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Pregnant women sought for autism research

Expectant mothers who already have an autistic child are being sought for a study by the Autism Research Team at Western Australia’s Telethon Institute of Child Health Research. Associate Professor Andrew Whitehouse at the University of WA said his group have found that autism may be associated with enlarged head circumference and exposure to increased levels of testosterone during prenatal life. With one in every 100 people around the world affected by autism and the incidence increasing, researchers are working towards in utero detection and intervention that starts at birth. “Autism is not usually picked up until a child is between two and three years of age, often when a child is not meeting language milestones,” Whitehouse said. “If we could detect autism much earlier, we could start intervention when the course of the brain development is much easier to alter. We are also hoping to provide extra training to child-health nurses to help them identify warning-signs for autism at check-ups during the first year of life.” Whitehouse’s group is collaborating with scientists around the nation and internationally to find the cause and better treatments. “While we can’t rule out the fact that there might be something in the environment that causes autism, we also know that the increased prevalence is partly because it’s diagnosed more readily and because we know that it’s a condition that varies in severity. We are diagnosing milder cases now.”

Telehealth services for seniors and cancer patients

The elderly and cancer patients will be able to see their specialist or GP with the click of a mouse, even if they are hundreds of kilometres away. A $20.6 million pilot program starting in July will use the national broadband network to deliver telehealth services to older Australians, cancer patients and those in palliative care. Groups can apply for grants, typically of between $1 million and $3 million, to conduct two-year trials in telehealth services for patients, particularly in regional and rural areas. Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said telehealth provides patients in country areas with more options in how they receive their care. Plibersek said patients will be able to access the most appropriate care when they need it and in their own homes where they prefer it. Minister for Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy said it was wrong to assume older people did not like using technology."That the elderly will somehow suddenly not want to participate is a complete myth," he said. Aged Care Association Australia CEO Rod Young said the use of technology was vital to ensure elderly people continued to receive access to quality care." Australians have clearly indicated for many years that they wish to remain independent, in their own homes preferably for all of their lives," Young said. The government's eventual plan for the telehealth system is that it will connect homes, doctor surgeries, pharmacies, clinics, aged-care facilities and allied health professionals. It will use the trial program to get feedback on how it and other healthcare measures can be delivered nationally. Applications to participate in the program will open in the next two months. AAP

Depression linked to heart disease: study

People with depression could be at greater risk of heart disease, according to an international research team led by a Charles Sturt University researcher. Dr Robert Grenfell, national clinical issues director at the National Heart Foundation, said the study confirmed the importance of treating depression to avoid heart disease. “We know that depression, social isolation and lack of quality support is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease and this study confirms the importance of us treating it in its early stages,” he said. More than 46,000 Australians die each year from cardiovascular disease, Australia’s No.1 killer. The study found that depression seemed to change the way heart rate is controlled, which increases the risk of heart attack. The authors also found that diabetes seemed to worsen the risk of cardiac arrest in people with depression. Mild depression is associated with doubling the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and heart attack (and death from these causes), and severe depression has an even more profound effect, with up to five times the rate of cardiovascular disease compared with non-depressed people, Grenfell said. Evidence from large studies where depression appears to be adequately treated, have not shown any reversal, or improvement in the cardiovascular disease risk. Therefore, the best option is to treat depression in its early stages, he said.

Biotech centre for regenerative wound healing launched

Australian Catholic University and the O’Brien Institute have signed an agreement to establish the joint Centre for Regenerative Wound Healing in Melbourne.The new centre, based at St Vincent’s Hospital in Fitzroy, will focus on research, new technologies and healthcare initiatives in the areas of wound healing and tissue engineering. Three researchers have already started working at the new research centre in Melbourne, and a further three research associates and six PhD research scholars will be recruited this year. The agreement was signed between the two institutions in late December. Head of the O’Brien Institute, Professor Wayne Morrison, said the joint venture would help put Australia at the forefront of bringing tissue engineering to the clinic. “The presence of ACU allied health professionals and students at St Vincent’s Hospital align perfectly with O’Brien Institute’s role of translating their research into clinical applications,” he said. Professor Thomas Martin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at ACU, said the agreement would also provide both higher education career pathways and unique research training opportunities for nursing and other allied health students and professionals. “ACU has a proud and long-standing tradition of excellence in the health sciences and it is our great honour to be affiliated with the O’Brien Institute through this new venture,” he said in a statement. Martin said the new centre would benefit the global community. The O’Brien Institute is the largest surgical institute dedicated to the advancement of microsurgical reconstruction and research in the world. It was established more than 40 years ago to promote research and training in microsurgery and has been involved in operations such as Australia’s first hand transplant, the reattachment of a woman's face and the growing of a new ear.

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