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Higher body fat linked to lower breast cancer risk in younger women

Hazel Nichols, PhD
Hazel Nichols, PhD

An analysis co-led led by UNC Lineberger's Hazel B. Nichols, PhD, linked higher body mass index to lower breast cancer risk for younger women, even for women within a normal weight range.

While obesity has been shown to increase breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women, a large-scale study co-led by a University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher found the opposite was true for premenopausal women: higher body fat was linked to lower breast cancer risk.

The findings, published in the journal JAMA Oncology, show the need to better understand breast cancer risk factors in younger women before menopause, said UNC Lineberger's Hazel B. Nichols, PhD.

"The drivers of breast cancer risk can be different for young women compared to older women, so we need to do a better job of understanding what contributes specifically to breast cancer risk in younger women so we can make appropriate recommendations for them," said Nichols, who is an assistant professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. "This study is not a reason to try to gain weight to prevent breast cancer. Heavier women have a lower overall risk of breast cancer before menopause, but there are a lot of other benefits to managing a healthy weight that should be considered. What it does do is help us to try to understand what contributes to breast cancer risk in younger women."

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Compound stops sperm from swimming without side effects

A compound called EP055 binds to sperm proteins and significantly slows the overall motility of the sperm without affecting hormones.

The finding, which appear in PLOS ONE, suggest EP055 could be a candidate for contraceptive pill for men that’s free of side effects.

“Simply put, the compound turns-off the sperm’s ability to swim, significantly limiting fertilization capabilities,” says lead investigator Michael O’Rand, retired professor of cell biology and physiology in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, and president/CEO of Eppin Pharma, Inc. “This makes EP055 an ideal candidate for non-hormonal male contraception.”

Currently, condoms and surgical vasectomy are the only safe forms of birth control currently available for men. There are hormonal drugs in clinical trials that target the production of sperm, but these affect the natural hormones in men much like female contraceptives affect hormones in women.

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New clues to genetics of depression are ‘game-changing’

Researchers have identified 44 genomic variants, or loci, with a statistically significant association with depression. The meta-analysis involves research with more than 135,000 people with major depression and more than 344,000 controls.

Of these 44 loci, 30 are new discoveries while previous studies had identified 14 of them. In addition, the new study in Nature Genetics identifies 153 significant genes, and found that major depression shared six loci that are also associated with schizophrenia.

“Major depression represents one of the world’s most serious public health problems.”

“This study is a game-changer,” says study co-leader Patrick F. Sullivan, professor of psychiatry and genetics and director of the Center for Psychiatric Genomics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

“Figuring out the genetic basis of major depression has been really hard. A huge number of researchers across the world collaborated to make this paper, and we now have a deeper look than ever before into the basis of this awful and impairing human malady. With more work, we should be able to develop tools important for treatment and even prevention of major depression.”

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Smart artificial beta cells could lead to new diabetes treatment

Fluorescence image of the artificial beta cells
Fluorescence image of the artificial beta cells. (Gu Lab, UNC-NC State)

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Treating type 1 diabetes and some cases of type 2 diabetes has long required painful and frequent insulin injections or a mechanical insulin pump for insulin infusion. But researchers from the University of North Carolina and NC State have now developed what could be a much more patient-friendly option: artificial cells that automatically release insulin into the bloodstream when glucose levels rise.

These "artificial beta cells" (AβCs) mimic the functions of the body's natural glucose-controllers, the insulin-secreting beta cells of the pancreas. The loss or dysfunction of these cells causes type 1 diabetes and many cases of type 2 diabetes. The idea is that the AβCs could be subcutaneously inserted into patients, which would be replaced every few days, or by a painless and disposable skin patch.

As the researchers report in Nature Chemical Biology, a single injection of the AβCs into diabetic mice lacking beta cells quickly normalized the animals' blood glucose levels and kept those levels normal for up to five days.

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