Medical News Roundup: Smartphone App for Ear Infections, Low-Calorie Sweeteners Effect on Body Weight, and More

Here are the top stories covered by DocWire News this week in the Homepage section. In this week’s edition, learn about the first smartphone app that can detect ear infections in children, how low-calorie sweeteners have differing effects on body weight, how adults who played Pokémon in their youth can help us better understand the brain, and global alcohol consumption rates show no signs of decreasing.

A new smartphone application can detect ear infections in children, according to researchers from the University of Washington who published their findings in Science Translation Medicine. The app can identify fluid behind the eardrum by using a system that includes simply a piece of paper and a smartphone’s microphone and speaker. In assessing their algorithm’s efficacy, researchers tested 53 children who were scheduled to undergo either ear tube placement surgery undergo non-ear related surgeries. Results showed high accuracy in fluid detection, with the researchers saying,  “If parents could use a piece of hardware they already have to do a quick physical exam that can say ‘Your child most likely doesn’t have ear fluid’ or ‘Your child likely has ear fluid, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician,’ that would be huge.”

Low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs) have different effects on body weight, and as such, should be grouped as “distinct entities”, according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In a randomized controlled trial with a parallel-arm design, researchers recruited 154 participants from the Greater Lafayette, Indiana area from January 2016 through March 2018. Participants were arbitrarily assigned to drink 1.25-1.75 L of a beverage sweetened with one of four of the most commonly used LCSs in the US: saccharin, aspartame, rebaudioside A [rebA], and sucralose, or sucrose daily over the duration of 12 weeks. Results of the study indicate that participants who consumed sucrose and saccharin experienced an increased body weight. The authors wrote that Going forward it will be important to consider each LCS as a distinct entity with respect to its potential health effects.”

Adults who extensively played Pokémon as children, as early as five-years-old, have developed a new region in their brains which allow them to recognize characters from the game, according to a team of Stanford University researchers who published their findings in Nature Human Behavior. To conduct this study, researchers recruited participants between the ages of 18 and 44 years old (mean age, 26) and partitioned them into two groups: experienced Pokémon players and novices. All participants were then shown hundreds of Pokémon characters, and images, and a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan was administered to track their brain activity. Results indicated that experienced Pokémon players showed a higher brain response to imagery than the novices. However, among all participants was a reaction that occurred in a region of the brain (located behind the ears) called the occipitotemporal sulcus. This region generally responds to images of animals. “Overall, our study underscores the utility of developmental research, showing that visual experience beginning in childhood results in functional brain changes that are qualitatively different from plasticity in adulthood,” the authors wrote in a conclusion of their findings.

The global rate of alcohol consumption markedly increased by 70% from 1990 to 2017, and is projected to rise 17% by 2030, according to a study published in The Lancet. In this study, researchers assessed adult alcohol consumption reported yearly based on country-validated data through 2016. They forecasted 2030 consumption rates using multivariate log-normal mixture Poisson distribution models. Results of the study indicate an augmented global rate of alcohol consumption, showing that between 1990 and 2017, global adult per-capita consumption increased from 5·9 L (95% CI, 5·8 to 6·1) to 6·5 L (6·0 to 6·9), and is projected to rise by 17% and reach 7·6 L (6·5 to 10·2) by 2030. The authors said to combat alcohol consumption, Implementation of effective alcohol policies is warranted, especially in rapidly developing countries with growing rates of alcohol use.”