Hair straightening chemicals associated with higher risk of uterine cancer

In a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study of over 33,000 women, researchers found that women who used chemical hair straightening products were at higher risk for uterine cancer than women who did not use these products. The participants were between the ages of 35-74 and were followed for almost 11 years; during that time, 378 uterine cancer cases were diagnosed. Those who used hair straightening products more than four times in a year were more than twice as likely to go on to develop uterine cancer compared to those who did not use the products. 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but that risk goes up to 4.05% for frequent users.

Uterine cancer accounts for about 3% of all new cancer cases but is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, with 65,950 estimated new cases in 2022. Incidence rates of uterine cancer have been rising in the United States, particularly among Black women. Approximately 60% of the participants who reported using straighteners in the previous year were self-identified Black women; the adverse health effects of hair straightening products may be greater for Black women due to higher prevalence of use. The findings are consistent with prior studies showing straighteners can increase the risk of hormone-related cancers in women, such as breast and ovarian cancer.


FDA approves vaccine to prevent whooping cough in infants younger than 2 months

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the vaccine Boostrix (Tetanus Toxoid, Reduced Diphtheria Toxoid and Acellular Pertussis Vaccine, Adsorbed [Tdap]) for immunization during the third trimester of pregnancy to prevent pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, in infants younger than 2 months of age. Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is most frequently found in infants who are often too young to be protected by the childhood pertussis vaccine series. Serious cases of pertussis can result in hospitalizations and death. 4.2% of the total cases of pertussis reported in the U.S. in 2021 were in infants younger than 6 months of age, and approximately 31% required hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the first vaccine approved to protect infants from pertussis by vaccinating the mother during pregnancy. Boostrix-relevant data from an observational case-control study of Tdap vaccine effectiveness resulted in a preliminary estimate of Boostrix as 78% effective in preventing pertussis among infants younger than 2 months of age, when administered during the third trimester of pregnancy. The study did not identify any vaccine-related adverse effects on pregnancy or on the fetus/newborn.


Socioeconomic inequality associated with differences in kids’ brain connectivity

Neuroscientists from the University of Michigan have found that, compared with children from more-advantaged homes and neighborhoods, children from socioeconomically disadvantaged households have different patterns of connections between their brain’s many regions and networks by the time they are adolescents. The study drew on brain scans and behavioral data from more than 5,800 tween children from diverse backgrounds nationwide, making it the largest-ever study of how socioeconomic factors affect children’s “functional connectomes,” or maps of interconnectivity across hundreds of brain regions. Those scans, made using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, allowed neuroscientists to see the level of traffic between different areas of the brain along functional connections that develop from before birth throughout childhood and adolescence. The effects of household socioeconomic resources on functional connectivity were distributed throughout youths’ brains. The effects were not localized to a specific brain circuit, but instead showed as tiny effects distributed throughout the brain. When the individual effects were aggregated together, they constitute a strong, detectable signal.

The study found many factors affecting brain connectivity, like the education level of a child’s parents and the types and frequency of cognitively enriching activities practiced in the household. They found parents with higher levels of education engaged in more home-based enrichment activities, resulting in more complex pathways in brain connections and higher cognitive function. As one in seven American children lives in poverty, this study exemplifies the relevance to public policy.


Study finds racial bias affects treatment for Black adults with advanced heart failure

A study from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has found that white adults are twice as likely as Black adults to receive mechanical heart pumps or heart transplants for the treatment of advanced heart failure, possibly due to racial bias. Researchers followed 377 patients receiving treatment at one of 21 centers in the U.S. and found that 22% of white adults received a heart transplant or ventricular assist device (VAD), a mechanical device that pumps blood for the heart, while only 11% of Black adults received these end-stage heart failure therapies. Researchers controlled for factors including disease severity, quality of life, and several social determinants of health. Eighteen Black adults (18%) and 36 white adults (13%) died during the study. Importantly, they found that treatment preferences between the two groups were similar, but being Black was associated with a 55% reduced rate for receiving VAD therapy or a heart transplant.

Strengthening equity in clinical decision-making for the 600,000 Americans who have end-stage heart failure is critical for the treatment of the disease, especially for Black adults, who have a greater risk for heart failure and are twice as likely to die from it. Researchers believe the findings show the need to require implicit bias training, particularly for transplant and VAD team members, to address the unconscious biases that could affect treatment for Black Americans with heart failure.


