HEALTH SCAN: Researchers learn how to increase brain’s dopamine production

Fathers care more for babies that look like them, Mentally ill get information center.

Lab technician using microscope (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Lab technician using microscope
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Researchers learn how to increase brain’s dopamine production
Affecting millions of people around the world, Parkinson’s disease is characterized by a loss of dopamine- secreting brain cells (dopaminergic neurons) that causes devastating motor symptoms. At present, there is no cure for the fatal neurological disorder, but only treatment aimed at improving symptoms.
A major step forward in Parkinson’s disease research in recent years was the discovery that human stem cells can basically be differentiated into dopaminergic neurons usable for modeling of Parkinson’s, drug screening and cell-replacement therapy. But at present, the yield of stem cell-derived dopaminergic neurons is still low. This is mostly blamed on the poor understanding of the exact molecular mechanisms directing the embryonic development of dopaminergic neurons, which is the basis for the differentiation of stem cells to dopaminergic neurons.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers discovered that proteins called BMP5/7 are absolutely required for the embryonic development of dopaminergic neurons. Moreover, they found that the intracellular signaling protein SMAD1 plays a critical role in this process. Interestingly, SMAD1 is required for the development of particular substantia nigra neurons, which predominantly degenerate in Parkinson’s disease, shedding light on the vulnerability of this subset of dopaminergic neurons.
Their study was published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience, where it was chosen as the cover story.
“Notably, we demonstrated that BMP5/7 robustly increase the differentiation of human-induced pluripotent and induced neural stem cells to dopaminergic neurons. Taken together, our results provide critical information in order to more efficiently program stem cells to dopaminergic neurons, thus critically increasing graft outcome and reducing side effects after transplantation in cell replacement therapies currently developed for Parkinson’s disease,” said lead author Dr. Claude Brodski of the department of physiology and cell biology, faculty of health sciences and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience. Brodski collaborated with researchers from Austria, Germany and New York.
Fathers care more for babies that look like them
When newborn babies look like their fathers, Daddy is more likely to spend time with them, and in turn, the infants are healthier when they reach their first birthday, according to new research at Binghamton University in New York.
“Fathers are important in raising a child, and it manifests itself in the health of the child,” said researcher Prof. Solomon Polachek.
They based their analysis on data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) study, which focused on 715 families in which babies live with only their mother. Data from the first two waves of the study indicated that infants who looked like their father at birth were healthier one year later, suggesting that father-child resemblance induces a father to spend more time engaged in positive parenting, as these fathers spent an average of 2.5 more days per month with their babies than fathers who didn’t resemble their offspring.
“Those fathers that perceive the baby’s resemblance to them are more certain the baby is theirs, and thus spend more time with the baby,” said Polachek. The result has implications regarding the role of a father’s time in enhancing child health, especially in fragile families, said the researchers.
“We find a child’s health indicators improve when the child looks like the father... The main explanation is that frequent father visits allow for greater parental time for care-giving and supervision, and for information gathering about child health and economic needs. It’s been said that ‘It takes a village’ but... I find that having an involved father certainly helps,” added Polachek.
The researchers said that this study supports policies for encouraging nonresident fathers to engage in frequent positive parenting to improve early childhood health.
“Greater efforts could be made to encourage these fathers to frequently engage their children through parenting classes, health education and job training to enhance earnings,” said Polachek.
The paper, “If Looks Could Heal: Child Health and Paternal Investment,” was published in the Journal of Health Economics.
Mentally ill get information center
Enosh, the Israel Mental Health Association, has launched the country’s first information center for patients who suffer from psychiatric disabilities and their families. It provides information on the rights regarding the rehabilitation basket and existing services.
It is estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 Israelis are coping with psychiatric illness and are entitled to rehabilitation services. But according to a recent State Comptroller’s report, only 21,000 people (about 20%) actually exercise their rights.
Center director Michal Glimidi said: “Every day, on average, six new families turn to us for help and help in providing information and guidance. We also hear from patients who need help with red tape in institutions who are interested in receiving information about what is coming to them.”
The center operates from Sunday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is operated by information coordinators who have relevant mental health experience and respond to requests for help.
Enosh director-general Hela Hadas added: “Unlike people with physical disabilities, the mentally challenged and their families are left without knowledge and guidance because of the sense of shame that accompanies many of them. Enosh identified the need to provide one address to receive information and opened the center at their disposal.”