NASA astronaut describes ‘profound potential’ of breakthrough space experiments

As part of NASA's latest launch to the International Space Station on Dec. 5,  the space agency sent up 5,600 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The cargo mission supports the ISS's crewmembers and dozens of experiments on the orbiting space lab. Included in that payload is equipment for … Continue reading “NASA astronaut describes ‘profound potential’ of breakthrough space experiments”

As part of NASA's latest launch to the International Space Station on Dec. 5,  the space agency sent up 5,600 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The cargo mission supports the ISS's crewmembers and dozens of experiments on the orbiting space lab.

Included in that payload is equipment for several science experiments and the potential to help with macular degeneration and research that may significantly improve wound healing – especially tissue regeneration.

"There are a lot of different, compelling reasons to leave Earth to conduct these experiments," Dr. Mike Roberts, Deputy Chief Scientist for the ISS National Lab, told Fox News in a recent interview. "We can use the ISS as a remote lab and utilize it as an engineering task platform to test new materials and test them in the harsh environment of space."

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Former NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who logged 212 days in space and conducted three spacewalks totaling more than 19 hours, added to that and said the experiments conducted in a zero-gravity environment, especially medical experiments, have a pretty "profound potential" to help humans on Earth.

"One of the benefits in zero-gravity is that you can grow things like tissues or crystals where there's no weight," Virts told Fox News. "When there's something fighting against gravity, it grows differently. We've done protein crystals in space a lot and scientists can understand the structure of the cross-gene that's involved in a lot of cancers, especially pancreatic cancer and how to combat it. That's some of the more interesting and potentially viable applications."

While onboard the ISS, Virts dealt with keeping track of the cargo that was sent up from Earth and worked on experiments that dealt with bone density loss and muscle issues, as well as E. coli and salmonella immunizations. In total, Virts said the astronauts worked on over 250 experiments while he was onboard the space lab.

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Restoring vision

The experiment to help restore vision is in part being funded by start-up LambdaVision, a Boston-based startup funded by MassChallenge Startup Accelerator that is working on the "cutting edge of entrepreneurship," Dr. Roberts said. The ultimate goal is to create a new eye prosthetic for those who suffer from numerous retinal and eye diseases.

The company has created a retinal protein based on an eye implant and is looking to find out whether it can help with macular degeneration, which Roberts said would be increasingly important as the population of the country gets older.

"As we have an aging population, these are some of the more severe threats to the health of the nation and any advances they make would be significant," Roberts said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 35 percent of the U.S. population is 50 and older.

Roberts added that LambdaVision could do the experiments on Earth, but they found that the protein layers build imperfections, adding that the absence of gravity could help the company make better decisions. "When they're in a free-fall, they may be able to form better retinal protein layers and help improve the manufacturing process on Earth."

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Wound healing

One of the other experiments that will be performed on the ISS is research towards regenerating tissue, similar to what was seen on the hit sci-fi series "Star Trek." The ultimate goal is to find a new way to treat wounds, lower the chances of sepsis and inflammation and potentially even treat wounds on the battlefield.

Tympanogen, which has received a grant from the aforementioned MassChallenge, has a product, including a hydrogel known as Perf-Fix, to deal with wounds healing faster, which is of particular interest to astronauts who may be days, weeks or even months away from the Earth.

"We need medical technology that can be deployed in remote environments," Roberts said, to "effectively repair biomedical damage."

Tympanogen hopes its gel, which Roberts said has "a large moisture content in it and can be used with different drugs," can be combined with antibiotics and different compounds to help accelerate the rate of healing.

"In the absence of gravity, the rate of antibiotics and other drugs that can be released can help translate into clinical trials," Roberts said. "It's certainly of interest to the Dept. of Defense and for space exploration in general."

Benefits of the space lab

The experiments will be conducted over the next 30 to 60 days, Roberts said, with the potential that if more time is needed, it can be accommodated. Although the data may be available as soon as a few months after the samples are returned, the potential benefits of the space experiments could be measured in years.

