Author: Melissa Jeltsen

A (newfound) appetite for life

What would it be like to live your whole life, unable to eat food? Read about Gwen Lorimier, a patient who couldn’t eat until an intestinal transplant offered her a chance at a normal childhood.

For as long as she can remember, Gwen Lorimier, now 8, wanted nothing more intensely than the ability to eat. To chomp down on a steaming hotdog. To lick vanilla ice cream as it melted down a cone. To snack on cereal while watching cartoons with her big sister, Abby. But eating was merely a fantasy for Gwen. Since the age of 1, her body had mysteriously refused to digest food. To stay alive, Gwen received all her calories and nutrition through an IV. Nothing could pass through her mouth without causing excruciating pain—not even water.

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School refusal: A ‘sore throat’ or something more?

It’s time to get dressed for school and your daughter is giving you that sad face—again. “I don’t feel well,” she moans, although she was perfectly fine last night. When you try and convince her to get up, a look of sheer terror crosses her face. You’d let her stay home but this is the fifth time this month—and aside from her complaints, she’s not displaying any other symptoms. So what’s going on?

“School refusal, which affects around 4 percent of school-aged children, refers to a child who refuses to attend school and who identifies home as safer and more secure place,” says Jayne Singer, PhD, clinical psychologist in Children’s Hospital Boston’s Developmental Medicine Center. While it’s not unusual for children to make excuses to avoid going to school, when it becomes commonplace or even chronic, children risk falling behind in academics and social development.

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Game-changer for stem cell research

Three years ago, scientists developed a technique to reprogram adult human cells into stem cells, which could then be studied like embryonic stem cells. Hailed as one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the decade, it gave researchers access to embryo-like cells while avoiding the sticky ethical issues that accompany the use of cells from human embryos. However, the method for making iPS cells is not only highly inefficient, but poses a risk for cancer.

But now, in a game-changing scientific breakthrough, Children’s Hospital Boston researchers have discovered a new way to reprogram cells into stem cells, using RNAs, which appears safer and much more efficient than current methods—and can much more readily transform stem cells into specialized cells to treat disease. What does this mean for patients and families who might benefit from stem cell research? Check out Children’s new science and innovation blog, Vector, for a more detailed discussion. For a primer on stem cell science, take a peek at Children’s stem cell website.

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Drug safety information goes mobile

If you or your kids take multiple medications, it can be hard enough to just get the dosing and timing straight, let alone keep up-to-date on new information about drug recalls and side effects. The web—with all its infinite knowledge—can be a confusing place. But now, a new online application makes it a snap for patients to stay educated about the drugs they’re taking—and report any problems in real time. The application, called Medwatcher, lets users track the latest safety updates from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on specific drugs of interest, as well as read relevant media stories about the drugs. Importantly, it also makes it easier to report adverse events—negative effects from a medication or treatment.

“It’s well-known that the current framework for finding bad drugs—the next Avandia, for example—is problematic,” says John Brownstein, PhD, of Children’s Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP), who helped develop the application. “The goal is to put information directly into the hands of patients and physicians who are on the go, so they can be educated and able to report events quickly.”

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