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Handwritten Letters Might Help Prevent Suicide Attempts, Study Finds

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Everyone enjoys getting a personal, handwritten letter. But the personal missive may be especially beneficial to people at risk of suicide, a new study finds. The research, published in PLOS Medicine, followed a pilot study of a suicide prevention method called the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program at a hospital in Switzerland. As part of the method, patients received follow-up letters from therapists they had seen after being admitted to the hospital for attempting suicide. 

A total of 120 patients took part in the pilot study, which involved seeing a therapist for three sessions to discuss their suicide attempt and mental health. Afterward, half of the patients received mail from their therapist. The handwritten letters arrived once every three months during the first year after the patients were released from the hospital, and every six months the next year. While the notes mostly contained boiler-plate advice on warning signs and staying safe, they also included a few personalized statements from the therapists. 

The technique seems to have had a broad impact on the patients who received those letters, compared to a control group that just went through post-hospitalization therapy. Only five patients in the letter-receiving group attempted suicide over the 24 months of the study, while 41 in the control group did. One person in each group died from suicide.  

The personalized letters may have given patients a reminder that someone cared about them, as one of the study’s authors told The Washington Post.

Despite public health efforts, “suicide has proven stubbornly difficult to understand, to predict, and to prevent,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and many people at high risk for suicide aren’t getting the treatment they need. In the U.S., suicide is the 10th leading cause of death (and the second leading cause of death for people 25–34), and far more people attempt suicide than die from it (as many as 25 times more in the case of youth, and 12 times more overall). So an 80 percent reduced risk of attempted suicide, as seen in this study, is a pretty big deal.

While this study had some limitations, such as patients dropping out, and more pilots around the world will be necessary (globally, 800,000 people kill themselves every year), it’s definitely a hopeful sign. 

And here’s a reminder that if you are in distress, you should make a free, confidential call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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Medicine
New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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