EMJ Weekly News Round-Up: 13th January

Jack Redden
Reporter, European Medical Journal
@EMGJackRedden

Welcome to your EMJ weekly news round-up. This week, we learnt about the benefits of exercise and rest, how the brain’s response to stress causes heart disease, and unregulated gene therapy.

Smallest Amounts of Exercise Still Make Us Feel Happier
Source: European Medical Journal. Published: Monday 9th January.

The results of a large study using the smartphones of >10,000 participants have shown that even minimal amounts of physical activity still has a positive impact on how happy we feel. This research has been carried out by scientists at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK and the University of Essex, Essex, UK, using an app installed on people’s phones to monitor their physical activity and emotional wellbeing. As might be expected, individuals who moved more each day reported more positive emotional states over the course of each day. Perhaps more surprising, is that the study also showed how levels of activity so low as to not be considered exercise, such as walking from the car to the office, could also increase emotional wellbeing.

‘Weekend Warriors’ Show Similar Survival Benefits to Those Undertaking Regular Exercise
Source: The Guardian. Published: Monday 9th January.
Another study looking at the benefits of physical activity has found that exercising exclusively over the weekend offers similar benefits to those experienced by exercising frequently over the course of the week. Researchers have examined the exercise habits of 60,000 adults in England and Scotland and found a group they called “weekend warriors”. This group was made up of individuals who squeezed all of their physical activity into one or two sessions over the weekend while meeting the UK’s recommended levels of physical activity. The UK’s National Health Service recommends roughly 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. They also found that these “weekend warriors” had a 30% overall reduction in risk of death compared to those who failed to meet the physical activity recommendations. They also had a 40% and 18% lower risk of cardiovascular and cancer deaths, respectively. This is similar to the benefit experienced by those who met the physical activity targets by exercising through the week who had a 35% lower risk of death as well as a 41% and 21% lower risk of cardiovascular and cancer deaths, respectively.

Stress-Related Activity in the Brain Linked to Heart Disease
Source: European Medical Journal. Published: Friday 13th January.
Scientists in the USA have made a discovery that identifies a region of the brain which can cause an elevated risk of heart attacks in individuals due to the effects of stress. In a study of just over 300 individuals, those with higher activity in the amygdala, an indicator of stress, were more likely to experience an adverse cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or a stroke. The study also showed that increased activity in the amygdala was linked to individuals experiencing heart troubles sooner that those with lower levels of activity. The team behind the research explained that this area of the brain signals to the bone marrow to produce extra white blood cells, which can result in inflammation of the arteries, leading to cardiovascular events. According to the lead researcher, Dr Ahmed Tawakol from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, these findings suggest opportunities to reduce cardiovascular risks that are attributable to stress, such as through pharmacological manipulation.

Biologist Carries out Gene Therapy Experiment on Himself
Source: MIT Technology Review. Published:

Brian Hanley, a microbiologist and founder of a one-man company called Butterfly Sciences in California, has reported receiving injections of copies of a gene that he designed and ordered from a research supply company. This unregulated form of gene therapy involved a doctor injecting the genes into Hanley’s thigh and then performing electroporation, which passed a strong current through his body to cause his muscle cells to open and absorb the new DNA. This private experiment was carried out without the approval of the FDA which would normally be required when exploring new drug applications in the USA. The gene Hanley added to his muscle cells were designed to make his body produce more of a certain hormone that could potentially increase his strength and also his life span.

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