This Week in Research: Chemicals Harm Fetuses; Students Fight Breast Cancer

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When researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health decided to look at the effects of common environmental contaminants on fetuses, they recruited 50 pregnant women from the Baltimore area. All 50 tested positive for evidence of PCBs, DDT, pesticides, and other chemical contaminants — many of which have been banned for decades. And wealthier women had greater concentrations of chemicals than women of lower socioeconomic status.

This is bad news, since the study also showed that the more the moms were exposed, the greater effect the chemicals seemed to have on the fetuses. The babies of the women who had highest levels of contamination moved more frequently and vigorously, but without the attendant heart rate accelerations that are a sign of healthy development.

“These results show that the developing fetus is susceptible to environmental exposures and that we can detect this by measuring fetal neurobehavior,” said Janet DiPietro, Johns Hopkins developmental psychologist and lead author of the study. “This is yet more evidence for the need to protect the vulnerable developing brain from effects of environmental contaminants both before and after birth.”

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A group of Johns Hopkins graduate students may have just made life a lot easier for breast cancer patients and the surgeons who operate on them, thanks to a new invention that will help cut down on multiple surgeries.

The device — which as of now only exists as a prototype — helps pathologists inspect breast tissue mid-surgery in order to determine whether the entire tumor has been removed. That’s a big deal, since one-fifth of women who have surgery to remove tumors in their breasts have to go back for follow-up procedures because some diseased tissue remains.

The students who made the prototype have received more than $40,000 in prize money from the university for their invention. While two graduated this past May, they’ve received funding to stay at Hopkins for another year to further develop the device.



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