"There are very few opportunities to have that 'Eureka!' moment to cure cancer," Virts said, noting that much of the science has been done already on Earth.

"Most of the pieces can be done on Earth, but for the few that can't, the ISS allows those pieces to be added," Virts added, likening the experiments to a puzzle. "It's difficult to quantify what the result could be and what can come from it, but if a drug company can learn something new and combine that with the stuff that is learned on Earth to get to an end result, then space will show that it's an important part because it can't physically be done here on Earth."

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

Man coughs up part of lung while being treated for heart failure

A 36-year-old California man who was admitted to the intensive care unit with chronic heart failure was coughing so severely that he hacked up a piece of his lung. The unidentified patient, whose case was written about in the New England Journal of Medicine, was receiving treatment at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center and had previously been fitted with a pacemaker.

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Over the course of a week, the patient had progressed to coughing up phlegm and blood, and during a particularly extreme bout had dislodged a piece of a bronchial tube from his right lung.

“The right bronchial tree consists of three segmental branches in the upper lobe, two segmental branches in the middle lobe, and five segmental branches in the lower lobe,” the case report’s authors wrote. “The patient’s trachea was subsequently intubated, and flexible bronchoscopy revealed a small amount of blood in the basilar branches of the right lower lobe.”

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He was extubated two days later, and he had no further instances of coughing up blood, but he died one week later due to complications of heart failure.

Blood test can detect cancer in 10 minutes, researchers claim

A simple blood test has been developed that can diagnose cancer in just 10 minutes. It spots tiny amounts of DNA floating through vessels that could only have come from tumors – and not healthy cells.

The breakthrough could lead to much earlier detection and more chance of a cure – with treatment beginning even years before symptoms develop.

It is hoped it will eventually be performed at the same time as routine blood tests, such as a cholesterol check – even using a mobile phone app.

Corresponding author Professor Matt Trau, of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, said it may be the "Holy Grail" of cancer diagnostics.

BABY BORN USING UTERUS TRANSPLANTED FROM DECEASED DONOR IN MEDICAL FIRST

"Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern," he said.

If you think of a cell as a hard-drive, then the new findings suggest the disease needs certain genetic programs, or "apps," in order to run.

"It seems to be a general feature for all cancer. It's a startling discovery," Trau said. "The test to detect cancerous cells can be performed in 10 minutes."

In experiments, it distinguished tumors from healthy cells with up to 90 percent accuracy. The technique can also be used on tissue biopsies.

Blood tests are sometimes ordered to help doctors diagnose cancer, but different ones are required depending on the type suspected.

And they are not definitive, but one step in the process.

An MRI scan is the most often used method, but it tends to miss small tumors – only working to confirm a diagnosis when it is often too late to start treatment.

About nine in 10 cancer deaths involve a diagnosis that came too late.

So the Australian team's breakthrough paves the way to saving countless lives.

The test described in Nature Communications exploits the differences between the DNA in cancerous and healthy cells to allow for a quick, early diagnosis.

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It is based on a process known as epigenetics – the attachment of a chemical tag known as a methyl group to DNA.

This alters how DNA can be read, switching genes on or off.

Coauthor Dr. Abu Sina said: "Because cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease, it has been difficult to find a simple signature common to all cancers, yet distinct from healthy cells."

So the researchers focused on DNA that circulates in the bloodstream after cancer cells die and release their cargo.

Coauthor Dr. Laura Carrascosa said: "There's been a big hunt to find whether there is some distinct DNA signature that is just in the cancer and not in the rest of the body."

They discovered cancer cells' genome is essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations – instead of being spread evenly like in normal cells.

These distinct patterns of molecules control which genes are turned on and off at any given time and "decorate the DNA"

The researchers have dubbed it the cancer "methylscape" – for methylation landscape.

It appeared in every type of breast cancer they examined and other forms of the disease too including prostate and bowel cancer, as well as the blood cancer lymphoma.

When placed in solution, those intense clusters of methyl groups also caused cancer DNA fragments to fold up into three-dimensional nanostructures that really like to stick to gold.

