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:: By Mary Ruth Yoe

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Investigations ::


Black infants and SIDS
Five percent of deaths from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) in African Americans can be traced to defects in one gene. Half of those deaths result from a specific SCN5A variation that increases an infant’s vulnerability “to environmental challenges, such as long pauses in respiration, that are tolerated in children without the mutation,” said Chicago pediatrics chair and study leader Steve A. Goldstein. Reported in the February Journal of Clinical Investigation, the results, if replicated, may suggest opportunities for interventions, including genetic pre-screening. African Americans have three times greater risk of SIDS than Caucasians and six times the risk of Hispanics or Asians. Although one in nine African Americans carry a copy of the variant gene, only children who carry two copies face the increased risk.

photo:  Sian Beilock uses specially designed clubs to measure golfers’ response to stress.
Asia’s Tibetan Plateau is older than once thought.

Older than it looks
At 16,000 feet, central Asia’s Tibetan Plateau has towered over Earth for at least 35 million years—ten to 15 million years longer than once thought. That’s according to a study of rocks from the plateau’s Lunpola Basin, reported in the February 9 Nature by Chicago geophysical scientist David Rowley and Brian Currie of Miami University. Their analysis of oxygen isotopes show the elevations at which the rocks were created and suggest that the plateau sprang into being soon after India swung north into Asia in a massive continental collision.

Sidelined side effects
Even if a drug’s side effects aren’t worse than the disease, they can still be pretty bad. Enter a more specific method of drug design, developed by Rice University bioengineer Ariel Fernández and Chicago professors Ridgway Scott and R. Stephen Berry. Reported in the January 10 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, their protein-binding method aims to increase the precision of inhibitor drugs by exploiting the fact that similar proteins have very different dehydrons, or breaks in the binding force. After wrapping dehydrons of the disease-related proteins, the new drugs can then turn off the targeted proteins’ activities. The anti-cancer drug Gleevec, whose side effects include peeling skin and ulcers, has been redesigned using the new method. If lab tests on cancer cells prove successful, further testing in ice and humans will follow.

What every man should know about VD
Vascular disease, that is. In Archives of Internal Medicine, Chicago cardiologist R. Parker Ward reports that impotence can be a warning sign for heart disease. The link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease is stronger than for such risk factors as smoking, family history, and high blood pressure. When 221 men received stress tests for known or suspected heart disease, researchers found that 54.8 percent also had erectile dysfunction—and those with erectile dysfunction generally had more severe heart disease. Although impotence is not always a vascular condition, cardiologists have a new question to ask their male patients.

Show some emoticons
Cafeteria food and the weather sound like straightforward topics. But when NYU’s Justin Kruger and the Graduate School of Business’s Nicholas Epley asked undergraduates to predict how recipients of e-mailed comments on those topics would interpret their tone—serious or sarcastic—communications went awry. While the e-mailers predicted a 78 percent success rate, only 56 percent of their partners got the tone right. The lesson to be learned from the study, reported in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: before hitting Send, step outside your egocentric box.