The Observatory and Fast Facts

March 24, 2021

Cardiovascular risks and pregnancy complications can raise risk of hypertension years after childbirth

A new study of first-time pregnant women found risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity and elevated blood sugar, can put expectant moms at higher risk for pregnancy complications and gestational diabetes, as well as lead to increased chances of high blood pressure, or hypertension, two to seven years after giving birth, according to a news release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The findings appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers created the nuMoM2b Heart Health Study, supported by the NIH, to examine factors that influence pregnancy outcomes and support the cardiovascular health of new mothers. In this sub-study, researchers followed 4,471 women who had their first child at one of eight U.S. medical centers between 2011 and 2014. About one in two women were overweight or obese at the start of their pregnancy. The researchers monitored the women from the early stages of their pregnancies and stayed in touch, through self-reporting surveys, phone calls, and clinical visits, for up to seven years after the women gave birth.

The researchers found that roughly 25 percent of the study participants, 1,102 women, had a pregnancy complication or developed gestational diabetes. Women who experienced a pregnancy complication were more likely to have developed markers for heart disease before or during their first trimester, compared to those who did not experience complications. For example, women with pregnancy complications were more likely to have higher levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation, while women who did not develop complications had normal or lower levels.

Women in the study who had a pregnancy complication or who developed gestational diabetes were also 1.6 times as likely to develop hypertension within seven years. Their risk for stage 2 hypertension, the level at which treatment is often prescribed, doubled.

The researchers suggest that screening patients for heart disease, which the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend doing every four to six years for adults ages 20-39, could start even earlier for pregnant women or could be integrated into prenatal or obstetric care. In the study, women who exercised three hours each week had a lower risk for later hypertension.

Spinal fluid of people with Alzheimer’s risk gene signals inflammation

People who have a gene variant associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease also tend to have changes in the fluid around their brain and spinal cord that are detectable years before symptoms arise, according to new research from Duke Health as reported in a news release.

The findings, which were published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, provide a potential means to identify the earliest mechanisms occurring among APOE4 carriers that might contribute to Alzheimer’s disease before people develop memory problems or other symptoms of dementia, Duke Health said.

Researchers analyzed data from targeted cerebrospinal fluid of Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Institute research participants. Controlling for Alzheimer’s disease clinical status, they identified protein level variations in the cerebrospinal fluid from people with an increasing number of APOE4 gene variant copies. They found that people with more APOE4 copies had lower CRP levels circulating in their cerebrospinal fluid.

Researchers said this is consistent with the current risk profile associated with APOE4 carriers. People with a single APOE4 variant have about a three- to four-fold increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, while those who carry two APOE4 variants have a greater than 10-fold risk.

Marine product off Florida’s coast might help fight cancer

From cyanobacteria blooms found off the Florida coast near Fort Lauderdale, University of Florida researchers have discovered a novel marine natural product that binds to a new site of tubulin, an important target for cancer drugs, according to a news release from the university.

Tubulin is a group of proteins found in the cytoplasm of cells, outside the nucleus. They serve as building blocks of microtubules, which are involved in cellular structure and aid in cell division.

Natural products targeting tubulin have provided the basis for several anti-cancer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including paclitaxel and vincristine.

For decades, cancer researchers have explored new ways to modify the protein’s function and dynamics by developing compounds that target one of tubulin’s six binding sites. The UF researchers discovered a new chemical compound that targets a seventh binding site.

“Tubulin is among the most successfully targeted proteins related to cancer chemotherapy, and there is tremendous interest in discovering new molecules that bind to tubulin,” said Hendrik Luesch, PhD, Professor and Chair of Medicinal Chemistry and the Debbie and Sylvia DeSantis Chair in Natural Products Drug Discovery and Development in the UF College of Pharmacy and a member of UF Health Cancer Center.

Identifying and fully characterizing this new tubulin-targeting compound and binding site took years of work. The compound gatorbulin-1 pays tribute in name to the UF researchers and global partners who led the way to its discovery and characterization.

