Advanced Image Analysis Can Provide Better Risk Assessment In Hardening Of The Arteries

Ultrasound examination of the carotid artery is a patient-friendly and inexpensive method for assessing atherosclerosis and thereby predicting the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Peter Holdfeldt, who recently defended his doctoral thesis at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, has developed new analytical methods for ultrasound images that can provide more reliable and more exact assessments of atherosclerosis.

Cardiovascular diseases brought on by hardening of the arteries are the most common cause of death in the Western world. Hardening of the arteries means a thickening of the walls of blood vessels and the appearance of so-called atherosclerotic plaque, which consist of stored fat, among other things.

With the aid of ultrasound images, it is possible to find individuals who are at risk by measuring the thickness of the walls in the carotid artery. Another ultrasound method is to analyze whether the character of various types of plaque can predict the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Peter Holdfeldt has developed new and more refined methods of image analysis that are based on dynamic programming.

“Measurements of the thickness of the walls of the carotid require the detection of boundaries between different layers of tissue in the blood vessel,” he says. “Previously dynamic programming has been used to automatically detect boundaries in still images. But the new method uses dynamic programming for detection in image sequences of one and the same blood vessel instead.”

Examining an entire image sequence instead of a single image provides a more correct result, since it is possible to make use of the similarity between the images in the sequence – a boundary ought to be found in roughly the same place in two images in a row. The method comprises two steps. First, several alternative locations of the boundary are determined in each image. Then one of the alternatives is selected from each image, and it is in this step that the program factors in the movement of boundaries between images.

“This has proven to provide more correct detections of boundaries than what you can get from a program that detects boundaries on the basis of a single image,” says Peter Holdfeldt.

He has also developed a method to automatically classify atherosclerotic plaque. This plaque can burst and form blood clots that cause heart attacks or strokes. In ultrasound images it is possible with the naked eye to see the type of plaque that often leads to stroke, but such an assessment is subjective and is influenced by disturbances in the image. The new automatic method entails a technological advancement of ultrasound technology that can lead to more objective and quantifiable analysis.

Peter Holdfeldt’s research has been part of a collaborative project between Chalmers and the Wallenberg Laboratory for Cardiovascular Research at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg. BjГ¶rn Fagerberg, a physician and professor of cardiovascular research, is responsible for the clinical evaluation of the new methods together with the doctoral candidate Ulrica Prahl.

“We’re now busy testing the new automatic method for plaque classification in patient groups,” he says. “In its final form it should be an excellent aid in identifying high-risk patients.”

Measurement of the carotid artery is already in use today in cardiovascular research. There are other methods of measurement, but they are not as well validated as the method that has been developed by the researchers at Chalmers and Sahlgrenska.

“Dynamic image analysis is an exciting new method that will no doubt offer great potential for elaboration,” says BjГ¶rn Fagerberg. “The advantage of using ultrasound is that is practical, inexpensive, and patient-friendly.”

The dissertation “Dynamic Programming for Ultrasound Image Analysis of Atherosclerosis” was defended on May 15.

Source: Vetenskapsradet (The Swedish Research Council)

A Diet High In Milk May Cut Heart Disease And Stroke Risk

A diet rich in milk does not increase the risk of heart disease and stroke,
and may even be protective, concludes research in the Journal of
Epidemiology and Community Health.

The research team asked a representative sample of 764 men to weigh and
record every item of food and drink they consumed for seven consecutive
days. Just under 90% of the sample (665) produced complete and detailed

The men, who were all aged between 45 and 59, were taking part in the
Caerphilly Cohort Study, which was set up between 1979 and 1983.

They were given comprehensive health check-ups, including a heart tracing
(ECG) at the start of the study and subsequently every five years for a
period of 20 years. Hospital and family doctor records were also checked.

During the study period, 54 men had a stroke and 139 developed symptomatic
ischaemic heart disease (heart attack or angina), and 225 died.

At the start of the study, virtually all milk consumption was whole (full
fat) milk, but a random sample of the surviving men in 2000, showed that
almost all of them had switched to skimmed or semi skimmed milk within the
preceding eight years.

Men who consumed the most milk every day (a pint or more) had a higher
energy intake, suggesting that they were more active. Cholesterol levels
and blood pressure readings were similar in high and low milk consumers
(less than half a pint), and men who drank the least milk tended to drink
the most alcohol.

