzeskowiak said.

The results provide reassurance for asthmatic women that using inhaled corticosteroids to prevent symptoms does not appear to reduce fertility, he said.

The researchers examined the data of women expecting their first babies in the early stages of pregnancy.

The participants were from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland.

The researchers found no difference in fertility between women using long-acting asthma treatments and women without asthma.

Women using short-acting reliever medication (known as beta-agonists) took 20 per cent longer to conceive on average.

They were also 30 per cent more likely to have taken more than a year to conceive.

“As well as affecting the lungs, asthma could cause inflammation elsewhere in the body, including the uterus. It could also affect the health of eggs in the ovaries,” Grzeskowiak said.

“Inhaled corticosteroids suppress the immune system, whereas short-acting asthma treatments do not alter immune function. In women who are only using relievers it’s possible that while their asthma symptoms may improve inflammation may still be present in the lungs and other organs in the body,” he added.

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Video games can improve mobility in stroke patients: Study

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London, Feb 15: Playing video games may help stroke patients to improve their attention deficit disorders and movement control problems, claimed a new study.

After a stroke, also called cerebral infarction, injuries in areas that control attention also cause mobility problems.

The study has opened the door to a new therapeutic pathway that consists of complementing the physical treatments received by stroke patients with therapies to overcome attention deficit disorders, such as working with video games.

Previous studies have shown that the control of movement and the attention control aspect were “different systems” with little relation to each other, and that the treatments enabled for the patients with cognitive injuries could not serve for those who had mobility problems.

However, in the new study, the team emphasised that the therapeutic routes that complemented mobility therapies based on physiotherapy with another type of cognitive training can also be effective in increasing the attention span of patients at the same time.

One example would be working with the video games, the researchers noted.

“Patients with brain injuries in attention control areas also suffer motility control problems, even when the movement required by the task is very simple,” said David Soto, Professor at the Imperial College London in the UK.

For the findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team explored the extent and location of brain injuries in 167 stroke patients for more than three years.

They identified the affected part and the type and size of the lesion, and analysed the connectivity between the different areas of the brain.

Next, they subjected the patients to various motor tasks, some very simple, such as grabbing an object with force. After the tests, the researchers found that these tasks were “impaired” in those patients who had injuries in the area of the brain “involved” in attention.

The results confirmed that video games could be substituted for a new therapeutic treatment to mitigate the physical ailments suffered by stroke patients.

IANS

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