Taking advantage of this, the researchers designed a test which uses gold nanoparticles.

These instantly change color depending on whether or not the 3-D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present.

"This happens in one drop of fluid. You can detect it by eye, it's as simple as that," Trau said.

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The technology has also been adapted for electrochemical systems, which allows inexpensive and portable detection that could eventually be performed using a mobile phone.

So far they've tested the new technology on 200 samples across different types of human cancers, and healthy cells.

"It works for tissue-derived genomic DNA and blood-derived circulating free DNA," Trau said. "This new discovery could be a game-changer in the field of point of care cancer diagnostics."

Although not perfect yet, the researchers said it is a promising start and will only get better with time.

It will be some years before it can be used in the clinic.

"We certainly don't know yet whether it's the Holy Grail or not for all cancer diagnostics," Trau said. "But it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker of cancer, and as a very accessible and inexpensive technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing."

Baby born using uterus transplanted from deceased donor in medical first

LONDON – Brazilian doctors are reporting the world's first baby born to a woman with a uterus transplanted from a deceased donor.

Eleven previous births have used a transplanted womb but from a living donor, usually a relative or friend.

Experts said using uteruses from women who have died could make more transplants possible. Ten previous attempts using deceased donors in the Czech Republic, Turkey and the U.S. have failed.

The baby girl was delivered last December by a woman born without a uterus because of a rare syndrome. The woman — a 32-year-old psychologist — was initially apprehensive about the transplant, said Dr. Dani Ejzenberg, the transplant team's lead doctor at the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine.

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"This was the most important thing in her life," he said. "Now she comes in to show us the baby and she is so happy,"

The woman became pregnant through in vitro fertilization seven months after the transplant. The donor was a 45-year-old woman who had three children and died of a stroke.

The recipient, who was not identified, gave birth by cesarean section. Doctors also removed the womb, partly so the woman would no longer have to take anti-rejection medicines. Nearly a year later, mother and baby are both healthy.

Two more transplants are planned as part of the Brazilian study. Details of the first case were published Tuesday in the medical journal Lancet.

Uterus transplantation was pioneered by Swedish doctor Mats Brannstrom, who has delivered eight children from women who got wombs from family members or friends. Two babies have been born at Baylor University Medical Center in Texas and one in Serbia, also from transplants from living donors.

In 2016, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic transplanted a uterus from a deceased donor, but it failed after an infection developed.

"The Brazilian group has proven that using deceased donors is a viable option," said the clinic's Dr. Tommaso Falcone, who was involved in the Ohio case. "It may give us a bigger supply of organs than we thought were possible."

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The Cleveland program is continuing to use deceased donors. Falcone said the fact that the transplant was successful after the uterus was preserved in ice for nearly eight hours demonstrated how resilient the uterus is. Doctors try to keep the time an organ is without blood flow to a minimum.

Other experts said the knowledge gained from such procedures might also solve some lingering mysteries about pregnancies.

"There are still lots of things we don't understand about pregnancies, like how embryos implant," said Dr. Cesar Diaz, who co-authored an accompanying commentary in the journal. "These transplants will help us understand implantation and every stage of pregnancy."

IVF kids may have higher risk of high blood pressure

Kids born through in vitro fertilization may be more likely to develop high blood pressure, a new study suggests.

Researchers found a higher average blood pressure among teens born through IVF than in children conceived naturally, according to a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Moreover, teens born through IVF were more likely to have blood pressures high enough to be diagnosed with hypertension.

The researchers advise parents of children conceived with IVF to concentrate on other heart disease risk factors.

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER RUPTURES SPLEEN DURING GAME

"Eliminate additional cardiovascular risk factors, such as overweight, sedentary lifestyle and smoking," suggests coauthor Dr. Urs Scherrer of the University of Bern, Switzerland. Also, he recommends, get a 24-hour blood pressure reading when the children are between ages 16 and 20.

Scherrer and colleagues compared 54 teens conceived through IVF with 43 of their friends who had been conceived naturally. The teens' average age was 17.