Men who drank the most milk had a lower risk of ischaemic heart disease or
stroke than those who drank the least, and in the case of stroke this risk
was significantly lower. The findings held true even for those men who had
started out drinking full fat milk.

The authors suggest that milk has had something of a bad press in respect
of its impact on cholesterol, and they conclude: “The present perception of
milk as harmful, in increasing cardiovascular risk, should be challenged,
and every effort should be made to restore it to its rightful place in a
healthy diet.”

Click here to view the paper in full:

[Milk consumption, stroke, and heart attack risk: evidence from the
Caerphilly cohort of older men J Epidemiol Community Health 2005; 59:

AMA Supports Ban On Junk Food Advertising, Australia

AMA Vice President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said today that the AMA strongly supports a ban on the broadcast advertising of junk food to children, particularly during children’s television times.

Dr Hambleton said that the voting down of the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcast Amendment) Bill 2010 in the Senate today was a huge disappointment to people concerned about the health of young Australians.

“The advertising of energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods and beverages is leading to overconsumption of these products, which is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic affecting children and teenagers in Australia,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The health of our children now and in the future is of paramount importance, and should be front-of-mind in any decision about advertising and program content.

“We must not put the profits and interests of the junk food industry before the future health of Australia’s children.

“The Senate missed an opportunity to put Australia on the map as a world leader in combating obesity.

“Obesity is now challenging smoking as the major cause of preventable death in Australia.”

Dr Hambleton said that appropriate food labelling would make it easier for families to make healthy choices about the foods they provide to their children.

“Food labelling that is simple and informative, like ‘traffic light’ labelling, is essential in Australia’s fight against obesity,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The Food Labelling Law and Policy Review has recently recommended that a traffic light front-of-pack labelling system be introduced.

“The Government should adopt this recommendation and make it mandatory,” Dr Hambleton said.


Australian Medical Association

Cloned Cows And Milk – National Farmers Union Comment, UK

Members will almost certainly have seen stories in the news today suggesting that milk from the offspring of cloned cows has been sold in high street shops and supermarkets.

The Food Standards Agency is investigating the matter and the NFU (National Farmers Union) and colleagues from across the dairy industry are liaising on the issues involved. An updated NFU member briefing can be read by clicking on the related documents link to the right of the page.

NFU comment

NFU director of policy Martin Haworth said: “The scientific opinion of Efsa – the European Food Safety Authority – confirms that there are no food safety risks posed by the products of offspring from cloned animals.

“However, public confidence is an absolute priority for our farmer members and as an industry we must be guided by consumer preference. These preferences need to be informed by balanced, scientifically-based research and assessment which is why we believe it is important to keep the door open on this type of technology. It may provide some consumer benefits in the future – but ultimately it is the consumer who will decide.

“The creation of cloned animals/embryos is not permitted in the EU but the progeny of animals cloned abroad may be imported. These animals are easily identifiable and traceable in the food chain. We’re unable to comment on this individual case. However, we will continue to liaise closely with the Food Standards Agency and our colleagues across the dairy industry on this issue.”

Source: National Farmers Union, UK.

Childhood Neurological Disorders Will Be Focus Of Workshop

Childhood neurological disorders will be the focus of a new and innovative workshop to be attended by more than 40 junior as well as senior neuroscientists from all over the country on September 16 – 19 at a ranch north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley. The promise of stem cell research as a tool to help overcome these disorders will be among key topics to be addressed.

Kenneth S. Kosik, co-director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will chair the workshop with Jeffrey D. Macklis, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard Medical School Center for Nervous System Repair. Children’s Neurobiological Solutions (CNS), a private foundation, has organized the event. The foundation’s chief scientist, Donald M. Marion, will be among the participants.

The mission of the CNS Young Neuroscientists’ Workshop series is to expose outstanding young neuroscientists to emerging ideas about childhood brain disorders, with the long-term aim of influencing some of these young researchers to incorporate the study of these disorders into their career objectives.

Kosik, who is well known for his research on Alzheimer’s disease, will present a talk entitled, “Career Focus” Developing the microRNA Story as a Means to Study Neuronal Plasticity and Impact on Neurodegenerative disease.”

CNS developed the workshop, which will be held every other year, in order to accelerate and fund research for new brain repair and regeneration therapies for over 14 million children in the United States who struggle with neurological disorders. The foundation donates more than $1 million per year for basic research as well as clinical trials, and is a major supporter of stem cell research. Instead of focusing on a specific disease, CNS targets research on the developing brain and how it can regenerate and repair itself. This focus encourages collaboration among researchers and opens the way to new knowledge and therapies for the broad spectrum of childhood neurological disorders.


