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New Molecular Target Could Help Ease Asthma

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Researchers at UC Davis Health and Albany Medical College have shown that the protein vascular endothelial growth factor A — or VEGFA — plays a major role in the inflammation and airway obstruction associated with asthma.

The finding, published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, may eventually lead to new asthma treatments targeting VEGFA.

“VEGFA was very strongly upregulated in asthma patients and animals that receive stimulations that cause asthma,” said Angela Haczku, UC Davis professor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine and co-senior author on the paper.

“This mediator can actually elicit the symptoms of asthma in the mouse model and, if you target it, you eliminate the asthma symptoms.”

For many years, the Haczku lab has been collaborating closely with Qi Yang, co-senior author of the new study and assistant professor of immunology and microbial disease at Albany Medical College. The two teams previously found that group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s) help drive airway hyperresponsiveness when lungs respond to allergens or toxic air pollutants such as ozone, and the process of a full-blown asthma attack begins.

Their next question was: What kinds of inflammatory molecules are ILC2s producing to generate this inflammation?

“We couldn’t figure out what was actually causing the airway obstruction,” Haczku said. “How do these innate lymphoid cells cause asthma?”

To answer this question, the researchers studied how a mouse model responded to a common allergen, Alternaria alternata. Within hours, immune cells had infiltrated the airways, generating inflammation. When the mice were treated with VEGFA inhibitor SU1498, however, both the immune response and the inflammation declined.

Further study showed that ILC2s are stimulated by interleukin-33, another inflammatory immune molecule, which also encouraged airway hyperresponsiveness and turned up VEGFA’s cellular receptor, VEGFR2. Once again, treatment with SU1498 mitigated the reaction.

While VEGFA is best known for its activity in cancer and growing blood vessels to help feed hungry tumors, Yang and Haczku’s research outlines its entirely different role in asthma. Illuminating this biology could eventually lead to new asthma treatments. In the past, glucocorticoid inhalers were the go-to treatment. More recently, monoclonal antibodies have been developed to hit more precise targets.

“Monoclonal antibodies can target very specific molecules rather than knocking out the entire immune system,” Haczku said.

“Some of these antibodies target cytokines that also mediate allergic symptoms and asthma. We hope that targeting VEGFA, or the VEGFA receptor, with such monoclonal antibodies would add to this armamentarium.”

Still, the Haczku and Yang labs are not finished interrogating ILC2s, which could be significant in a variety of other lung conditions.

“These ILCs produce an influx of inflammatory neutrophils into the lungs, and we do not know exactly what mediates this cellular inflammation,” Yang said.

“These cells are very important in many diseases, including infections and pollutant-induced lung injury, which could be mediated by the inflammatory cells in the lungs.”

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Parents, Kids Spend More Time Discussing How To Use Mobile Technology Than Talking About Content

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ANN ARBOR—Most parents would agree that one of the of the biggest modern parenting challenges is monitoring a child’s online activity.

A new study appearing in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that parents spend more time talking with kids about the mechanics of using their mobile devices than they do about what their kids watch and download on those devices.

The findings came from a small, recent study of 75 children and their families, led by researcher Sarah Domoff, then a postdoctoral fellow at University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development. The children wore recording devices at home, which recorded talking, conversations or other sounds nearby, as well as audible screen media use.

Domoff, now an assistant professor at Central Michigan University, said the findings revealed some concerning trends in how families and children communicate about media today. Specifically, the researchers observed minimal conversation about the content of programming that children were watching.

Additionally, they learned that other family members appear to play an important role when content is discussed. Children––not parents––initiated most conversations about content, and older siblings played a much bigger role than parents in content mediation for younger siblings. Also, the study found that children as young as toddlers were exposed to multiple media sources at one time, or media multitasking.

Other findings include:

  • Negotiations and conflict are common among parents and children.
  • Parallel family media use is common, meaning different family members use their own devices at the same time.

“One of the most challenging aspects of parenting today is being aware of what children are exposed to online, particularly content delivered via mobile devices,” Domoff said.

“Thus, it is critical that parents utilize privacy settings and restrictions to protect children from certain content. Ideally, this would occur before the child received their own mobile device.”

Domoff recommends developing a family media plan. In 2016, The American Academy of Pediatrics released a tool that helps families set different goals and media use rules based on individual needs, she said.