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Luesch and his research team report on gatorbulin-1’s chemical and biological development, including the isolation, structure determination and chemical synthesis of the new natural product.

Gatorbulin-1’s origins in the Atlantic Ocean add to a growing list of compounds Luesch’s team has discovered from marine natural products. The biodiversity present in the world’s oceans offers a wealth of opportunity for exploration of new drug therapies.

Luesch previously discovered the tubulin agent dolastatin 10 from another marine cyanobacteria, which served as the basis for the development of three FDA-approved antibody-drug conjugates targeting a different tubulin binding site.

Women experience faster cognitive decline with age

A new analysis finds higher baseline cognition scores for aging women, but a more rapid drop once cognitive decline begins. Women may start middle age with stronger brain function than men, but as they get older, women’s cognition declines faster, according to a news release from University of Michigan.

That’s according to a new analysis from more than 26,000 Black and white men and women who had participated in one of five long-term cohort studies. The researchers found that women had significantly faster declines in overall cognition and executive function, the brain processes used in problem-solving, planning and managing your time. However, memory decline was comparable between men and women.

“We estimate that cognitive function in women declined around five years faster than their ages would suggest,” says lead author Deborah Levine, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Neurology at Michigan Medicine, and Director of its Cognitive Health Services Research Program. “Differences in biological, genetic, social and lifestyle factors between men and women might contribute to faster cognitive decline in women, and more research is needed.”

AMR staph strains found to spread from pigs to people

DNA sequencing of bacteria found in pigs and humans in rural eastern North Carolina, an area with concentrated industrial-scale pig-farming, suggests that multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains are spreading between pigs, farmworkers, their families and community residents. This represents an emerging public health threat, according to a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as reported in a press release.

S. aureus is commonly found in soil and water, as well as on the skin and in the upper respiratory tract in pigs, other animals, and people. It can cause medical problems, from minor skin infections to serious surgical wound infections, pneumonia, and the often-lethal blood-infection condition known as sepsis.

The findings provide evidence that multidrug-resistant S. aureus strains are capable of spreading and possibly causing illness in and around factory farm communities in the U.S.– a scenario the authors say researchers should continue to investigate.

The study was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers in recent years have been collecting samples of S. aureus from pigs, farmworkers, farmworkers’ family members, and community residents – including children – in the top pig-producing counties in North Carolina. For the study, they sequenced the DNA from some of these samples to determine the relation of the strains found in pigs and people. They found that the strains were very closely related, providing evidence for transmission between pigs and people. Most of the strains carried genes conferring resistance to multiple antibiotics.

Epidemiologists have long suspected that S. aureus and other bacteria are transmitted from humans to pigs on factory farms, and thereafter evolve antibiotic resistance within the pigs. The animals are routinely given antibiotics to prevent outbreaks in their dense concentrations on factory farms. The drug-resistant bacterial strains may then be transmitted back to humans, becoming a potentially serious source of disease.

In recent years, Heaney and colleagues have been gathering S. aureus isolates from pigs and farmworkers at factory-scale pig farms in North Carolina, one of the leading pig-farming states. Their research has shown that livestock-associated strains of S. aureus, many of them antibiotic-resistant strains, can be found not only in pigs but also in farmworkers, their family members, and residents living nearby.

For the new study, they performed whole-genome sequencing on 49 of these S. aureus isolates to characterize these strains at the DNA level and get a more precise picture of their interrelatedness.

One finding was that all these isolates, whether taken from humans or pigs, belonged to a grouping of S. aureus strains known as clonal complex 9 (CC9).

The researchers also determined from their analysis that the CC9 isolates from North Carolina were closely related, in many cases implying recent transmission between pigs and people. Moreover, virtually all of the isolates that appeared to be involved in transmission between pigs and humans were multidrug resistant, suggesting that diseases these isolates cause could be hard to treat.

The scope of the study didn’t include evaluating S. aureus-related disease among people in the affected communities, but one of the pig farmworkers who carried a CC9 isolate in their nose reported a recent skin infection.