Marion recently joined CNS as science officer. An academic neurosurgeon who has focused on the pathophysiology and treatment of traumatic brain injury for more than 20 years, he is editor of the book “Traumatic Brain Injury.”

Source: Jennifer Goddard

University of California – Santa Barbara

A Computer That Can ‘Read’ Your Mind

For centuries, the concept of mind readers was strictly the domain of folklore and science fiction. But according to new research published in the journal Science, scientists are closer to knowing how specific thoughts activate our brains. The findings demonstrate the power of computational modeling to improve our understanding of how the brain processes information and thoughts.

The research was conducted by a computer scientist, Tom Mitchell, and a cognitive neuroscientist, Marcel Just, both of Carnegie Mellon University. Their previous research, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the W.M. Keck Foundation, had shown that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can detect and locate brain activity when a person thinks about a specific word. Using this data, the researchers developed a computational model that enabled a computer to correctly determine what word a research subject was thinking about by analyzing brain scan data.

In their most recent work, Just and Mitchell used fMRI data to develop a more sophisticated computational model that can predict the brain activation patterns associated with concrete nouns, or things that we experience through our senses, even if the computer did not already have the fMRI data for that specific noun.

The researchers first built a model that took the fMRI activation patterns for 60 concrete nouns broken down into 12 categories including animals, body parts, buildings, clothing, insects, vehicles and vegetables. The model also analyzed a text corpus, or a set of texts that contained more than a trillion words, noting how each noun was used in relation to a set of 25 verbs associated with sensory or motor functions. Combining the brain scan information with the analysis of the text corpus, the computer then predicted the brain activity pattern of thousands of other concrete nouns.

In cases where the actual activation patterns were known, the researchers found that the accuracy of the computer model’s predictions was significantly better than chance. The computer can effectively predict what each participant’s brain activation patterns would look like when each thought about these words, even without having seen the patterns associated with those words in advance.

“We believe we have identified a number of the basic building blocks that the brain uses to represent meaning,” said Mitchell. “Coupled with computational methods that capture the meaning of a word by how it is used in text files, these building blocks can be assembled to predict neural activation patterns for any concrete noun. And we have found that these predictions are quite accurate for words where fMRI data is available to test them.”

Just said the computational model provides insight into the nature of human thought. “We are fundamentally perceivers and actors,” he said. “So the brain represents the meaning of a concrete noun in areas of the brain associated with how people sense it or manipulate it. The meaning of an apple, for instance, is represented in brain areas responsible for tasting, for smelling, for chewing. An apple is what you do with it. Our work is a small but important step in breaking the brain’s code.”

In addition to representations in these sensory-motor areas of the brain, the Carnegie Mellon researchers found significant activation in other areas, including frontal areas associated with planning functions and long-term memory. When someone thinks of an apple, for instance, this might trigger memories of the last time the person ate an apple, or initiate thoughts about how to obtain an apple.

“This suggests a theory of meaning based on brain function,” Just added.

The work could eventually lead to the use of brain scans to identify thoughts and could have applications in the study of autism, disorders of thought such as paranoid schizophrenia, and semantic dementias such as Pick’s disease.

Officials at NSF say they are excited and intrigued by these findings. “This has been an interesting project to watch,” said Kenneth Whang, a program officer at NSF who is responsible for the grant to Mitchell and Just. “They started with some fundamental ideas from machine learning about how to get the most out of fMRI data, and now they’ve not only shown the power of their computational approach, but also made headway on one of the most important problems in the understanding of language in the brain.”

Whang believes that Mitchell and Just’s research will stimulate further research in the field of computational neuroscience. “This opens up all sorts of new possibilities for looking into the fine structure of how patterns of brain activity relate to human thought processes.”


Source: Dana W. Cruikshank

National Science Foundation

BD GeneOhm(TM) MRSA Assay Part Of Largest U.S. Study Using Universal Active Surveillance To Significantly Reduce MRSA Infection Rates

BD Diagnostics, a segment of BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) (NYSE: BDX), announced that a new study, “Universal Surveillance for
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in 3 Affiliated Hospitals,”
published in Annals of Internal Medicine, demonstrates that universal
surveillance of all hospital admissions for methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) using the BD GeneOhm(TM) MRSA real-time
polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic test can significantly reduce
MRSA infection rates.

