Study: Some People ‘Hardwired’ for Chronic Pain

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What our age may or may not say about our health, why some people may be “hardwired” to experience chronic pain, and a possible explanation for the ice geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Rabiah Mayas from the Museum of Science and Industry joins “Chicago Tonight” to examine these stories and more. 

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Study on Aging Rethinks Traditional Views of ‘Healthy’

(Tony Alter / Flickr) (Tony Alter / Flickr)

By most medical standards, being healthy means you’re not battling a major disease like cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. But a new study of older adults from the University of Chicago questions this traditional method of measuring health.

The problem, the study posits, is that by defining health as the absence of chronic diseases, key factors like well-being are overlooked. For the study, researchers used what they called a comprehensive model of health and aging, which includes such things as health behaviors, psychological health and mobility. Each of the factors were assessed at the beginning of the study and then five years later on a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 people ranging in age from 57 to 85.

In analyzing the data, researchers discovered participants could be organized into six distinct health classes based on different patterns of health and well-being. Some of these health classes are more complex than others. Obesity, for example, is typically viewed as a severe health risk: a person is grossly overweight, immobile and has diabetes and/or hypertension.

But researchers found that not all people who are overweight epitomize this description or fit into the same class of "obese." In fact, while the findings show some participants fall into a health class characterized by a traditional view of obesity, roughly 22 percent of obese older adults are among the healthiest in the general population.

People in this class were the least likely of all to die or become incapacitated within five years. Findings showed these people were healthier than adults of a normal weight who have one minor condition that’s not life-threatening like arthritis or peptic ulcers. Find out more from Martha McClintock, the lead author of the study.

Cost of Food Allergy Prevention, Treatment Leads Low-income Kids to Emergency Room

A recent study revealed that low-income families of children with food allergies spend two-and-a-half times more on emergency department care and hospitalizations.

Researchers at Northwestern University posit that this could be due to costs for special allergen-free foods and epinephrine auto injectors. While allergy prevention is considered the first line of defense, researchers discovered that food-allergic children from low-income families were less likely of being diagnosed by a physician.

They recommend that pediatricians work with families to teach them how to recognize allergic reactions, as well as how and when to use epinephrine. 

Some “Hardwired” for Chronic Pain

Researchers at Northwestern University and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago shed some light on why some people develop chronic pain and others don’t following an injury or illness.

Some people are genetically predisposed to chronic pain due to brain abnormalities that increase their risk of developing chronic pain, researchers say.

According to their findings, MRI brain scans of participants revealed that people who developed chronic pain from a back injury had a smaller hippocampus and amygdala compared to healthy subjects and those who recovered from injury. The hippocampus is responsible for memory formation and retention, while the amygdala processes emotions and fear.

“As the anatomical risk factors were stable across three years, they were presumably hardwired and present prior to the event initiating back pain,” said first study author Etienne Vachon-Presseau, PhD, a visiting postdoctoral fellow in physiology at Feinberg. “These results pave the way for the development of novel and distinct approaches to prevention and treatment of chronic pain.”

What’s causing icy eruptions on one of Saturn’s moons?

In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft found that geysers were continuously erupting on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, and a new computer model explains why.

On Enceladus, which likely has an ocean below its icy surface, has fissures along its south pole that continuously emit vapor and frost particles. That’s different than a geyser eruption on Earth, which typically doesn’t continue this long.

Scientists at the University of Chicago and Princeton University discovered “cyclical tidal stresses” caused by Saturn drive these eruptions. They’re not quite sure how the network of fissures doesn’t freeze over with its own frost. But the scientists found that some sort of tidal activity or energy is pumping water in and out of the fissures.  

White House Launches the National Microbiome Initiative

The White House Office of Science and Technology has launched the National Microbiome Initiative. The goal is to better understand microbiomes and what sorts of applications they could have in health care, food production and environmental restoration.

According to the NMI, “microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, lakes, rocks and the atmosphere.” Recent findings have given us a different biological picture of the world, which understands animals and plants are “meta-organisms” made up of one or more microbial species.

With its $121 million in federal funding, the initiative will support further interdisciplinary research, develop new technologies and expand the public understanding of microbiomes.

New Movement Aims to Make Hay with a “Nation of Makers”

The White House wants to celebrate the country’s history of “tinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs” with the National Week of Making in June.

This so-called “Maker Movement” calls on students, entrepreneurs and anyone with a technological know-how to share their new inventions, like 3-D printers, laser cutters, software design and more. 

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