Biological differences in dense breasts could explain increased risk for breast cancer

Researchers have now shown there are major biological differences between dense breasts, which appear white in mammograms, and nondense breasts, which appear grey. Studies show the risk of developing breast cancer is five times higher in dense breasts than in nondense breasts. The density of a breast mainly depends on the connective tissue. In mammograms, both glandular tissue and connective tissue appear white, and cancer also appears white in mammograms, making it difficult to detect cancerous changes in dense breasts by mammography.

To determine whether the biological properties of dense and nondense breasts differ, researchers developed an MRI method that measures breast density and other distinguishing factors of breasts more accurately than current methods. Forty-four women, some with dense breasts and some with nondense breasts, were investigated using contrast-enhanced MRI. The researchers also used microdialysis, in which a thin catheter is introduced into the breast tissue to obtain samples of the fluid that surrounds the cells, also known as the microenvironment, to measure the amounts of various proteins in this fluid. The microenvironment in dense breasts is very similar to that in breast tumors. The levels of 124 of 270 proteins were elevated in dense breasts. These proteins are associated with cancer development through such underlying processes as inflammation, the formation of new blood vessels, and cell growth. This method also found that the contrast agent diffuses differently in the different types of breasts, which suggests that blood vessels are affected. The researchers are now continuing their work to examine whether anti-inflammatory treatment can change the microenvironment in the breast.


New FDA approval for Abiomed pump for right-side heart failure

The FDA has approved Abiomed’s new model of minimally invasive cardiac pump targeting the right side of the heart, which the company says will improve mobility for patients implanted with the device. The Impella RP Flex is inserted through the jugular vein in the neck, as opposed to up through blood vessels in the thigh with the previous model. The catheter-based device is then threaded into the heart’s chambers to help mechanically support blood flow and take some of the strain off the beating cardiac muscle. The Impella RP Flex has received approval for temporary assistance – up to two weeks – and is designed to aid patients who develop right-side heart failure after suffering a heart attack, or following open surgery, a heart transplant, or the implantation of a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD.

During right-side heart failure, blood that should be pumped into the lungs to pick up oxygen starts to back up into the heart, ultimately causing blood pressure and swelling to rise in the body’s veins. The Impella RP Flex picks up blood from the large vena cava leading into the heart and conveys it through the right atrium and ventricle through a tube before pumping it out to the pulmonary artery, bypassing the organ and pushing blood toward the lungs at a rate of more than 4 liters per minute. The device also features SmartAssist technology, which links two embedded sensors to a real-time patient monitoring platform that helps track blood flow and inform health care providers of the best time to begin weaning the patient off the support system. Abiomed plans to introduce the Impella RP Flex in the U.S. through a controlled rollout before the end of this year.


Nonsurgical and noninvasive device demonstrated significant functional improvements in children with cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a severely debilitating disease with no current cure. There are over 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year where CP is the result of damage to the developing brain. CP describes a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Children with CP are often left to be treated with invasive surgeries that attempt to decrease spasticity, a common symptom of the disease. SpineX, Inc., a clinical stage medtech company, announced the results of a study that demonstrated significant functional improvements with its proprietary nonsurgical treatment SCiPTM (Spinal Cord Innovation in Pediatrics) in children with CP. SCiPTM is a noninvasive spinal electrical neuromodulation device that provides transcutaneous spinal cord neurostimulation to treat the underlying neurological dysfunction in pediatric patients with CP. SCiPTM aims to be the first medical device in the U.S. to treat CP by transforming the brain and spinal cord dysfunctional connectivity into highly functional systems. Delivering noninvasive spinal neuromodulation during physical therapy improved voluntary sensorimotor function in 16 out of 16 children over a wide range of ages and severities of CP. SCiPTM has been awarded Breakthrough Device Designation from the FDA.


AI may help identify melanoma survivors who face high risk of cancer recurrence

Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer, and most deaths from melanoma occur in patients who were initially diagnosed with early-stage melanoma and then later experienced a recurrence that is typically not detected until it has spread or metastasized. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based method to identify melanoma patients who may experience a recurrence and benefit from aggressive treatment. Patients with advanced cancer often receive immune checkpoint inhibitors, which effectively strengthen the immune response against tumor cells. Reliable prediction of melanoma recurrence using AI can enable more precise treatment selection for immunotherapy, reduce progression to metastatic disease, and improve melanoma survival while minimizing exposure to treatment toxicities. The team collected 1,720 early-stage melanomas and extracted 36 clinical and pathologic features of these cancers from electronic health records to predict patients’ recurrence risk with machine learning algorithms. Tumor thickness and rate of cancer cell division were identified as the most predictive features.