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Archive - Oct 23, 2012

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Telomere Length in White Blood Cells Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

A new study shows that a blood marker is linked to pancreatic cancer, according to a study published today by scientists at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic. First author Dr. Halcyon Skinner, assistant professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says the study is the first time pancreatic cancer risk has been linked to differences in telomere length in blood cells. "This suggests a new avenue to identify those with pancreatic cancer or those at risk of developing the cancer in the future,'' he says. Dr. Skinner's colleagues at the Mayo Clinic took blood samples from more than 1,500 people – 499 of them with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and 963 of them cancer-free control subjects. Specifically, the scientists were interested in the length of the telomeres – the end caps on chromosomes – found in white blood cells. They found a direct relationship with the risk of pancreatic cancer: the shorter the telomeres, the more likely a person was to have pancreatic cancer. Telomeres maintain the stability of genes, and are known to shorten with age as cells divide. People of the same chronological age can have vastly different telomere lengths. In other words, some people's cells can by viewed as biologically older than cells from other people the same age. "We know that people with many factors that are classically unhealthy also tend to have shorter telomeres. Those who have had stressful lives, exposed to chronic inflammation, have poor glucose control or smoked cigarettes tend to have shorter telomeres, and that can set the stage for genetic damage,'' Dr. Skinner explains. Shortened telomeres in the blood have already been associated with other types of cancer, including colon cancer.

Family History of Schizophrenia Is a Risk Factor for Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), a category that includes autism, Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, are characterized by difficulty with social interaction and communication, or repetitive behaviors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Management says that one in 88 children in the U.S. is somewhere on the autism spectrum — an alarming ten-fold increase in the last four decades. New research by Dr. Mark Weiser of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center has revealed that ASD appears to share a root cause with other mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. At first glance, schizophrenia and autism may look like completely different illnesses, he says. But closer inspection reveals many common traits, including social and cognitive dysfunction and a decreased ability to lead normal lives and function in the real world. Studying extensive databases in Israel and Sweden, the researchers discovered that the two illnesses have a genetic link, representing a heightened risk within families. They found that people who have a schizophrenic sibling are 12 times more likely to have autism than those with no schizophrenia in the family. The presence of bipolar disorder in a sibling showed a similar pattern of association, but to a lesser degree. A scientific leap forward, this study sheds new light on the genetics of these disorders. The results will help scientists better understand the genetics of mental illness, says Dr. Weiser, and may prove to be a fruitful direction for future research. The findings were published online during July 2012 in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers used three data sets, one in Israel and two in Sweden, to determine the familial connection between schizophrenia and autism.