Tag Archives: Research

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Caffeine might help people with heart troubles, research says

Drinking coffee and tea every day may actually benefit people with heart troubles.

New research has linked caffeine consumption from the two popular drinks to decreased rates of arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms.

Sign up to receive the top stories in Australia every day at noon

But the researchers warn against the consumption of energy drinks that contain high levels of caffeine for anyone with a pre-existing heart condition.

Arrhythmias cause the heart to beat too fast, slow or unevenly. Many clinicians advise patients with atrial or ventricular arrhythmias to avoid caffeinated beverages.

“There is a public perception, often based on anecdotal experience, that caffeine is a common acute trigger for heart rhythm problems,” said Dr Peter Kistler, director of electrophysiology at Alfred hospital and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. “Our extensive review of the medical literature suggests this is not the case.”

Researchers reviewed 11 major international studies involving 360,000 people and found caffeine had no effect on ventricular arrhythmias.

The analysis suggests caffeine intake of up to 300 milligrams a day may be safe for patients with arrhythmias. This equate to roughly three cups of coffee.

But there may be individual differences in susceptibility to the effects of caffeine on the factors which trigger arrhythmias in some, the researchers noted.

“Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea may have long term anti-arrhythmic properties mediated by antioxidant effects and antagonism of adenosine,” Kistler said. “In numerous population-based studies, patients who regularly consume coffee and tea at moderate levels have a lower lifetime risk of developing heart rhythm problems and possibly improved survival.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Caffeine might help people with heart troubles, research says

Drinking coffee and tea every day may actually benefit people with heart troubles.

New research has linked caffeine consumption from the two popular drinks to decreased rates of arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms.

Sign up to receive the top stories in Australia every day at noon

But the researchers warn against the consumption of energy drinks that contain high levels of caffeine for anyone with a pre-existing heart condition.

Arrhythmias cause the heart to beat too fast, slow or unevenly. Many clinicians advise patients with atrial or ventricular arrhythmias to avoid caffeinated beverages.

“There is a public perception, often based on anecdotal experience, that caffeine is a common acute trigger for heart rhythm problems,” said Dr Peter Kistler, director of electrophysiology at Alfred hospital and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. “Our extensive review of the medical literature suggests this is not the case.”

Researchers reviewed 11 major international studies involving 360,000 people and found caffeine had no effect on ventricular arrhythmias.

The analysis suggests caffeine intake of up to 300 milligrams a day may be safe for patients with arrhythmias. This equate to roughly three cups of coffee.

But there may be individual differences in susceptibility to the effects of caffeine on the factors which trigger arrhythmias in some, the researchers noted.

“Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea may have long term anti-arrhythmic properties mediated by antioxidant effects and antagonism of adenosine,” Kistler said. “In numerous population-based studies, patients who regularly consume coffee and tea at moderate levels have a lower lifetime risk of developing heart rhythm problems and possibly improved survival.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Caffeine might help people with heart troubles, research says

Drinking coffee and tea every day may actually benefit people with heart troubles.

New research has linked caffeine consumption from the two popular drinks to decreased rates of arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms.

Sign up to receive the top stories in Australia every day at noon

But the researchers warn against the consumption of energy drinks that contain high levels of caffeine for anyone with a pre-existing heart condition.

Arrhythmias cause the heart to beat too fast, slow or unevenly. Many clinicians advise patients with atrial or ventricular arrhythmias to avoid caffeinated beverages.

“There is a public perception, often based on anecdotal experience, that caffeine is a common acute trigger for heart rhythm problems,” said Dr Peter Kistler, director of electrophysiology at Alfred hospital and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. “Our extensive review of the medical literature suggests this is not the case.”

Researchers reviewed 11 major international studies involving 360,000 people and found caffeine had no effect on ventricular arrhythmias.

The analysis suggests caffeine intake of up to 300 milligrams a day may be safe for patients with arrhythmias. This equate to roughly three cups of coffee.

But there may be individual differences in susceptibility to the effects of caffeine on the factors which trigger arrhythmias in some, the researchers noted.

“Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea may have long term anti-arrhythmic properties mediated by antioxidant effects and antagonism of adenosine,” Kistler said. “In numerous population-based studies, patients who regularly consume coffee and tea at moderate levels have a lower lifetime risk of developing heart rhythm problems and possibly improved survival.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Spikes in air pollution can heighten risk of chest infections, research suggests

Even short-term increases in air pollution are linked to a higher risk of developing viral chest infections that turn into conditions such as bronchiolitis, new research suggests.

The study, carried out by scientists in the US, looked at levels of tiny particles in the air known as PM2.5s across eight locations along the Wasatch Front in Utah, including Salt Lake City. This area features a string of towns and is home the majority of the state’s population and, due to various factors, experiences large variations in air pollution.

The team then looked at the number of people who turned up at local healthcare centres and hospitals and were diagnosed with acute lower respiratory infections during the same period of time.

The results, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, reveal that an increase in diagnoses of such infectionsappears to follow an uptick in air pollution in the previous weeks.

“There may be some connection between air pollution and lower acute respiratory infections, whether it is that air pollution causes the airway to become more susceptible to infection, or once you are infected it may cause the body to respond less vigorously to the infection,” said Dr Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, adding that it could also be that high pollution drives people to stay indoors, increasing the chance of passing infections around.

The team analysed healthcare data from more than 146,000 individuals who were diagnosed with an acute lower respiratory infection between 1999 and 2016. More than three quarters of diagnoses were made in children under the age of two years old, the majority of whom had bronchiolitis. In some cases, the infections proved deadly: 26 children and 81 adults died within a month of diagnosis.

The reason for the high proportion of young children, said Horne, might be down them being more vulnerable to infections or adults being more likely to nurse their own infections at home.

After taking into account factors such as the day of the week, the season and the weather, the team found that for every 10µg/m³ increase in PM2.5s, the odds of ending up with an acute lower respiratory infection at some point in the following four weeks rose by 15-32%, depending on the individual’s age.

The team found the increase in risk was higher for those in emergency care or admitted as an inpatient than it was for outpatients – suggesting that air pollution might be linked to more severe infections.

Horne said the findings suggest that preventive measures such as avoiding areas of high traffic or increasing hand washing after a pollution spike might reduce the risk of infection.

Prof Paul Cullinan, an expert in environmental respiratory disease at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, welcomed the research, but said the study had a number of limitations, including that it did not show air pollution caused the infections, and did not take into account socioeconomic status.

But Cullinan said the study was valuable since there had been little research into whether there is a link between air pollution and respiratory infections. “This is one of the few,” he said.

Spikes in air pollution can heighten risk of chest infections, research suggests

Even short-term increases in air pollution are linked to a higher risk of developing viral chest infections that turn into conditions such as bronchiolitis, new research suggests.

The study, carried out by scientists in the US, looked at levels of tiny particles in the air known as PM2.5s across eight locations along the Wasatch Front in Utah, including Salt Lake City. This area features a string of towns and is home the majority of the state’s population and, due to various factors, experiences large variations in air pollution.

The team then looked at the number of people who turned up at local healthcare centres and hospitals and were diagnosed with acute lower respiratory infections during the same period of time.

The results, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, reveal that an increase in diagnoses of such infectionsappears to follow an uptick in air pollution in the previous weeks.

“There may be some connection between air pollution and lower acute respiratory infections, whether it is that air pollution causes the airway to become more susceptible to infection, or once you are infected it may cause the body to respond less vigorously to the infection,” said Dr Benjamin Horne, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, adding that it could also be that high pollution drives people to stay indoors, increasing the chance of passing infections around.

The team analysed healthcare data from more than 146,000 individuals who were diagnosed with an acute lower respiratory infection between 1999 and 2016. More than three quarters of diagnoses were made in children under the age of two years old, the majority of whom had bronchiolitis. In some cases, the infections proved deadly: 26 children and 81 adults died within a month of diagnosis.

The reason for the high proportion of young children, said Horne, might be down them being more vulnerable to infections or adults being more likely to nurse their own infections at home.

After taking into account factors such as the day of the week, the season and the weather, the team found that for every 10µg/m³ increase in PM2.5s, the odds of ending up with an acute lower respiratory infection at some point in the following four weeks rose by 15-32%, depending on the individual’s age.

The team found the increase in risk was higher for those in emergency care or admitted as an inpatient than it ws for outpatients – suggesting that air pollution might be linked to more severe infections.

