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Marked by anxiety

SCIENCE | Scientists hope a blood test can improve treatment


Marked by anxiety
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Doctors often prescribe medications for anxiety, but some drugs can be addictive. Now researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine say they’ve developed a blood test that can detect anxiety and potentially help match patients with nonaddictive treatments.

In their research, published March 7 in Molecular Psychiatry, the scientists analyzed patient biomarker data. First, they measured differences in blood gene expression between psychiatric patients with self-reported low or high anxiety. Second, they evaluated the statistical significance of these biomarkers in patients with clinically severe anxiety. Third, the 95 biomarkers shown to significantly affect patients’ anxiety were mapped to clinical outcomes.

The researchers discovered a new biomarker, ERCC6L2, that was strongly linked to high anxiety, and they found that 18 biomarkers could help predict the likelihood of future anxiety disorders. They said doctors could also use the biomarker info to predict optimal treatment options.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is also developing a predictive test. Its method, relying on a supercomputer to crunch patient data, aims to tell with 75-80 percent accuracy which kids will develop anxiety.

Bee a learner

The humble bumblebee may be smarter than you suppose. A new study from Queen Mary University of London, published March 7 in PLOS Biology, shows how bumblebees use social cues to learn and spread new behaviors.

In the study, biologists trained demonstrator Bombus terrestris bumblebees to operate a two-option puzzle box. Pushing a red tab clockwise—or a blue tab counterclockwise—unveiled a sugar reward.

During the training, observer bees simply watched. Later, when observer bees attempted to open the box, the vast majority (98.6 percent) chose the same method as the demonstrator bee.

A control experiment that lacked demonstrator bees confirmed the idea that the bumblebees relied more heavily on social cues than instinct. While observer bees with a demonstrator opened a median of 28 boxes per day, control bees lacking a demonstrator opened a median of just one box a day. —H.F.


Diabetic surge in children and teens

Research continues to show a long-term diabetes surge among American youth ages 19 and younger. In an analysis spanning 2002-2018 and published Feb. 28 in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, researchers noted a 2 percent annual increase in Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes, and a 5.3 percent annual increase in Type 2 (adult) diabetes. In December, researchers ­projected Type 2 diabetes among youth could increase nearly 700 percent by 2060. —H.F.

Heather Frank

Heather is a science correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the University of Maryland, and Carnegie Mellon University. She has worked in both food and chemical product development, and currently works as a research chemist. Heather resides with her family in Pittsburgh, Pa.


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