Scientists Zoom In on Genetic Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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iStock

Study by study, researchers are pushing ever closer toward identifying the gene variants to blame for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The latest and most promising findings were published in the journal Nature.

There are two forms of IBD: ulcerative colitis, which affects only the colon and is more common in women; and Crohn's disease, which can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract and is slightly more common in men. Today, IBD affects between 1 and 1.3 million Americans, yet we understand very little about why it happens or why some groups of people are more susceptible than others.

It's possible and even likely, scientists say, that the root of the illness could lie in our genes. Previous studies have linked IBD to hundreds of different genetic variants, but that's as specific as they could get.

To take a closer look, researchers at three institutions collaborated to build a massive, high-resolution genetic map. They collected the genomes of 67,852 different people—18,967 with Crohn's disease, 14,628 with ulcerative colitis, and 34,257 healthy people for a control group—and combed through, looking for variants unique to the folks with IBD.

Like previous researchers, they found plenty. But the new map was so detailed that its creators could zoom in further and further down, checking how likely it was that any given variant could actually cause the disease. From hundreds, they narrowed it down to just 18 variants, and had at least 95 percent certainty that these were the ones responsible. Some of these gene variants were related to processing amino acids; some seemed to interfere with healthy molecule binding; and some were tied to the switching on and off of immune or gut cells.

"We need to be careful in deciding when we are sure we have the right variant," first author Hailiang Huang, of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute, said in a statement. "This new technique helps us to pinpoint which genetic variants are implicated in IBD with greater confidence."

The authors say that isolating IBD-related gene variants will help develop new drugs, and could someday even aid in personalized medicine by helping doctors identify which existing drugs will be most effective for their patients.

Doctors at a British Hospital Are Now Prescribing Houseplants for Depression

Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images
Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images

You don’t have to take a trip to the countryside to reap the mental health benefits of being around nature—a single plant might just do the trick (as long as you can keep it alive).

Fast Company reports that the Cornbrook Medical Practice in Manchester, England, is one of the first in the country to prescribe houseplants to help treat anxiety and depression. It’s part of a horticultural therapy program led by a local nonprofit called Sow the City, which leads initiatives to foster community gardens in Manchester.

It’s just as much about building a sense of community through gardening as it is about the therapeutic advantages of caring for your own house plants. “There’s evidence that people who are socially isolated have worse health outcomes,” Sow the City director Jon Ross told Fast Company. The organization has also assisted Cornbrook Medical Practice in establishing its own herb garden, which patients are welcome to help maintain. Ross and his team work closely with doctors at different offices to optimize each garden for its particular clientele—sometimes, that means building a small, flora-filled sanctuary that’s just for rest and relaxation.

Other times, it’s a fully-fledged vegetable garden. For a “Hospital Beds” program at another hospital, Sow the City installed raised vegetable beds where long-term mental illness patients can soak in some sunlight, socialize with each other, and take pride in seeing the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors flourish. There’s an added physical health benefit, too: The patients get to eat the produce. “We really don’t have good food in our public hospitals,” Ross said.

Sow the City also makes sure that no green thumbs are necessary to participate in any gardening party. Its members populate the gardens with already-healthy, easy-to-tend plants, and they’ll even train patients on how to care for them.

If you’re thinking a garden might improve your own quality of life—doctor’s orders or not—here are 10 easy-to-grow plants for first-time gardeners.

[h/t Fast Company]

Illinois Becomes the First State to Require Insurance Companies to Cover EpiPens for Kids

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The ever-changing landscape of the U.S. healthcare system has created difficulties for people who may no longer be able to afford potentially lifesaving medications like EpiPens. The Illinois government decided it was time to step in: Beginning on January 1, 2020, health insurance companies will be required to cover EpiPen costs for children in the state with severe allergic reactions. Tonya Winders, president and CEO of the Allergy & Asthma Network, told CNN that Illinois is the first state to pass such legislation.

CNN reports that Governor J.B. Pritzker officially signed the law, House Bill 3435, which mandates insurance coverage “for epinephrine injectors for persons 18 years of age or under.” Pritzker also tweeted that “this legislation takes a big step forward in protecting our children and families.” Illinois Senator Julie Morrison, who sponsored the initial proposal, echoed the governor’s sentiment in her own statement.

“We should be doing everything we can to expand access to affordable lifesaving drugs and medicines,” Morrison said. “No child with a serious allergy should be without an epinephrine injector because they cannot afford one.”

In 2009, the purchase of two EpiPens would have set you back about $100; by 2016, that number had skyrocketed to $600. During that time, the situation became so dire that some people were opting to fill their own syringes with epinephrine instead, making it more difficult to measure the dose and also administer the injection. Thankfully, the FDA approved a generic version of the EpiPen last year, providing market competition for pharmaceutical company Mylan, which has been manufacturing EpiPens thus far.

EpiPens work by injecting a high dose of epinephrine, or adrenaline, into your bloodstream, which reduces the rapid swelling of your airways during anaphylactic shock. Since allergic reactions can happen so quickly, your life could be seriously threatened if you don’t have an EpiPen nearby at the time of the attack. Wondering what anaphylactic shock looks like from the inside? Find out here.

[h/t CNN]

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