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Early-stage human kidneys grown in pigs for first time

By Mitch Leslie, Science

While successful kidney transplants from pig-grown organs to human patients have been making recent headlines, there are still a lot of problems. If the patient survives through and past surgery, they must stay on immunosuppressive drugs to ensure that their body doesn’t reject the transplant. However, in September 2023, a paper from a research team at the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health showed that, for the first time, they could successfully grow preliminary kidney structures made from genetically modified stem cells in pig embryos. 

Some researchers believe that, within a decade, this line of research may evolve into the ability to fully grow human-compatible kidneys in pigs. However, there are many obstacles. For one, the early-stage kidney was just that: early stage, with the fetuses spending only one month in utero. A successful model will survive birth and beyond. Additionally, only around two-thirds of the cells in the kidney were human. While this is impressive, because no kidney cells were directly implanted into the embryo —meaning that the stem cells were able to correctly differentiate into cell type — a human body would likely reject an organ with one-third non-human cells. There is also some concern about incorrect differentiation, as some human cells were found in the central nervous system of the embryos. Only time will tell where this line of research will head, but it’s a promising lead for future patients needing a kidney transplant.

by Katie Stachowicz

Traumatic Brain Injuries Linked to Cognitive Decline Later in Life

By Teddy Amenabar, The Washington Post

Researchers at Duke University and the University of California at San Francisco have found that brain injuries may lead to decreased cognitive function by the age of 70. Although there has been previous research linking head injuries to cognitive impairment, this study was the first to use a twin-study design. In this twin-study, 3,594 sets of twins, including 589 pairs of identical twins, shared any head injury history and received cognitive tests every few years for more than twelve years. This study shows the importance of limiting risk of brain injury by using safety features like helmets and avoiding risky behavior.

by Ellie Purinton

Hearing Aids May Lower Risk of Cognitive Decline and Dementia

By Lydia Denworth, Scientific American

Americans are all ears when it comes to finding ways to keep the mind young and healthy, and it looks like hearing aids can help with that. Approximately 14 percent of Americans over the age of 12 years old have hearing problems, and scientists have found that even mild hearing loss may expedite cognitive decline. A randomized clinical trial by the Alzheimer’s Association that included 977 older adults with untreated hearing loss found that those who had a higher risk of developing dementia experienced a 48 percent decrease in cognitive changes if they got hearing aids. The results seem to suggest that when people can hear clearly they do not have to expend extra energy that may negatively affect cognition.

Hearing aids also help combat other problems associated with hearing loss, including increased fall risks and feelings of isolation. Evidently, being able to hear well is essential to our health. However, only 15 percent of people who may need hearing aids actually use them. After all, the devices come with a hefty price tag. New, cheaper over-the-counter hearing aids may help, but their standardized settings do not work for everyone. Plus, the price tag isn’t the only problem. Only half of those who could benefit from using a hearing aid agree that they would use them even if they could get them for free. It’s time to make the message loud and clear: Hearing clearly is even more important to our overall health than we may have heard before. 

by Jeeya Sharma

Fears of heart risks drive new interest in EKG screening for kids

By Tina Reed, Axios

Recent high-profile cardiac arrests suffered by Bronny James and Damar Hamlin have turned public attention towards heart risks for young athletes. Sudden cardiac arrest is the top medical cause of death in athletes, with a recent study indicating that 1 in 40,000 athletes die each year from the condition. 

While heart screenings, called electrocardiograms (EKGs), can’t catch every heart-related risk factor, inappropriate thickening of the heart and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are among the conditions that can be diagnosed. 

Parents of children who have suffered sudden cardiac death have been working with lawmakers to push legislation that makes EKGs mandatory for student-athletes. One such parent, Ralph Maccarone, whose son Rafe died one day after suffering cardiac arrest on the soccer field, has started the nonprofit Who We Play For. The organization advocates for increased precautions against sudden cardiac death in students and donates defibrillators to local clubs and schools. 

Similar to Maccarone’s cause, nonprofits across Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas are providing little to no-cost screenings for thousands of teens. Though access to EKGs may prevent more student-athletes from suffering cardiac-related deaths, experts caution against overusing screenings because they may drive up health costs and create unnecessary panic among families. The US Preventive Services Task Force and American Academy of Family Physicians recommend against EKGs for low-risk individuals without symptoms, pointing to little evidence showing improved health outcomes due to increased screenings. 

Athletes are often considered immune to heart-related medical diagnoses, but recent celebrity scares have shown that every athlete is susceptible no matter the age or level of fitness. Opinions on screening remain divided, with the American Heart Association warning against universal screening efforts. Regardless, cardiac arrest remains a tragic issue halting the dreams of kids striving to make it big.

by Nolan Shah

Items summarized by: Katie Stachowicz, Ellie Puriton, Jeeya Sharma, Nolan Shah