Trending News Today: DNA Tests for Genetic Predisposition of Diseases Does Not Change Health Habits

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

A novel, low-cost treatment could potentially save thousands of newborn lives each year, according to NPR. The answer lies in probiotic bacteria, which dramatically reduced the risk of newborns developing sepsis in a recent study. More than 600,000 babies die of blood infections each year, and sepsis is a top killer of newborns worldwide. Lead investigator Dr Pinaki Panigraphi hypothesized that probiotic bacteria may be the key, but finding the best strain of bacteria to protect against sepsis was challenging. For the study, investigators screened more than 280 strains in preliminary animal and human studies and found a strain of Lactobacillus plantarum to be the most promising. Thousands of babies in rural India were feed the microbes for 1 week, along with some sugars to feed the microbes. The results of the study showed a 40% decrease in the risk of death and sepsis, dropping from 9% to 5.4%. Furthermore, the probiotic warded off several other infections, NPR reported. Respiratory infections dropped by approximately 30%. The only significant adverse event to the treatment was abdominal distension, which occurred in 6 babies; however, more cases were reported in the placebo group compared with the probiotic group. The investigators estimate the cost of probiotic treatment to be only $1 per baby.

DNA testing for disease risk has gained traction in the United States, but scientific evidence reveals these tests may not change health habits. According to The Associated Press, these DNA tests typically assess an individual’s genetic predisposition for developing a disease, but do not provide absolute predictions about whether the disease will emerge or not. An analysis published last year combined 18 studies of individuals who received physician-ordered DNA test results about disease risks. The findings showed that obtaining DNA information produced no significant effect on diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, sun protection, or attending disease-screening programs. Dr James Lu, co-founder of Helix, told the AP that evidence on whether individuals change their lifestyles in response to DNA information is mixed, but it is more likely if they receive the right information, education, and support.

Scientists are developing a novel tool that uses a “signature” of molecules in patients’ blood to diagnose Lyme disease, according to The Associated Press. An estimated 300,000 individuals are infected with Lyme disease in the United States each year. When left untreated, it can cause serious complications, including swollen joints and arthritis, issues with concentration and memory, and even an irregular heartbeat. Current tests on the market often miss early Lyme and are considered no more than 40% accurate in the first few weeks of infection. The new approach seeks out a biochemical fingerprint to show the body is beginning to respond to an infection longer before antibodies mobilize, according to the AP. The investigators warned that the test will take several more years of research.