How Can Gut Bacteria Increase/ Decrease a Baby’s Risk of Being Asthmatic?

“Children with this type of yeast called Pichia were much more at risk of asthma,” said Brett Finlay, a microbiologist at UBC. “This is the first time anyone has shown any kind of association between yeast and asthma.”

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A study done at the Univeristy of Columbia has found a yeast in the gut of new babies in Ecuador, that appears to give us the indication that they will develop asthma in childhood. A type of yeast bacteria called Pichia has some how, and god knows how, has been linked to asthma. They examined four gut bacteria in Canadian children that, if present in the first 100 days of life, it meant that the child would not develop asthma. After this initial study,  the researchers repeated the experiment using fecal samples and health information from 100 children in a rural village in Ecuador.

Whilst gut bacteria was shown to play a role in preventing asthma, the presence of microscopic Pichia bacteria was heavily linked to having asthma, instead of helping to prevent it. If the microscopic fungus bacteria is presented early on in the infant’s life- that is when it poses a risk. Canada and Ecuador both have high rates of asthma with about 10 per cent of the population suffering from the disease. (Which is probably why the study was done there.)

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However on  a more positive tangent, four bacteria have been found that can decreases a baby’s risk of asthma.  The same researcher’s analyzed fecal samples from 319 children involved in the analysis of the gut bacteria . The samples revealed lower levels of four specific gut bacteria in three-month-old infants who were at an increased risk for asthma.

These four, extremely vital gut bacteria nicknamed FLVR (Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella, Rothia) are usually naturally  transmitted to the baby from their environments, but some do not, either because of the circumstances of their birth or other factors. An interesting factor the researchers found was that there were fewer differences in FLVR levels among one-year-old children, this tells us that the first three months are a critical time period for a baby’s developing immune system, if the baby does not receive these bacteria, it could have a major impact on their health.

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“This discovery gives us new potential ways to prevent this disease that is life-threatening for many children. It shows there’s a short, maybe 100-day window for giving babies therapeutic interventions to protect against asthma,” said co-lead researcher Dr. Stuart Turvey, pediatric immunologist, BC Children’s Hospital, director of clinical research and senior clinician scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute, Aubrey J. Tingle Professor of Pediatric Immunology at UBC. The next plan of action for the reasearchers is to do a further study with a larger number of children to confirm these findings and reveal how these bacteria influence the development of asthma.

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Thank you.

The Mechanincal Brain

As neuroscience being a huge interest if mine, for this week’s blog post I have decided to write about how exactly technology has impacted it. When we think back to centuries ago, and think about how they wouldn’t have an electric scanning machine or any other electrical equipment, the question ‘How did they actually do it?’ pops into my head. Yet that is another story. Today I am focusing on the present day and how us have humans have formulated new technical equipment that is used everyday to save lives.


One of the main ways in which technology has impacted neuroscience is through the various different uses of brain scans. One of the main forms of brain scanning is through Computed Tomography (CT). A CT scanner circles the head so that x-rays penetrate the brain from many directions. The cross-sectional images generated during a CT scan can be reformatted in multiple planes, and can even generate three-dimensional images. These images can be viewed on a computer monitor, printed on film or transferred to a CD or DVD. Ct scans can be used to help assess head injuries, severe headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms of aneurysm, bleeding, stroke and brain tumors. However Ct scans aren’t to be over used as it has been stated ‘Researchers at the National Cancer Institute estimate that 29,000 future cancer cases could be attributed to the 72 million CT scans performed in the country in 2007.’ Says Carina Storrs a health writer whose work has appeared in Popular Science, The Scientist and, among other publications. Suggesting Ct scans have been said to contribute to cancer.

Magnetic resonance imaging is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. It is used to find problems such as tumours, bleeding, injury, blood vessel diseases, or infection. MRI also may be done to provide more information about a problem seen on an X-ray, ultrasound scan, or CT scan. MRI can look at the brain for tumours, an aneurysm, bleeding in the brain, nerve injury, and other problems, such as damage caused by a stroke. MRI can also find problems of the eyes and optic nerves, and the ears and auditory nerves. This has made it possible for us to understand neurosurgery by telling us things like, where the aneurysm is that needs to be clipped and what it looks like.  


 A scan that is similar to MRI is fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is a technique for measuring brain activity. It works by detecting the changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity – when a brain area is more active it consumes more oxygen and to meet this increased demand blood flow increases to the active area. FMRI is used as appose to MRI as it shows not only the brain, yet the activity. This has contributed majorly to neuroscience as it means that Doctors and neurologists can really pin point what part of the brain is responsible for a certain action. As obviously the area with more oxygen in it at a particular time will be responsible for whatever the particular person is doing at a specific time.

