Healthy Choices

Health Bites: Notable news in science and medicine

Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting, intriguing and even oddball stories and studies from health research centers and publications. Here’s the latest:

Genetics could be key to prostate cancer

Scientists have identified common genetic mutations in men with advanced, lethal prostate cancer, which could lead to more targeted treatments.

The Institute of Cancer Research in London led the study, published last week in the scientific journal Cell. The researchers took samples from 150 patients whose prostate cancer had spread to other parts of their body.

They found that two-thirds of the men had mutations in a molecule that interacts with the male hormone androgen, which can be targeted with hormone therapies. Twenty percent of patients had mutations in a gene associated with breast cancer that doctors typically treat with drugs.

“What’s hugely encouraging is that many of the key mutations we have identified are ones targeted by existing cancer drugs,” said Johann de Bono, a professor at the Institute of Cancer Research.

Dog germs might boost human health

Those slurpy dog licks just might be good for you.

A team of researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Colorado, Boulder, are about to embark on a study of whether people who live with dogs benefit from their canine companions’ plentiful bacteria. In particular, they’re looking at whether dogs might work “as probiotics to enhance the health of bacteria that live in our guts.”

The study, slated to start this year, will pair people age 50 and older with shelter dogs over several months, according to the study’s website,

Modern medicine has eliminated plenty of disease-causing bacteria but could be destroying beneficial bacteria in our systems, too. Living with dogs might help, the researchers hypothesize. For instance, studies have shown that children raised with dogs are less prone to asthma and allergies.

Pregnant mothers of boys more prone to diabetes

Mothers who are pregnant with boys are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, while women bearing baby daughters were less likely to have elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

The findings come from a new study by University of Toronto researchers in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The study examined insurance records of 643,000 Canadian women who delivered their first child between April 2000 and March 2010.

In the United States, up to 9 percent of women develop diabetes during pregnancy, putting them at higher risk of having Type 2 diabetes later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nature sounds at work could boost moods

Office workers who listen to nature sounds, such as flowing water in a mountain stream, may be happier and more productive, according to researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The sounds, broadcast over office sound systems, also help mask conversations among co-workers and promote privacy, the study notes.

Jonas Braasch, an acoustician at Rensselaer, said in a press release the sound systems could have the same effect as building an office by the ocean where workers could hear the sound of soothing waves.

“We’re just using sonic means to achieve the same effect,” he said.