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Healthy Notes

New brain tumor detection

Researchers at Georgia Tech and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta have developed new technology that will help doctors tell tumors from brain matter during surgery.

Ravi Bellamkonda at Georgia Tech and Dr. Barun Brahma, a neurosurgeon, talked about finding a simple way to distinguish tumor material from brain matter that would not require expensive imaging technology, which is not available in all hospitals or in many parts of the world.

Bellamkonda’s laboratory developed an injectible material made out of fat that carries a blue dye. The dye selectively stains the margins of tumors blue, so a doctor can see them clearly.

It should help doctors remove tumors more accurately.


Cold and flu season
brings pinkeye

Elizabeth Brockob’s eye was red and hurting, and so, like a lot of us, she went to the Internet for a diagnosis.

Within minutes the 13-year-old from Johns Creek, Ga., was convinced she was going blind and that she could die. “It scared me,” Brockob said.

Although she had reason for concern, her diagnosis was dead wrong.

The teen had bacterial conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, a common eye disease, especially in children, that may affect one or both eyes.

If recent numbers are any indication, the nasty little infection seems to be on the move, afflicting everyone from toddlers to school-age children, like Brockob, to adults.

The culprit? According to Dr. Glenda Brown, an optometrist with Caris Eye Centers in Alpharetta, Ga., and incoming president of the Georgia Optometric Association, it is a brutal cold and flu season that is weakening immune systems.

“We’re all exposed to viruses and bacteria, and if our immunity is down, we can’t fight it off,” she said.

Since the flu season began, Brown said her practice has seen a 30 percent increase in pinkeye diagnoses — from 222 patients last year to 289 so far this year.

“That’s huge,” she said.

Doctors in the Tasman Eye Group in Kennesaw, Ga., have also seen a spike in pinkeye cases this year, said Dr. Stuart Tasman.

“There are many more cases of the flu this season, and that leads to more cases (of pinkeye), since this type is spread by people with upper respiratory tract infections,” he said.

Although Susan Brockob initially believed her daughter might have been guilty of sleeping in her contact lenses again, she knew something was wrong because “Elizabeth doesn’t complain very often.” Plus, the mother of four said, she has come to expect pinkeye to pay the family a visit. Each of her children has had it, and at least one of them more than once.

But be careful about trying to self-diagnose, Brown said.

“There are many other eye problems that mimic pinkeye, and so a lot of eye conditions that patients will refer to as pinkeye are in fact not conjunctivitis,” she said. “We get twice as many people who call thinking they have it, when they actually have something else. But the only way to be sure is to see an eye doctor who can evaluate you with a slit lamp bio-microscope, make the proper diagnosis and prescribe a course of treatment.”

While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, Brown said that some forms can be highly contagious and develop into a more serious problem, especially if misdiagnosed and treated inappropriately.

Conjunctivitis is the most common type and can be caused by viruses associated with the common cold and flu.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection most often caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from your own skin or respiratory system.

And allergic conjunctivitis occurs more commonly among people who already have seasonal allergies but can be caused by other allergens.

Researchers study
teens’ sleeping brains

Listening in on the electrical currents of teenagers’ brains during sleep, scientists have begun to hear the sound of growing maturity. It happens most intensively between the ages of 12 and 16½: After years of frenzied fluctuation, the brain’s electrical output during the deepest phase of sleep — the delta, or slow-wave phase, when a child’s brain is undergoing its most restorative rest — becomes practically steady.

That reduced fluctuation in electroencephalogram signals during delta-phase sleep appears to coincide with what neuroscientists have described as major architectural changes in the brain that pave the way for cognitive maturity.

While babies, toddlers and young children are taking in and making sense of the world, their brain cells are wiring themselves together willy-nilly, creating super-dense networks of interwoven neurons. But as we reach and progress through adolescence, neuroscientists have observed, a period of intensive “synaptic pruning” occurs in which those networks are thinned and the strongest and most evolutionarily useful remain.

In a study published recently in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, scientists from the University of California-Davis say they believe the slowed fluctuations observed during the delta phase of teens’ sleep may be evidence of that pruning process at work.

And since major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia appear to take root during adolescence, the authors of the study say the changing architecture of sleep revealed by EEG may offer clues as to how and when that process of neuronal pruning goes awry and mental illness sets in.

Their data — sleep studies of 98 children age 6 to 18, followed for as many as seven years — will become available to other researchers. Under a grant by the National Institute of Mental Health, the EEG records of the kids’ sleep will be archived with the National Institutes’ of Health’s National Database for Autism Research.


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