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Research Briefs

Test pattern

Getting an annual Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer is a hard habit to break, even if a woman's doctor advises otherwise, found a DMS study. A Pap is recommended only every two or three years for women over 30 who've had more than three normal Paps, and no screening is advised for elderly women. Of the 360 women aged 40 and older in the study, 75% wanted a Pap at least annually and only 35% planned at some point to stop getting the test. "The strongest predictor of reluctance to reduce the frequency of screening was a belief that cost was the basis of current screening frequency recommendations," wrote the authors in the American Journal of Medicine.

Supplementary evidence

Vitamin E, the most popular supplement in the U.S., isn't a cure-all and may even be harmful in high doses, said a study in the January 4 Annals of Internal Medicine. In an accompanying editorial, DMS epidemiologist Robert Greenberg, M.D., questioned the finding that Vitamin E may be harmful but wrote, "I fully agree with the authors' conclusion that high-dose vitamin E supplementation is unjustified. . . . Our message to the public must be clear on this point," he added: "Vitamin E supplements won't help, and might harm, so save your money."

Inflammatory matter

DMS researchers reported on a molecule that seems to play a key role in diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), and inflammatory responses in general. Pathologist William Hickey, M.D., and others demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effects of antisecretory factor (ASF). Increased expression of ASF may be "a means of counteracting the pro-inflammatory environment and limiting [the] tissue damage" associated with MS and other inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system, the authors wrote in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.


A big brain-or, more accurately, a brain with a lot of surface area-has long been associated with higher-order cognitive ability. Researchers at DMS and the University of California discovered one of the genes responsible for brain size. They found that the gene Id4 regulates the timing, number, and differentiation of cortical neurons, the cells that make up the cerebral cortex. "This study reveals a crucial role for Id4 in cortical development and identifies the molecular pathways over which its effects are mediated, while suggesting important new areas for future study," they wrote in the journal Development.

Nerve ending

The results are in from an eight-year study on the safety and efficacy of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), a treatment for epilepsy that can't be controlled with medication or surgery. In the trial, conducted at DHMC and a hospital in Belgium, 7% of VNS patients were free of seizures with impaired consciousness and 50% had their seizure frequency halved. There were no serious side effects, though 15 of 131 patients experienced hoarseness and gagging. The verdict: "VNS proved to be efficacious and safe," the authors wrote in the Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology.

Breath of fresh air

A team of DMS pharmacologists has discovered an enzyme that may help prevent lung cancers, which kill more than 150,000 people a year in the U.S. The enzyme, UBE1L, seems to keep a particular protein, cyclin D1, in check. Since cyclin D1 is often abundant in lung cancers, the finding means that UBE1L may be a good target for chemopreventive strategies. Smoking cessation and prevention will ultimately reduce the number of lung-cancer deaths, the researchers wrote in Cancer Research, but in the meantime, "there is a need to understand better how to prevent lung cancers in those [already] at high risk."

Even doctors can misinterpret Latin abbreviations in medical records, research shows. DHMC is part of a national effort to use unambiguous terms like "daily" instead of "Q.D." (quaque die).

How the brain's auditory cortex stores memories was the focus of a recent Dartmouth study. Published in Nature, it measured subjects' brain activity while they listened to familiar songs.

A new model for studying a rare disorder caused by abnormal heme production, porphyria cutanea tarda, was reported by Dartmouth biochemist Peter Sinclair, Ph.D., in the journal Hepatology.

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