It’s also troubling that some apps downloaded by children include advertising or request in-app purchases, she said. Parents can identify these apps by using Common Sense Media’s app review.

Parents can also recruit older children to help younger siblings make good content choices.

The study aimed to identify themes of parental mediation and family communication around mobile media devices. There’s a dearth of scientific data in this area compared to television and video games, but studies show that parental mediation leads to better outcomes for children.

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Internet Therapy Apps Reduce Depression Symptoms

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In a sweeping new study, Indiana University psychologists have found that a series of self-guided, internet-based therapy platforms effectively reduce depression.

The work, which reviewed 21 pre-existing studies with a total of 4,781 participants, was published in the November issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The study was led by Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, an assistant professor of clinical psychology in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

In the past several years, many internet-based apps and websites have made claims to treat depression. The subjects of the IU study were specifically those applications that provide treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing thought patterns and behavior to alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental disorders.

Previous studies had examined the effectiveness of individual internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps, or iCBT, using a range of methods. Until this study, however, no review had examined whether the effects of these treatments were inflated by excluding patients with more severe depression or additional conditions such as anxiety or alcohol abuse.

“Before this study, I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems, and were at low risk for suicide,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“To my surprise, that was not the case. The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people.”

For Lorenzo-Luaces, internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps are an important new tool for addressing a major public health issue: that individuals with mental health disorders like depression far outnumber the mental health providers available to treat them.

“Close to one in four people meet the criteria for major depressive disorder,” he said.

“If you include people with minor depression or who have been depressed for a week or a month with a few symptoms, the number grows, exceeding the number of psychologists who can serve them.”

People with depression are also expensive for the health care system, he added.

“They tend to visit primary-care physicians more often than others,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“They have more medical problems, and their depression sometimes gets in the way of their taking their medication for other medical problems.”

By conducting a “meta-regression analysis” of 21 studies, Lorenzo-Luaces and collaborators decisively determined that internet-based therapy platforms effectively alleviate depression. A central question was determining whether previous studies distorted the strength of these systems’ effects by excluding people with severe depression.

The conclusion was that the apps worked in cases of mild, moderate and severe depression.

Many of the studies in the analysis compared use of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps to placement on a wait list for therapy or the use of a “fake app” that made weak recommendations to the user. In these cases, the iCBT apps worked significantly better.

“This is not to say that you should stop taking your medication and go to the nearest app store,” added Lorenzo-Luaces, who said both face-to-face therapy and antidepressants may still prove to be more effective than the iCBT apps alone.

“People tend to do better when they have a little bit of guidance,” he said. But he added that a 10- to 15-minute check-in may be sufficient for many people, freeing health care providers to see more patients.

App-based therapy also has an advantage in situations where access to face-to-face therapy is limited due to logistical barriers, such as long distances in rural areas or inflexible work schedules.

“ICBT apps take the methods we have learned and make them available to the many people who could benefit from them,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“It’s an exciting development.”

 

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New Study Finds Employee Incentives Can Lead To Unethical Behavior In The Workplace

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Considering end-of-year bonuses for your employees? Supervisors be forewarned, a new study finds that while incentive rewards can help motivate and increase employee performance it can also lead to unethical behavior in the workplace.

“Goal fixation can have a profound impact on employee behavior, and the damaging effects appear to be growing stronger in today’s competitive business landscape,” says Bill Becker, co-author of the study and associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

The study, “The effects of goals and pay structure on managerial reporting dishonesty,” provides valuable insight into the relationship between pay structures and motivation.

Findings suggest that setting compensation goals can increase dishonesty when managers are also paid a bonus for hitting certain targets.

“These unintended negative consequences can lead to dishonesty, unethical behavior, increased risk-taking, escalation of commitment, and depletion of self-control,” says Becker.

The study points to observations of unethical behaviors in the workplace that include employees falsifying or manipulating financial reporting information as well as time and expense reports.

For example, service professionals such as auditors, contractors, lawyers, and consultants who report hours billed against a target budget is often based on a fixed contract price.

“This causes potential for both under-reporting and over-reporting costs, which can undermine organizational objectives and negatively impact the interest of the firm,” says Becker.

“Using purely monetary incentives is almost always a double edged sword.”

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