Besides the various scanning techniques, technology can also be used for treatment for neurological illness. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) creates magnetic pulses to the scalp delivered through a coil at a rhythmic repetition rate. These pulses are used to stimulate different parts of the brain in order to enhance a particular action. At the current stage of development, this type of technique is not a cure for any kind of brain or memory disorder as we do not fully understand it and long term side effects are yet to be discovered. However, it does suggest that researchers are onto something big and further investigation into the uses of transcranial magnetic stimulation could eventually be used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia, and even common memory loss caused by aging. “This opens up a whole new area for treatment studies where we will try to see if we can improve function in people who really need it,” Dr J Voss exclaims in an article for The Medical Daily.


Consequently there has also been research into how stem cells can be used to remake different parts of the brain. The nervous system is a complex organ made up of nerve cells (also called neurons) and glial cells, which surround and support neurons. Neurons send signals that affect numerous functions including thought processes and movement. As you can probably fathom, the nervous system is extremely complicated and it seems impossible that stem cells can be used to help neurodegenerative diseases by recreating nervous system tissue. New neurons in the adult brain arise from slowly-dividing cells that appear to be the remnants of stem cells that existed during foetal brain development. It’s marvelous as these findings suggest that the brain may contain a built-in mechanism to repair itself. Unfortunately as far as we know, these new neurons are only generated in a few sites in the brain and turn into only a few specialized types of nerve cells. Although there are many different neuronal cell types in the brain.  The discovery of these cells has spurred further research into the characteristics of neural stem cells from the foetus and the adult. Hopefully scientists over time use this information to recreate these stem cell regenerating sites, so diseases like Alzheimer’s can be combatted as the brain will counteract the loss of grey matter in the brain.


As you can see, technology is a huge contributor to neuro science. It can be used to detect and even go as far as treating neurodegenerative diseases. However, neuroscience is still very new in the research of medicine. We still have a lot more theories that we need to develop and treatments for certain diseases may take a lot more time to formulate and create than we would want. Subsequently, researchers are trying their best and very eager to find out more about the complexity that we call the brain.


Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Numbers Double

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive opiate drugs while in the mother’s womb. It is the result of the sudden discontinuation of fetal exposure to substances that were used or abused by the mother during pregnancy. Tolerance, dependence and withdrawal of these drugs may occur as a result of repeated administration of drugs or even after short-term high-dose use—for example, during mechanical ventilation in intensive care units. Neonatal abstinence syndrome may also occur when a pregnant woman takes drugs such as heroin, codeine, oxycodone (Oxycontin), methadone or buprenorphine.


Symptoms depend upon the drug the mother was taking, how long she took it for and how much she took. Common symptoms may include: Blotchy skin coloring (mottling), diarrhea, excessive crying or high-pitched crying, excessive sucking, fever, hyperactive reflexes, increased muscle tone, irritability, poor feeding, rapid breathing,  seizures,  sleep problems, slow weight gain, stuffy nose, sneezing and/or sweating. It may seem like there are a lot of symptoms, however as I said the symptoms are completely independent of what drug was taken by the mother.

The seemingly never-ending list of symptoms can be used to generate a scoring system based on the severity of each symptom. This is how neonatal abstinence syndrome diagnosed.


Treatment for NAS once again depends upon the drug involved, the infants overall health and abstinence score and whether the baby was born full term or premature. In mild cases, a waiting game of just giving the baby an extra bit of TLC can be effective. This may include gently rocking the baby to calm it, wrap it in blankets and keep the noise and lights down to help it sleep more gently. Babies with more  severe symptoms need medicines such as methadone and morphine to treat withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately these  babies may need to stay in the hospital for weeks or months after birth. The main motive behind this treatment is to prescribe the infant a drug similar to the one the mother used during pregnancy and slowly decrease the dose over time. This helps wean the baby off the drug and relieves some withdrawal symptoms.


I have gathered some shocking stats from:   – These stats show how much of a problem and how common NAS truly is.

  • The researchers found that during the 4-year period, the number of babies born with NAS almost doubled, from 3.4 births per 1,000 in 2009 to 5.8 births per 1,000 in 2012 – the equivalent to one baby born with NAS every 25 minutes. – Even though these stats are outdated, it is crazy to think that so many babies were born with this at some point, and how much of a problem it became.
  • The rise in abstinence syndrome mirrors the rise we have seen in opioid pain reliever use across the nation.This quote shows that maybe the over use of certain pain relievers may be to blame for the rise in NAS.

As you can see NAS is a rising problem. However we can prevent it by using drugs non-medically, using drugs not prescribed to you and using alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy.

Thank you for reading.