In adults, a blood pressure above 120/80 is considered high. But in children and adolescents, a normal blood pressure depends on age and height. If a youngster has a higher blood pressure than 90% to 95% of other males or females his or her age and height, then the child may have high blood pressure.

The IVF teens had higher blood pressure, on average, than their friends (119/71 versus 115/69). Eight of the IVF teens were diagnosed with hypertension, compared to one in the control group.

DETROIT WOMAN SAYS SELFIES ALERTED HER TO STROKE, SAVED LIFE

Five years earlier, researchers had checked blood pressures in both groups and found no difference between IVF teens and their friends. "Until adolescence there are no cardiovascular problems," Scherrer said by email.

The conditions under which IVF embryos develop may play a role, he suspects.

"There are numerous conditions which are not physiologic during the in vitro period – temperature, mechanical insults related to embryo handling, sub-optimal culture media, etc. – that the embryo needs to cope with in order to survive, (and these) may have altered the regulation of gene (expression)," Scherrer said.

While the new findings are very interesting, the study is small, said Dr. Alan Penzias, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at the Harvard Medical School and a fertility specialist at Boston IVF.

Findings of small studies are not always generalizable to the population at large, Penzias said by email.

And while the researchers may have mitigated a number of possible confounders by using the IVF children's friends as controls – the control group was probably the best match for socioeconomic background, for example – they didn't eliminate what might have been the biggest variable: history of infertility, Penzias said.

"Is the finding in this paper caused by the IVF procedure or is it caused by the infertility itself," Penzias asked.

Penzias points to a large 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that found a higher risk of birth defects in babies born to couples with a history of infertility, regardless of whether the babies were conceived naturally or with IVF.

Still, Penzias said, "tracking the outcomes of medical intervention is prudent. Deciphering the mechanisms of disease to facilitate the design of treatments that improve the human condition is a worthy mission and is one that is universally endorsed."

Artery damage seen in some teenage smokers, drinkers

Teenagers who smoke or who binge on alcohol have signs of artery damage by age 17, a recent study shows.

Researchers found that 17-year-olds who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime or who drank more than 10 drinks on a typical drinking day had stiffer walls in their arteries.

In the long term, stiffer arteries can increase the risk for cardiovascular events, dementia, and death.

"Injury to the blood vessels occurs very early in life as a result of smoking and drinking and the two together are even more damaging, Dr. Marietta Charakida, who carried out the research at UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science but is now at King's College London, said in a statement.

SMOKERS 'MUCH MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP DEMENTIA,' DOCS WARN

As reported in the European Heart Journal and at a major cardiology meeting, Charakida and colleagues analyzed data collected from 2004 to 2008 on 1,266 adolescents enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Participants reported their smoking and drinking habits at ages 13, 15 and 17.

To assess the stiffness of the teens' artery walls, the researchers used a noninvasive device to measure the speed at which a pulse from the heart travels between the carotid artery in the neck and the femoral artery in the leg.

That speed is called the pulse wave velocity. A slower velocity is a good sign; it means the arterial walls are more elastic.

In 17-year-olds who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, the average pulse wave velocity was 3.7 percent faster than in teens who had smoked less than 20 cigarettes.

Teenagers who tended to binge drink, or drink more than 10 drinks in a typical drinking day with the aim of becoming drunk, had an average pulse wave velocity that was 4.7 percent faster than kids who drank no more than 2 drinks in a typical drinking day, the study showed.

Furthermore, the authors report, the combination of binge-drinking habits and smoking was linked to even greater arterial damage compared to heavy drinking and smoking separately. In these kids, the pulse wave velocity was 10.8 percent higher than in teens who smoked less and didn't binge drink.

PATIENT DEVELOPS 'BLACK HAIRY TONGUE' FROM MEDICATION

But while smoking in youth was associated with increased arterial stiffness, stopping during adolescence could restore arterial health. Seventeen-year-olds who had smoked in the past but were not current smokers had arterial health similar to never-smokers.