Horne said the findings suggest that preventive measures such as avoiding areas of high traffic or increasing hand washing after a pollution spike might reduce the risk of infection.

Prof Paul Cullinan, and expert in environmental respiratory disease at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, welcomed the research, but said the study had a number of limitations, including that it did not show air pollution caused the infections, and did not take into account socioeconomic status.

But Cullinan said the study was valuable since there had been little research into whether there is a link between air pollution and respiratory infections. “This is one of the few,” he said.

A child’s gender can be detected in their speech from age five, research says

University of Minnesota academics say boys and girls pick up speech cues from adults around them, resulting in differences

kids playing different roles in costumes


The team also found that adults heard differences in the speech of boys who prefer male friends and traditionally ‘male’ toys compared with boys who prefer friends of the opposite sex and toys culturally associated with girls. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The gender of children can be picked up from their speech from as young as five years old, researchers have revealed.

While male and female children have no physiological reason for sounding different before puberty, when changes to the larynx kick in, researchers say boys and girls pick up telltale speech cues from adults around them, resulting in perceptible differences in their speech.

The team also found that adults heard differences in the speech of boys who prefer male friends and traditionally “male” toys compared with boys who prefer friends of the opposite sex and toys culturally associated with girls. Some of the boys in the latter group had received a diagnosis of gender identity disorder (GID) based on behaviours such as playing with toys traditionally associated with girls, or wanting to wear female clothes or be called by a female name. Gender dysphoria, the currently used term, is now diagnosed only when such behaviour is distressing to the child.

“Even as young as five years of age, those boys are rated as sounding less prototypically boy-like than the boys without the diagnosis, and they are rated as sounding more girl-like” said Prof Ben Munson from the University of Minnesota, who is presenting the work at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas.

The findings are based on research by Munson and colleagues involving 96 children aged between five and 13, who were recorded saying particular words. The team asked adults to listen to the recordings, and rate them on a six point scale as to whether the voices sounded more male or female.

Looking at 28 children without a GID diagnosis, the results reveal that on average boys and girls differed by about one point on the scale for comparable ages. What’s more, on average a difference of about a third of a point was seen between boys with and without a diagnosis, with 25 boys in each group.

Delving deeper using computer software to analyse the speech sounds, the team found that besides perhaps more obvious acoustic factors such as pitch, the way in which children pronounced an “s” appeared to be linked to whether listeners thought the voice was that of a boy or girl.

The team found that adults rated boys who pronounced an “s” in a very crisp, hyper-correct manner as sounding less prototypically boy-like.

“This makes sense because that is the very same ‘s’ that is characteristic of gay male speech styles in the adult population,” said Munson, drawing on something he had identified in previous research.

But the team also found that boys who pronounced an “s” with a lisp were also considered to sound less prototypically boy-like.

That, said Munson, was surprising.

“We never see [that pronunciation] in adult men in gay populations or really in adult men very much at all, or women for that matter,” he said . “But what we do find is that they are very prevalent in stereotypical portrayal of gay men’s speech.”

Munson suggests the findings could help researchers understand where the lisp stereotype comes from, although he noted that the study was based on a self-selected sample of children.

“Perhaps the reason that we see a higher incidence of the [lisp] in these kids is because the parents were troubled by it because the parents themselves had this stereotype in their minds,” he said.

The team say that when they looked to see which boys were making which pronunciations, they found boys with the GID diagnosis were indeed more likely to pronounce an “s” sound either with a lisp or in a hyper-correct manner, with the former more common in younger boys and the latter more common when the boys were older.

Munson said the study pushed back against traditional theories of language acquisition that, until recently, have suggested that early in life children do not select who they try to copy, but come up with an average of what they have listened to.

“It is evidence that children are picking and choosing among the people they encounter during language acquisition and that they are coming to emulate those people,” he said.

“The take-home message is language variation is pervasive. Seemingly subtle variation in language can convey social meanings learnt from a very early age,” he added.

While Munson said gender dysphoria/GID is a good predictor of who is going to grow up to be a adult gay man, he rejected concerns that speech traits in childhood could be used to predict future sexual orientation, noting there are no long term studies in the area.

Instead, he said, understanding why children pick up sounds from certain people could help researchers aid children who have difficulties learning language.