Led by researchers at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare (ENH) in
Evanston, Illinois, the study is the first and largest in the United States
to show the impact of implementing a universal, active surveillance program
coupled with a comprehensive infection prevention program to reduce MRSA
infections. MRSA bacteria can cause a potentially fatal infection that does
not respond to common antibiotics and is a significant cause of
hospital-associated infections.

Study authors report ENH reduced MRSA infection rates by 70 percent in
less than two years. The reductions were significant in every category
measured, such as surgical site, bloodstream, urinary tract and respiratory
infections. Furthermore, this study indicates that limited active
surveillance conducted only in the intensive care units did not produce the
desired result, and that MRSA infections were significantly reduced only
when universal all admissions testing was performed.

“BD is fully committed to the prevention of MRSA infections using
active surveillance screening as a core component of a comprehensive
infection prevention program,” said Tobi Karchmer, MD, MS, Medical Affairs
Director, BD Diagnostics – GeneOhm. “Each institution needs to perform its
own risk assessment and determine the best approach to implementing an MRSA
infection prevention program. In some institutions, universal active
surveillance may be appropriate, as demonstrated in this new study, and in
others it may be more appropriate to focus on certain high-risk patient

About the BD GeneOhm MRSA Assay

The BD GeneOhm MRSA assay is a qualitative in vitro molecular
diagnostic test cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the
direct detection of MRSA nasal colonization. Since its launch, over 2
million patients have been tested with the BD GeneOhm assay in over 250
healthcare institutions worldwide that are committed to reducing MRSA
infections and improving patient outcomes.

About BD

BD, a leading global medical technology company that manufactures and
sells medical devices, instrument systems and reagents, is dedicated to
improving people’s health throughout the world. BD is focused on improving
drug therapy, enhancing the quality and speed of diagnosing infectious
diseases, and advancing research and discovery of new drugs and vaccines.
The Company’s capabilities are instrumental in combating many of the
world’s most pressing diseases. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in
Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, BD employs approximately 28,000 people in
approximately 50 countries throughout the world. The Company serves
healthcare institutions, life science researchers, clinical laboratories,
industry and the general public. For more information, please visit


View drug information on Tobi.

Controlling foodborne hepatitis A outbreaks related to green onions

Novel use of genetic testing methods helped public health officials control and limit the further spread of four outbreaks of foodborne hepatitis A virus in 2003 related to the consumption of green onions, according to a detailed analysis published in the October 15 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, now available online.

The authors of the study, Joseph J. Amon, PhD, MSPH, and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explained that these molecular epidemiologic methods had not previously been used in an ongoing investigation of a hepatitis A virus outbreak. The methods, involving genetic sequencing analysis of virus found in blood samples from infected individuals, have greatly improved understanding of outbreaks of other foodborne pathogens, but are time-consuming and not widely available.

In September 2003, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia reported a total of 422 cases of foodborne hepatitis A virus infection to CDC. Preliminary investigations suggested clustering of reported cases among patrons of three unrelated restaurants. Investigators identified green onions as the likely culprit in the outbreak by interviewing infected and uninfected restaurant patrons. In addition to these standard techniques, the researchers also compared viral RNA sequences from case patients and individuals concurrently ill with hepatitis A virus infection in non-outbreak settings in the United States and Mexico.

Viral RNA sequences from patients in the three states, plus patients involved in a subsequent outbreak in Pennsylvania in October 2003 (the latter recently described in the Sept. 1 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine), were slightly different from each other. The viral sequence from each outbreak, however, was identical to one or more sequences isolated from northern Mexican residents infected with hepatitis A virus. The researchers concluded that the sources of the green onions served in restaurants in Tennessee and Georgia were three farms in northern Mexico.

Dr. Amon and colleagues credited the viral sequencing techniques with helping them to identify the relationships between the outbreaks in four separate locations, and to define the scope of the outbreaks quickly. The sequencing allowed them to determine if cases reported in other states were related to the four original outbreaks and provided reassurance that a larger outbreak was not occurring. The molecular epidemiologic methods also enabled public health officials to respond quickly to the later Pennsylvania outbreak. As a result, consumers were warned of the potential risk, and entry of green onions from four Mexican farms into the state was banned.