"Existing research suggests that regular binge drinking during the teen years can damage the developing brain," Dr. Aaron White, a senior scientific adviser at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Reuters Health in an email.

"Findings from the current study suggest that the negative health effects of alcohol during adolescence could extend to the cardiovascular system," White said, adding that the findings are consistent with existing evidence that even a single night of binge drinking in adults can temporarily injure the heart.

An observational study like this one can only show associations; it can't prove that smoking or alcohol exposure actually caused arterial changes in these youngsters, the authors acknowledge. Also, they note, the data were reported by the teenagers themselves and might not always have been accurate.

Despite these limitations, they conclude, "Smoking exposure even at low levels and intensity of alcohol use were associated individually and together with increased arterial stiffness. Public health strategies need to prevent adoption of these habits in adolescence to preserve or restore arterial health."

IVF kids may have higher risk of high blood pressure

Kids born through in vitro fertilization may be more likely to develop high blood pressure, a new study suggests.

Researchers found a higher average blood pressure among teens born through IVF than in children conceived naturally, according to a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Moreover, teens born through IVF were more likely to have blood pressures high enough to be diagnosed with hypertension.

The researchers advise parents of children conceived with IVF to concentrate on other heart disease risk factors.

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER RUPTURES SPLEEN DURING GAME

"Eliminate additional cardiovascular risk factors, such as overweight, sedentary lifestyle and smoking," suggests coauthor Dr. Urs Scherrer of the University of Bern, Switzerland. Also, he recommends, get a 24-hour blood pressure reading when the children are between ages 16 and 20.

Scherrer and colleagues compared 54 teens conceived through IVF with 43 of their friends who had been conceived naturally. The teens' average age was 17.

In adults, a blood pressure above 120/80 is considered high. But in children and adolescents, a normal blood pressure depends on age and height. If a youngster has a higher blood pressure than 90% to 95% of other males or females his or her age and height, then the child may have high blood pressure.

The IVF teens had higher blood pressure, on average, than their friends (119/71 versus 115/69). Eight of the IVF teens were diagnosed with hypertension, compared to one in the control group.

DETROIT WOMAN SAYS SELFIES ALERTED HER TO STROKE, SAVED LIFE

Five years earlier, researchers had checked blood pressures in both groups and found no difference between IVF teens and their friends. "Until adolescence there are no cardiovascular problems," Scherrer said by email.

The conditions under which IVF embryos develop may play a role, he suspects.

"There are numerous conditions which are not physiologic during the in vitro period – temperature, mechanical insults related to embryo handling, sub-optimal culture media, etc. – that the embryo needs to cope with in order to survive, (and these) may have altered the regulation of gene (expression)," Scherrer said.

While the new findings are very interesting, the study is small, said Dr. Alan Penzias, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at the Harvard Medical School and a fertility specialist at Boston IVF.

Findings of small studies are not always generalizable to the population at large, Penzias said by email.

And while the researchers may have mitigated a number of possible confounders by using the IVF children's friends as controls – the control group was probably the best match for socioeconomic background, for example – they didn't eliminate what might have been the biggest variable: history of infertility, Penzias said.

"Is the finding in this paper caused by the IVF procedure or is it caused by the infertility itself," Penzias asked.

Penzias points to a large 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that found a higher risk of birth defects in babies born to couples with a history of infertility, regardless of whether the babies were conceived naturally or with IVF.

Still, Penzias said, "tracking the outcomes of medical intervention is prudent. Deciphering the mechanisms of disease to facilitate the design of treatments that improve the human condition is a worthy mission and is one that is universally endorsed."

Artery damage seen in some teenage smokers, drinkers

Teenagers who smoke or who binge on alcohol have signs of artery damage by age 17, a recent study shows.

Researchers found that 17-year-olds who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime or who drank more than 10 drinks on a typical drinking day had stiffer walls in their arteries.

In the long term, stiffer arteries can increase the risk for cardiovascular events, dementia, and death.

"Injury to the blood vessels occurs very early in life as a result of smoking and drinking and the two together are even more damaging, Dr. Marietta Charakida, who carried out the research at UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science but is now at King's College London, said in a statement.

