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Scholarship & Creative Work

Report examines parents’ concern regarding Internet predators, privacy, porn

A report released by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health shows that parents across the United States have a wide range of concerns about the safety of their children’s lives online.

Eighty-one percent of parents report their children, ages 9-17, use the Internet and access Web sites without adult supervision. Forty-six percent of parents report children ages 9-17, who access the Internet by themselves have their own social networking profiles on sites like Facebook, MySpace and BlackPlanet. Among children, ages 13-17, who access the Internet, 66 percent have their own profiles.

Of parents with kids online, nearly two-thirds are concerned (32 percent very concerned) about online sexual predators. Similarly, about two-thirds of parents are concerned about loss of privacy (22 percent very concerned) and about one-half (21 percent are very concerned) about their children viewing pornographic material.

In contrast, smaller proportions of parents are concerned about their online kids playing games (35 percent), being the victims of cyber bullying (31 percent), or gambling (17 percent).

“Parents are quite aware of some online safety risks but seem less aware about others,” says Dr. Matthew Davis, director of the poll. He also is associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the Medical School and associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

“It’s not a surprise that most parents whose kids are online unsupervised are concerned about issues related to sexual predators and pornography. On the other hand, cyber bullying is a very worrisome problem for kids, yet the majority of parents say they are not concerned about it.”


Pharmacy intervention helped seriously mentally ill patients take medication

Health systems should consider pharmacy-based interventions when involving patients who have poor follow-through taking medication.

That’s according to a study appearing in the online edition of Schizophrenia Bulletin. The study was led by Dr. Marcia Valenstein, senior research scientist in the VA Health Services Research and Development Service and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical School.

“Because 40 percent of patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have difficulty taking their medications regularly, we needed to develop a low cost, practical and noncoercive way to help them become more adherent,” Valenstein says.

The study showed that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can be an invaluable part of the health care team and can help patients take their medications regularly.
The goal of this study was to determine whether MedsHelp, a pharmacy-based intervention, would improve antipsychotic adherence in patients with serious mental illnesses.

The study enrolled 118 patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in four VA facilities.

After six months of intervention, MedsHelp patients filled medications for 91 percent of outpatient days compared to 64 percent for patients receiving the usual care.
After 12 months, adherence of patients on MedsHelp intervention filled medications for 86 percent of outpatient days compared to 62 percent for patients receiving usual care.

The study concluded that a low-complexity, pharmacy-based intervention improved antipsychotic adherence among patients with serious mental illnesses, a patient population in which poor adherence is common.


Saving the single cysteine: new antioxidant system found

Researchers at U-M, along with colleagues in Belgium, have discovered a new antioxidant system that protects single cysteines, amino acids that are vulnerable to damage when not paired with other cysteines.

Our body’s proteins, which are made up of amino acids and perform essential roles, can be injured by reactive species known as oxidants. Over time, the injuries can lead to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious medical conditions. To guard against such harm, our cells have special proteins that can repair or reverse oxidative damage. But until now, no such repair system had been identified for single cysteines, which are particularly susceptible to the damage.

In the current research, Carroll and colleagues used previously developed chemical probes to investigate and nail down the mechanism involved.

“Our results reveal that a protein called DsbG serves this precise function in the periplasmic compartment in bacteria, protecting single cysteines residues from hyperoxidation and inactivation,” says Carroll, an assistant professor of chemistry and a research assistant professor in the Life Sciences Institute. The periplasmic compartment is a space between the inner and outer membranes of bacteria such as Escherichia coli, which were used in this study. Although human cells have no periplasmic compartment, they have an equivalent membrane network called the endoplasmic reticulum.

“Since proteins from the DsbG family are widespread and have been identified in the majority of genomes including humans, some of these related members may play similar roles in controlling cysteine oxidation,” Carroll says. A better understanding of these biological processes may lead to more effective antioxidant therapies.

U-M graduate student Stephen Leonard also was a co-author on the report.

The research appears in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Science.


Results are mixed for impact of No Child Left Behind Act


The first known rigorous national impact evaluation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act finds that the legislation has had mixed effects on student achievement.

The research indicates that the NCLB reforms generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of fourth-graders as well as improvements at the lower and top achievement percentiles. There also was evidence of improvements in eighth-grade math achievement, particularly among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles. However, the authors find no evidence that NCLB increased reading achievement in either fourth or eighth grade.

“The prior evidence on the achievement effects is quite limited. Earlier studies have either focused on single districts or states, relied on state developed assessments that are subject to ‘score inflation,’ or used weak research designs that confound the impact of NCLB with other social, educational and economic factors,” says Brian Jacob, a professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “We believe this new research sheds much-needed light on the results of what was arguably the most far-reaching education policy initiative of the last 40 years.”

Jacob wrote the study with co-author Thomas Dee from Swarthmore College.
Using panel data on multiple student-outcome measures from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Jacob and Dee compared changes over time in states that had no prior school-accountability system like that required by NCLB and those that did.

In addition to analyzing average effects, the researchers looked at impacts separately by race, gender and free-lunch eligibility. They found that the policy generated only modestly larger impacts among disadvantaged subgroups in math and therefore only made minimal headway in closing achievement gaps.


Scientists take atomic-level look at HIV accomplice

Since the discovery in 2007 that a component of human semen called SEVI boosts infectivity of the virus that causes AIDS, researchers have been trying to learn more about SEVI and how it works, in hopes of thwarting its infection-promoting activity.

Now, scientists at U-M have determined the atomic-level, three-dimensional structure of a SEVI precursor known as PAP248-286 and discovered how it damages cell membranes to make them more vulnerable to infection with HIV. The work is described in two new papers. The most recent, describing the structure, was published online Nov. 17 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The paper describing how PAP248-286 interacts with cell membranes appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of Biophysical Journal.

PAP248-286 is a peptide — a chain of amino acids not long enough to be considered a protein. Individual PAP248-286 peptides have a tendency to clump together to form amyloid fibers called SEVI (semen enhancer of viral infection). Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, researcher Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy and coworkers found that the structure of PAP248-286 is unlike that of most other amyloid-forming peptides and proteins.

In solution, SEVI is completely unstructured or has no definite shape and is therefore ineffective. Ramamoorthy and coauthors believe the spread-out, disordered configuration and its location in the cell membrane may explain the ability of SEVI fibers to enhance HIV infection.

A key finding of the second study is that PAP248-286 “shocks” the membrane, inducing a structural change — a kind of dimple that allows HIV to attach to and enter the cell.

Ramamoorthy’s coauthors on the Journal of the American Chemical Society paper are graduate student Ravi Nanga, post-doctoral fellows Jeffrey Brender and Nataliya Popovych and NMR specialist Subramanian Vivekanandan. His coauthors on the Biophysical Journal paper are Brender, graduate student Kevin Hartman, former post-doctoral fellow Lindsey Gottler, former graduate student Marchello Cavitt and biophysics undergraduate student Daniel Youngstrom.

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