The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines and our daily lives for over a year. Medical News Today has covered this fast-moving, complex story with live updates about the latest news, interviews with experts, and an ongoing investigation into the deep racial disparities that COVID-19 has helped unmask.

However, this has not stopped us from publishing hundreds of fascinating stories on a myriad of other topics.

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We begin this week’s Recovery Room with new findings of research into Parkinson’s disease that may also have wider implications for the treatment of other neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

Next comes a detailed exploration of the role that carbohydrates play in the development of diabetes. It’s a complex picture, and a low carb diet may not be the panacea that some claim it to be.

We also have two reports about the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) on medical research, as well as articles covering breakthroughs in HIV prevention, sickle cell disease reversal, and heart tissue regeneration.

Finally, we look at research confirming that a steady income is good for self-confidence but may have a minimal effect on feelings about other people.

We highlight this research below, along with several other recent stories that you may have missed amid all the COVID-19 fervor.

1. Key pathway in Parkinson’s may help treatments for cancer, diabetes

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We begin with the most-read article of the past week, with more than 124,000 page views: our report on new insights into a biochemical pathway that drives Parkinson’s disease. The discovery may help scientists develop treatments for this disease, as well as type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Parkin is a protein that plays a key role in maintaining cellular energy by removing damaged mitochondria, a process known as mitophagy. The new research indicates that the biochemical pathway that activates Parkin is shorter than previously thought, which helps explain how Parkin triggers mitophagy within minutes of cellular distress occurring.

Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and some neurodegenerative diseases stem from metabolic dysregulation in damaged mitochondria, so the Parkin pathway is likely to have a role in their progression, too.

Click below to learn more about how drugs developed to treat diabetes may also be used to treat Parkinson’s, or click here to visit our new Parkinson’s disease resource page.

Learn more here.

2. Everything to know about carbs and diabetes

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Our new article exploring the role that carbohydrates play in diabetes was also very popular, with over 117,000 page views so far this week.

First, our editors looked at the relationship between carb consumption, insulin, and blood sugar. They also explored how many carbs a person with diabetes should consume, “good” carbs, foods to include in the diet and foods to avoid, and the effects of specific diets, including a low carb diet.

The takeaway is that not all carbs are bad for a person with diabetes, but the focus should be on healthy, whole foods rather than processed foods and those high in refined sugars.

Learn more here.

3. What brain foods should kids eat?

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Good nutrition is important at every stage of life. This week, we published a new article on the critical role of nutrition in a child’s brain development, especially in the first 3 years.

Our editors first list a variety of healthy brain foods. They then share ideas for breakfasts that may help a child stay focused at school and snacks for children to try while studying. Click the link below to see the variety of foods and nutrients that should be part of every child’s diet.

Learn more here.

4. Clinical trial brings an effective HIV vaccine a step closer

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A reliable HIV vaccine has been difficult to develop because there are so many strains of the virus, around 50 million, according to one researcher involved in a new phase 1 clinical trial.

The new course of vaccines is designed to activate broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) that target a wide variety of HIV strains. Only one very rare type of immune cell is able to produce bnAbs, and the vaccine activated these naive B cells in 97% of participants who received it, according to the researchers.

This novel technique could also be used to make vaccines for other diseases that have proven challenging for vaccine developers, including malaria, influenza, and hepatitis C.

Learn more here.

5. Researchers use AI to predict protein errors linked to Alzheimer’s and cancer

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Two of this week’s articles highlighted how AI is being deployed to aid medical research.

First, we described ways that researchers are using powerful learning algorithms to model and predict how proteins behave in human cells. Existing AI technology used to process natural language was adapted to see if it could also predict protein “language” and expression.

The researchers made the technique available on a new web application, linked to in our article, that allows scientists to submit a protein sequence and view its predicted behavior.

Learn more here.

6. AI identifies 3 new multiple sclerosis subtypes

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We also reported on how AI is being used to analyse the brain scans of thousands of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) in an effort to learn more about the disease.

The AI program, called SuStaIn, performed an unsupervised analysis of the brain scans and detected patterns that might otherwise have been missed. As a result, three new subtypes of the disease were identified, each presenting as different types of abnormalities in the brain.

These subtypes could be used to predict a person’s response to different treatments. If this finding is supported by more clinical research, it could help ensure that the correct therapy is given at the correct time.

Learn more here.

7. Can a drug turn back the clock in sickle cell disease?

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This week, we reported on a new study that concludes that a drug that appears to reverse sickle cell disease in mice is safe for humans. The drug candidate, called FTX-6058, restored the ability to produce fetal hemoglobin.

Around 1 in 365 Black people in the U.S. are born with sickle cell disease, which is relatively rare in white people. Currently, the only cure is a stem cell or bone marrow transplant, but these are very risky. FTX-6058 will now be used in a phase 2 clinical trial that includes people with sickle cell disease, for the first time, by the end of this year.

Learn more here.

8. Heart attack: How can we regenerate damaged tissue?

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Unlike humans, adult zebra fish regenerate their hearts and other organs after injury. Until recently, the way that they do this has been unclear, but researchers are now looking more closely at the role that a protein called KLF1 plays in this remarkable ability.

Inhibiting the gene for KLF1 severely limited the ability of zebra fish to regenerate heart tissue. Investigating the role of KLF1 in human hearts will require much more work, but if the protein can help regenerate heart tissue after an injury in humans, it could be a game-changer in the treatment of heart disease.

Learn more here.

9. Autism: ‘Changing the narrative to recognize growth’

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April is National Autism Awareness Month, and last week’s Recovery Room featured the experience of a parent who established a school following the diagnosis of her son’s autism.

This week, MNT reported on a new approach to assessing autism spectrum disorder that focuses more on proficiency and growth than deficits in a child’s development. Changing the narrative in this way could help develop a more constructive and holistic way to understand each child’s unique requirements and help with the selection of therapies and interventions.

This approach is also better able to account for factors such as household income and other elements of social context, compared with measuring a child’s progress against a rigid set of outcomes.

Learn more here.

10. Steady income raises feelings of self-confidence and pride

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Finally, this week, we reported on what claims to be the first study into the emotional benefits of living with a secure income. This large study tracked the emotional responses of 1.6 million people in 162 countries.

Its key findings are that people with a steady income are more likely to feel confident and proud of themselves and that these feelings can persist for decades. However, making more money did not appear to strengthen positive feelings about others, and nor did it affect feelings such as anger.

According to this research, earnings are only linked to some inward-facing emotions, so a society’s affluence may not have as strong an influence on community harmony as policymakers might expect.

Learn more here.

We hope that this week’s Recovery Room has provided a taste of the stories that we cover at MNT. We will be back with a new selection next week.

Coming soon: A sneak preview of what’s in our drafts folder

We publish hundreds of new stories and features every month. Here are some upcoming articles that may pique our readers’ interests:

  • Pilot study finds that “exergaming” may improve dementia symptoms
  • How diet influences gut bacteria and inflammation
  • What is the latest research on autism?