SMOKERS 'MUCH MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP DEMENTIA,' DOCS WARN

As reported in the European Heart Journal and at a major cardiology meeting, Charakida and colleagues analyzed data collected from 2004 to 2008 on 1,266 adolescents enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Participants reported their smoking and drinking habits at ages 13, 15 and 17.

To assess the stiffness of the teens' artery walls, the researchers used a noninvasive device to measure the speed at which a pulse from the heart travels between the carotid artery in the neck and the femoral artery in the leg.

That speed is called the pulse wave velocity. A slower velocity is a good sign; it means the arterial walls are more elastic.

In 17-year-olds who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, the average pulse wave velocity was 3.7 percent faster than in teens who had smoked less than 20 cigarettes.

Teenagers who tended to binge drink, or drink more than 10 drinks in a typical drinking day with the aim of becoming drunk, had an average pulse wave velocity that was 4.7 percent faster than kids who drank no more than 2 drinks in a typical drinking day, the study showed.

Furthermore, the authors report, the combination of binge-drinking habits and smoking was linked to even greater arterial damage compared to heavy drinking and smoking separately. In these kids, the pulse wave velocity was 10.8 percent higher than in teens who smoked less and didn't binge drink.

PATIENT DEVELOPS 'BLACK HAIRY TONGUE' FROM MEDICATION

But while smoking in youth was associated with increased arterial stiffness, stopping during adolescence could restore arterial health. Seventeen-year-olds who had smoked in the past but were not current smokers had arterial health similar to never-smokers.

"Existing research suggests that regular binge drinking during the teen years can damage the developing brain," Dr. Aaron White, a senior scientific adviser at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Reuters Health in an email.

"Findings from the current study suggest that the negative health effects of alcohol during adolescence could extend to the cardiovascular system," White said, adding that the findings are consistent with existing evidence that even a single night of binge drinking in adults can temporarily injure the heart.

An observational study like this one can only show associations; it can't prove that smoking or alcohol exposure actually caused arterial changes in these youngsters, the authors acknowledge. Also, they note, the data were reported by the teenagers themselves and might not always have been accurate.

Despite these limitations, they conclude, "Smoking exposure even at low levels and intensity of alcohol use were associated individually and together with increased arterial stiffness. Public health strategies need to prevent adoption of these habits in adolescence to preserve or restore arterial health."

IVF kids may have higher risk of high blood pressure

Kids born through in vitro fertilization may be more likely to develop high blood pressure, a new study suggests.

Researchers found a higher average blood pressure among teens born through IVF than in children conceived naturally, according to a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Moreover, teens born through IVF were more likely to have blood pressures high enough to be diagnosed with hypertension.

The researchers advise parents of children conceived with IVF to concentrate on other heart disease risk factors.

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER RUPTURES SPLEEN DURING GAME

"Eliminate additional cardiovascular risk factors, such as overweight, sedentary lifestyle and smoking," suggests coauthor Dr. Urs Scherrer of the University of Bern, Switzerland. Also, he recommends, get a 24-hour blood pressure reading when the children are between ages 16 and 20.

Scherrer and colleagues compared 54 teens conceived through IVF with 43 of their friends who had been conceived naturally. The teens' average age was 17.

In adults, a blood pressure above 120/80 is considered high. But in children and adolescents, a normal blood pressure depends on age and height. If a youngster has a higher blood pressure than 90% to 95% of other males or females his or her age and height, then the child may have high blood pressure.

The IVF teens had higher blood pressure, on average, than their friends (119/71 versus 115/69). Eight of the IVF teens were diagnosed with hypertension, compared to one in the control group.

DETROIT WOMAN SAYS SELFIES ALERTED HER TO STROKE, SAVED LIFE

Five years earlier, researchers had checked blood pressures in both groups and found no difference between IVF teens and their friends. "Until adolescence there are no cardiovascular problems," Scherrer said by email.

The conditions under which IVF embryos develop may play a role, he suspects.