“This research highlights the role of viral sequence analysis in improving our overall understanding of the roughly 50 percent of hepatitis A cases in the U.S. that are from an unknown source,” Dr. Amon said. “Just as the E. coli-contaminated beef outbreaks in the early 1990s prompted changes in epidemiological surveillance that have increased our knowledge of foodborne bacteria, the 2003 hepatitis A outbreaks demonstrated the potential for integrated molecular surveillance to provide a better understanding of the epidemiology of hepatitis A and facilitate rapid responses to outbreaks.”

Founded in 1904, The Journal of Infectious Diseases is the premier publication in the Western Hemisphere for original research on the pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of infectious diseases; on the microbes that cause them; and on disorders of host immune mechanisms. Articles in JID include research results from microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, and related disciplines. JID is published under the auspices of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). Based in Alexandria, Va., IDSA is a professional society representing about 8,000 physicians and scientists who specialize in infectious diseases. For more information, visit idsociety.

Steve Baragona
Infectious Diseases Society of America

A Non-invasive Method For Measuring Beta Cell Mass During Diabetes

Diabetes results from a reduction in the number of islet beta cells in the pancreas, which leads to insufficient insulin secretion and high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia). Currently, insulin secretion is used as a surrogate measure of beta cell mass. However serum insulin concentrations provide an imprecise measure of beta cell mass, and no reliable non-invasive measure of beta cell mass has been available, until now. In a study appearing online on May 18 in advance of print publication in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Paul Harris and colleagues from Columbia University in New York report that positron emission tomography (PET)-based quantitation of pancreatic radiolabeled VMAT2 receptors in diabetic rats is a reliable and non-invasive way to measure beta cell mass.

The authors exploited the finding that type 2 vesicular monoamine transporters (VMAT2) are expressed in human islet beta cells within the pancreas, as well as in tissues of the central nervous system. As the radioligand [11C]Dihydrotetrabenazine (DTBZ) binds specifically to VMAT2 and is currently used in clinical imaging of the brain, the authors were able to use DTBZ to estimate beta cell mass in rats with type 1 diabetes. In longitudinal PET studies, the authors saw a significant decline in pancreatic uptake of DTBZ that preceded the loss of glycemic control in the diabetic rat. These studies suggest that PET-based quantitation of VMAT2 receptors could provide a non-invasive measurement of beta cell mass that could be used to study the pathogenesis of diabetes and to monitor therapeutic interventions.

TITLE: Longitudinal noninvasive PET-based beta cell mass estimates in a spontaneous diabetes rat model.

See the PDF of this article.

Brooke Grindlinger
Journal of Clinical Investigation

Action Plan Proposed To Boost Students’ In Vivo Skills, UK

An action plan to encourage students to develop skills in animal research is proposed in a joint report from the Biosciences Federation and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), launched recently.

As well as helping the UK maintain its leadership in medicines discovery and development, such skills are essential in reducing, refining and replacing animals in such work.

The action plan – necessary because of a growing difficulty in finding staff with appropriate in vivo skills – calls for measures to raise student interest in developing such skills as well as a joint drive to provide employer-focused post-graduate degrees.

“The future of medicines development in this country depends to a large extent on having people with the right in vivo skills. Significant progress has already been made through joint public and private sector working, and we all need to work in partnership so that the UK can retain its historical strengths in this area,” said Dr Richard Barker, Director General of the ABPI.

Dr Richard Dyer, Chief Executive of the Biosciences Federation, said: “As well as creating a targeted package of employer-led action to support existing initiatives, the underlying factors behind the decline in numbers need to be tackled. Success in the long term will depend on the scientific community recognising that in vivo techniques are not just an optional ‘add-on’ at the end of a scientific process.”

The report shows that employer demand for these skills has been stable over the past 10 years, but supply has declined. Three-quarters of relevant employers – universities, public sector, charity research organisations and the pharmaceutical industry – are finding it “difficult” or “very difficult” to find suitably qualified staff.

The report recommends that:

The overall number of employer placements with in vivo work is increased by at least 50 per cent.
Some 36 MSc places are fully funded over the next three years to provide exposure to in vivo techniques.
The number of PhDs that use in vivo techniques is increased.

Sub-disciplines that include in vivo techniques – pharmacology, physiology, toxicology and pathology – should be recognised as Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects, a formal Government classification that recognises their importance to the economy and society but recognises their vulnerability because of low student demand.

The investigation was facilitated by the former Department of Trade and Industry, which has been replaced by the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS).

The report, In vivo sciences in the UK: sustaining the supply of skills in the 21st century, can be downloaded from the ABPI website

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry