February’s medical research highlights

Last month saw many interesting articles published across BioMed Central’s medical journals. In case you missed them, here we take a look at the editor's picks for February.

Leukemia profiling

Leukemia – cancer that usually starts in the bone marrow and results in large numbers of abnormal white blood cells – currently affects around 327,000 people in the US.

The overall survival rate for those affected by leukemia has quadrupled over the last 50 years, thanks to the development of effective treatments. In recent years, gene expression profiling has emerged as an effective tool to detect diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers to help guide clinical decision making in patients with leukemia.

In a study published in BMC Bioinformatics, Erdogan Taskesen and colleagues from the Delft Bioinformatics Lab investigated whether using gene expression and DNA methylation profiling together can improve the detection of different subtypes of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The authors showed that using these two profiling techniques together improved prediction of molecular abnormalities in AML compared with using either alone.

Molecular profiling of leukemia is explored further in a review article published in Journal of Hematology and Oncology, where Veronica Balatti et al. reviewed the roles of microRNAs in the development and progression of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and discuss the potential for identifying new biomarkers and treatment approaches.

Molecular understanding of breast cancer

MicroRNAs are involved in many types of cancer, and recent research published in Genome Medicine provides further evidence for their role in protein deregulation in breast cancer.

Authors from the Oslo Breast Cancer Research Consortium created a map of interactions between microRNAs and proteins, which suggested that several microRNAs deregulate the expression of proteins in breast cancer, and thus could be involved in the pathogenesis of the disease.

While molecular subtyping is used in the breast cancer clinic to guide treatment decisions, increasing evidence suggests that the disease is more complex than previously thought, and improved understanding of the genetic subtypes is required to establish more personalized treatments.

To address some limitations of subtyping techniques in current use, Sylvia Plevritis and colleagues presented a new approach for gene centering – a method used to center gene expression values in a particular cohort prior to molecular subtyping.

The research, published in Breast Cancer Research, shows that a subgroup-specific centering method enables more accurate disease classification compared with standard centering techniques. These findings could be used to inform breast cancer classification and improve treatment outcomes in the future.

Better reporting of research

Reporting checklist
Reporting checklist

Many studies in biomedical research involve the use of bioresources – collections of biological samples with associated data – and it is important that the use of such resources is reported in a standardized way.

In a guideline article published in BMC Medicine, Elena Bravo and colleagues present CoBRA, the first guideline to introduce standardized citation of bioresources in scientific literature.

In an editorial published in Trials, Doug Altman from the University of Oxford discusses the importance of structured reporting in research articles, highlighting innovative approaches for more structured reporting of study methods and key findings.

Alcohol risks

Alcohol abuse has long been associated with adverse health effects including depression, cancer, and heart disease, but the consumption of some alcohol in moderation has also been linked to health benefits.

In a research article published in Arthritis Research & Therapy, Stella Muthuri and colleagues from Nottingham University investigated the association between alcohol consumption and osteoarthritis (OA). The authors found that while beer consumption is a risk factor for knee and hip OA, wine has a negative association with knee OA.

While the mechanisms behind the apparent protective effect of wine in OA are unclear, these results emphasize the importance of avoiding excessive beer consumption in this patient group.

To reduce the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, it is important to understand attitudes towards drinking in different cultures. To address this issue, a questionnaire-based study published in BMC Public Health investigated gender-specific patterns of alcohol use in Nigeria.

The results revealed that men see alcohol as ‘good for males’, while women believe that alcohol ‘does not discriminate gender’ and should be drunk by both males and females, showing how gendered constructions of alcohol consumption create risks for both sexes.

Advances in rehabilitation and recovery

Illustration of the ankle exoskeleton.
Illustration of the ankle exoskeleton.
Takahashi et al., Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

Increasing evidence suggests that early mobilization is important to improve recovery in the intensive care unit (ICU) and reduce ICU-acquired weakness.

In a study published in Critical Care, the TEAM research program revealed that early mobilization is not common across ICUs in Australia and New Zealand despite physiotherapists being available, and more than 50% of patients are discharged with ICU-acquired weakness as a result. The authors conclude that early mobilization trials should be designed to help improve patient outcome.

Focusing on movement rehabilitation post-stroke, authors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a neuromechanics-based powered ankle exoskeleton. In a feasibility study published in Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation, the exoskeleton was found to enhance ankle movement, suggesting its potential to improve ankle joint function in patients recovering from stroke.

All articles discussed in this blog are open access, and are freely available at www.biomedcentral.com.

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