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The East African : Dec 1st 2014
38 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK NOVEMBER 29 - DECEMBER 5, 2014 S CI E N C E said. “Pubertal changes cause early maturing girls to feel badly about themselves, cope less effectively with social problems, affiliate with deviant peers, enter riskier and more stressful social contexts and experience disruption and conflict within their relationships.” Early maturation did not appear Youth who entered puberty ahead of their peers were vulnerable to a number of risks that were associated with depression. Picture: File Early puberty increases risk of depression in youth Boys have a poo≥e≥ self-image, anxiety, social p≥oblems including conflict with family By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent Y outh who enter puberty ahead of their peers are at heightened risk of depression, although the disease develops differently in girls, a new study suggests. Researchers at the University of Illinois say that early maturation triggers an array of psychological, social-behavioural and interpersonal difficulties that predict elevated levels of depression in boys and girls several years later. In their study, the researchers measured pubertal timing and tracked levels of depression among more than 160 youth over four years. During their early teenage years, the youth in the study completed annual questionnaires and interviews that assessed their psychological risk factors, interpersonal stressors and coping behaviours. Parents also reported on their chil- dren’s social relationships and difficulties. Published online in the journal Development and Psychopathology, the study is the first research project to confirm that early puberty heightens the risk of depression in both sexes over time and to explain the underlying mechanisms. “It is often believed that going through puberty earlier than peers only contributes to depression in girls,” said Karen Rudolph a psychology professor at the University of Illinois and study leader. “We found that early maturation can also be a risk for boys as they progress through adolescence, but the timing is different in girls.” The study also found that youth who entered puberty ahead of their peers were vulnerable to a number of risks that were associated with depression. They had poorer selfimages, greater anxiety, social problems, including conflict with family members and peers; and tended to befriend peers who were prone to getting into trouble, the researchers found. Levels of depression among ear- ly-maturing girls were elevated at the beginning of the study and remained stable over the next three years. These adverse effects were per- sistent in early maturing girls, who remained at a distinct disadvantage, even as peers caught up with them in physical development. “In girls, early maturation seems to trigger immediate psychological and environmental risks and consequent depression,” Prof Rudolph “Only some teens are vulnerable to the effects of early maturation, particularly those with more disruption in their families.” Prof Karen Rudolph, study leader to have these immediate adverse effects on boys, who showed significantly lower levels of depression at the outset than their female counterparts. However, these differences dissipated over time, such that by the end of the fourth year, early maturing boys didn’t differ significantly from their female counterparts in their levels of depression. “While early maturation seemed to protect boys from the challenges of puberty initially, boys experienced an emerging cascade of personal and contextual risks — negative self-image, anxiety, social problems and interpersonal stress — that eventuated in depression as they moved through adolescence,” noted Prof Rudolph. According to the researchers, although the study examined the risk factors as independent measures, it is possible that these elements mutually reinforce each other over time. “But it’s important to note, as we find in our work, that only some teens are vulnerable to the effects of early maturation, particularly those with more disruption in their families and less support in their peer relationships,” said Prof Rudolph. A previous study in the US Jour- nal of Paediatrics found that boys are showing signs of puberty as early as age nine. According to the study, some boys’ genitals begin to enlarge while others manifest pubic hair between the ages of 10 and 11.5. The researchers found that African American boys’ testes enlarge six months to two years earlier than white or Hispanic boys. However, the study showed that the factors associated with earlier physical development in girls, such as overweight and certain endocrine disrupters, are not associated with the early onset of puberty in boys, and could even have a delaying effect. Teams pitch ideas fo≥ Ebola p≥otective suits in USAid challenge By MOHANA RAVINDRANATH The Washington Post ON A RECENT Friday, several inventors gathered in downtown Washington with suitcases and coolers full of prototypes designed to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus. A group of Columbia University undergradu- ates — juniors in biomedical engineering — had manufactured protective suits intended to keep health-care workers from overheating. Fairfax start-up Qore Performance repurposed its wearable cooling pack, originally produced for athletes, to fit into such protective suits. About 25 teams were pitching their ideas to a panel of judges from the US Agency for International Development, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Defense Department as part of USAid’s “Ebola Grand Challenge” — a request for technology that could slow the deadly virus in exchange for a grant of up to $5 million. The agencies are search- they are especially vulnerable to the virus at the moment when they remove the suit, according to USAid. USAid administrator Rajiv Shah said that after he returned from overseeing the agency’s Ebola response in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, “It was clear to me if we had better tools and technology that were developed for this purpose, we could be even more efficient and effective.” This is the latest of USAid’s grand challenges, Healthworkers wearing Ebola suits that cause overheating in humid climates. Picture: File ing in particular for a more advanced suit that can protect healthcare workers from Ebola. Especially in the hot, humid climates in affected parts of West Africa, workers struggle to keep protective suits on for more than 40 minutes because of dehydration and overheating, and which began in 2011. An earlier round sought solutions for maternal death during childbirth in developing countries, for instance. USaid is reviewing the submissions — about 1,250 so far — much faster than it did in previous challenges, to ensure that products to help the fight against Ebola are deployed in affected areas in the next few months, said Wendy Taylor, director of the agency’s Centre for Accelerating Innovation. USAid plans to help selected teams create prototypes and mass-produce the designs. BRIEFS Ebola outbreak ‘now stable’ in Guinea The Ebola outbreak is now “stable” in Guinea, where the latest crisis began, the World Health Organisation has said. WHO added that although there were still some flare-ups in the south-east, things were improving in other prefectures. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon the outbreak can be ended by mid-2015 if the world speeds up its response. But he warned that although the rate of new cases was slowing in parts of West Africa, Mali — where six people have died and a seventh case has been reported — was now of deep concern. Researchers now able to prevent chikungunya Researchers at the Medical Research Council, University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, in collaboration with colleagues at the Institut Pasteur, France, have identified a pathway in the mosquito that could be targeted to prevent transmission of the mosquito-borne tropical chikungunya virus. They have identified the RNA interference pathway as having the greatest potential for future antiviral interventions. Once a pathway is identified, scientists will look for ways of breaking the transmission chain through genetic modification. Mentally taxing jobs good for memory retention Lawyers consulting in a court. Pic: File People with mentally taxing jobs, including lawyers and graphic designers, may end up having better memory in old age, research reported in Neurology Journal suggests. A study of more than 1,000 Scottish 70-year olds found that those who had had complex jobs scored better on memory and thinking tests. One theory is a more stimulating environment helps build up a “cognitive reserve” to help buffer the brain against age-related decline. Study points out spot in brain for Alzheimers The brain has a weak spot for Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia, according to UK scientists who have pinpointed the region using scans. The brain area involved develops late in adolescence and degenerates early during ageing. At the moment, it is difficult for doctors to predict which people might develop either condition. The findings, in the journal PNAS, hint at a potential way to diagnose those at risk earlier, experts say.
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