"There are numerous conditions which are not physiologic during the in vitro period – temperature, mechanical insults related to embryo handling, sub-optimal culture media, etc. – that the embryo needs to cope with in order to survive, (and these) may have altered the regulation of gene (expression)," Scherrer said.

While the new findings are very interesting, the study is small, said Dr. Alan Penzias, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at the Harvard Medical School and a fertility specialist at Boston IVF.

Findings of small studies are not always generalizable to the population at large, Penzias said by email.

And while the researchers may have mitigated a number of possible confounders by using the IVF children's friends as controls – the control group was probably the best match for socioeconomic background, for example – they didn't eliminate what might have been the biggest variable: history of infertility, Penzias said.

"Is the finding in this paper caused by the IVF procedure or is it caused by the infertility itself," Penzias asked.

Penzias points to a large 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that found a higher risk of birth defects in babies born to couples with a history of infertility, regardless of whether the babies were conceived naturally or with IVF.

Still, Penzias said, "tracking the outcomes of medical intervention is prudent. Deciphering the mechanisms of disease to facilitate the design of treatments that improve the human condition is a worthy mission and is one that is universally endorsed."

Artery damage seen in some teenage smokers, drinkers

Teenagers who smoke or who binge on alcohol have signs of artery damage by age 17, a recent study shows.

Researchers found that 17-year-olds who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime or who drank more than 10 drinks on a typical drinking day had stiffer walls in their arteries.

In the long term, stiffer arteries can increase the risk for cardiovascular events, dementia, and death.

"Injury to the blood vessels occurs very early in life as a result of smoking and drinking and the two together are even more damaging, Dr. Marietta Charakida, who carried out the research at UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science but is now at King's College London, said in a statement.

SMOKERS 'MUCH MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP DEMENTIA,' DOCS WARN

As reported in the European Heart Journal and at a major cardiology meeting, Charakida and colleagues analyzed data collected from 2004 to 2008 on 1,266 adolescents enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Participants reported their smoking and drinking habits at ages 13, 15 and 17.

To assess the stiffness of the teens' artery walls, the researchers used a noninvasive device to measure the speed at which a pulse from the heart travels between the carotid artery in the neck and the femoral artery in the leg.

That speed is called the pulse wave velocity. A slower velocity is a good sign; it means the arterial walls are more elastic.

In 17-year-olds who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, the average pulse wave velocity was 3.7 percent faster than in teens who had smoked less than 20 cigarettes.

Teenagers who tended to binge drink, or drink more than 10 drinks in a typical drinking day with the aim of becoming drunk, had an average pulse wave velocity that was 4.7 percent faster than kids who drank no more than 2 drinks in a typical drinking day, the study showed.

Furthermore, the authors report, the combination of binge-drinking habits and smoking was linked to even greater arterial damage compared to heavy drinking and smoking separately. In these kids, the pulse wave velocity was 10.8 percent higher than in teens who smoked less and didn't binge drink.

PATIENT DEVELOPS 'BLACK HAIRY TONGUE' FROM MEDICATION

But while smoking in youth was associated with increased arterial stiffness, stopping during adolescence could restore arterial health. Seventeen-year-olds who had smoked in the past but were not current smokers had arterial health similar to never-smokers.

"Existing research suggests that regular binge drinking during the teen years can damage the developing brain," Dr. Aaron White, a senior scientific adviser at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Reuters Health in an email.

"Findings from the current study suggest that the negative health effects of alcohol during adolescence could extend to the cardiovascular system," White said, adding that the findings are consistent with existing evidence that even a single night of binge drinking in adults can temporarily injure the heart.

An observational study like this one can only show associations; it can't prove that smoking or alcohol exposure actually caused arterial changes in these youngsters, the authors acknowledge. Also, they note, the data were reported by the teenagers themselves and might not always have been accurate.

Despite these limitations, they conclude, "Smoking exposure even at low levels and intensity of alcohol use were associated individually and together with increased arterial stiffness. Public health strategies need to prevent adoption of these habits in adolescence to preserve or restore arterial health."