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Strokes may up desire for alcohol




New York, June 2:  Brain changes caused by stroke may lead to an increase in alcohol-seeking behaviour, an animal study has showed.

The findings revealed that stroke kills neurons in a part of the brain called the dorsal lateral striatum, and they stop inhibiting certain neurons in the mid-brain.

These mid-brain neurons, which are now far more excitable, send a signal to a particular type of dopamine receptor, called D1 — which compels an individual to perform an action like having an alcoholic beverage.

“This circuit is interesting because it means that when the dorsal lateral striatum neurons die, the result is increased excitement of the D1 neurons in the dorsomedial striatum,” said Jun Wang, Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M University.

“It is this increased excitement that we think is causing alcohol-seeking behaviour,” Wang added.

In the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, after the animal models suffered an ischemic stroke in the middle cerebral artery — one of the most common types of stroke in humans — they showed much lower overall fluid intake but increased preference for alcohol over water when they did drink.

“Their preference for alcohol can be seen five days after stroke and through at least the first month after the stroke,” Wang said.

“Specifically, when given a choice between water and alcohol, they chose alcohol a higher percentage of the time than they did before the stroke,” he added.

However, when the D1 receptor was inhibited, alcohol-seeking behaviour in individuals with stroke damage decreased significantly, while the control group did not exhibit much of a change.

“This is a hint at how the brain works. Something to inhibit this D1 receptor might be a possible therapeutic target for a drug to help people resist the urge to drink after a stroke,” Wang said.



World TB Day: How a phone call is saving lives of TB patients in India



TB awareness

New Delhi: In a world flooded with technological advancements, can a phone call save lives? This is happening as part of a project developed by software giant Microsoft in India.

The project, named “99DOTS”, which began in 2013 helps patients with Tuberculosis in India get medication adherence and monitoring via missed calls and SMSes.

From a modest pilot involving just 20 patients in early 2014, 99DOTS has enrolled over 93,000 patients in just four years, with 41,000 patients currently under treatment.

“99DOTS is a great example of such a project, where we’ve invented a very simple but unusually effective technology to solve a global health problem. And we are making this technology openly available to the global health community,” Sriram Rajamani, Managing Director, Microsoft Research India, said in a statement.

TB is one of the top 10 causes of deaths globally, with 10.4 million people falling ill with the disease and 1.7 million related deaths reported in 2016 alone.

India leads the count in TB chart even though free and effective medications are available, according to the World Health Organisation.

“One of the biggest barriers to recovery from TB is medication adherence,” Bill Thies, senior Researcher at the Microsoft Researcher India, said in a statement.

“Patients have to take daily drugs for a full six months or else they do not fully recover, and are at risk of developing drug resistance.”

However, “once patients start feeling better after a few weeks, it becomes very difficult to convince them to take toxic drugs for another five months – especially if patients have little or no understanding of germs and antibiotic resistance”, Thies rued.

This is where “99DOTS” project plays a significant role.

In the project, each anti-TB blister pack is wrapped in a custom envelope, which hides a phone number behind the medication.

When a patient dispenses his or her pills, they can see these hidden numbers. After taking daily medication, patients make a free call to the number.

The combination of the call and patient’s caller ID yields high confidence that the dose was “in-hand” and they took it, Thies said.

The team also developed an SMS reminder system for patients. Missed doses trigger SMS notifications to care providers, who follow up with personal or phone-based counselling.

The traditional medication adherence programme “Directly Observed Treatment” or “DOTS” involved the patients going to a healthcare centre where they ingest the medication in front of a health worker.

“99DOTS gives the patients the freedom and ownership of their treatment. They are able to take the medication wherever they are. It also provides them the privacy of not having to visit a health centre,” explained Andrew Cross who was earlier Programme Manager at Microsoft Research and teamed up with Thies to build up 99DOTS.


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‘Nicotine not to be blamed for smoking-related deaths’




New Delhi, March 24: Fearing a blanket ban on e-cigarettes by the government in view of the limited awareness about the relative benefits of vaping over smoking, the Association of Vapors India (AVI) on Saturday stressed that nicotine should not be blamed for smoking-related deaths.

There is a widespread misconception about the health risks of vaping, which has led many Indian states to ban e-cigarettes, depriving smokers of a safer way of inhaling nicotine, said Samrat Chowdhery, Director, AVI, a not-for-profit advocacy organisation that defends the right to a healthier alternative to smoking.

This misconception is not limited to India, Chowdhery said, adding that e-cigarettes were victim to negative public perception elsewhere too.

An e-cigarette is a battery-operated device that uses a liquid that may contain nicotine, as well as varying compositions of flavourings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine and other ingredients.

When smoked, traditional cigarettes release tar and other toxic chemicals, widely believed to be responsible for premature deaths among smokers.

In contrast, e-cigarettes produce only nicotine which creates dependence, no doubt, but is not harmful to health unlike tar and other carcinogens produced from the burning of tobacco in traditional cigarettes, AVI said in a statement.

According to the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA), nicotine is a drug because it stimulates the brain and enhances feelings of pleasure, thereby reinforcing its continued use by the individual. It is not what causes serious illness and death from cancer and lung and heart diseases.

“It’s the other chemical compounds in tobacco and the smoke created by setting tobacco on fire, that directly and primarily cause the illness and death, not the nicotine,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a meeting held at White Oak, Maryland in 2017.

Michael Russell, the father of tobacco harm reduction theory and the developer of nicotine gum, famously said in 1976: “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar.”

The nature of e-cigarettes is that, like Russell’s gum, they contain nicotine and thus satisfy the cravings of smokers, but do not burn tobacco like cigarettes. Unfortunately, many people do not realise that nicotine itself is not the villain, said Chowdhery.

The AVI functionary said studies have shown that nicotine can have even positive effects like caffeine in tea and coffee, which acts as a stimulant and raises the heart rate and increases the speed of sensory information processing.


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Anxiety, depression can trigger smartphone addiction




London, March 22: People who are less emotionally stable and suffer from anxiety and depression are more likely to be addicted to their smartphones, according to a research.

Emotional stability is characterised by being emotionally resilient. The study found that being less emotionally stable was associated with problematic smartphone behaviour.

People who struggle with their mental health are more likely to intensively use their smartphone as a form of therapy and that the less conscientious individuals are, the more likely they are to be addicted to their phones.

As levels of anxiety increase, problematic smartphone use also increases, the findings showed.

“Problematic smartphone use is more complex than previously thought and our research has highlighted the interplay of various psychological factors in the study of smartphone use,” Zaheer Hussain, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby in Britain, said in a statement.

“This is because people may be experiencing problems in their lives such as stress, anxiety, depression, family problems, so in that state they are emotionally unstable, meaning they may seek respite in very excessive smartphone use. This is worrying,” Hussain said.

For the study, a team of psychologists conducted an online study with 640 smartphone users, aged between 13-69 years, to find out the association between smartphone use and personality traits.

The results showed that people who are “closed off” or less open with their emotions are more likely to have problems with smartphone use.

“They may be engaging in passive social network use, where you spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, browsing other peoples’ comments, pictures, and posts, and not posting anything of your own and not engaging in discussion with others, so there is no real positive social interaction while social networking,” Hussain noted.


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