October 2008


Imagine not being able to buy a new pair of pants or even shoes that fit. Imagine not being able to buy lunch today. Or yesterday and the day before.  Imagine not being able to feed your children. Is this poverty? To some, yes. To others it is just the beginning. Now envision not being able to take your infant for her first check up and vaccinations. Or not being able to pay $0.50 for medication to treat your children’s hookworm infection. All over the world, these problems are happening right now.

You may think, “what does poverty have to do with science and medicine?” But increases in poverty have been linked with many infectious diseases including hookworm infection, Chagas disease, malaria, and syphilis as well as other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and dental disease.

Not only do these ailments exist mainly in poverty stricken areas, but these diseases actually promote the continuation of poverty. These diseases have numerous detrimental effects on pregnancy and healthy childbirth, the growth and development of children, and the productivity of adults. This vicious cycle of poverty and disease are close bedfellows and both need to be addressed to take a step towards eradicating poverty on a global scale.

If you search poverty and disease on pubmed, you come up with over 3,500 hits. Many researchers have shown correlations between poverty and health problems, and some are trying to do something about it. The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases Control is a partnership formed in 2006 as the first ever global effort to combat these diseases. Working with the World Health Organization, these groups are trying to increase awareness of the problems associated with the injurious poverty-health cycle, as well as change how these problems are dealt with.

It is not enough just to treat the disease. Likewise, it is not enough just to improve sanitation and housing. In addition to these steps, which are already being done, education in destitute areas, monitoring for new outbreaks, and continuing research and development of vaccines to prevent instead of merely treat disease are crucially important.

sources include:

Hotez. Hookworm and Poverty. Ann N.Y. Acad Sci. 200825 Jul. 1136: 38-44

Hotez et al. Neglected Infections of Poverty in the United States of America. PLos Neglected Tropical Diseases 2(26): e 256

Vogt R. Evaluation of riske factors and a community intervention to increase control and treatment of asthma in a low income semi-rural California community. J Asthma. 2008 Sep; 45(7): 568.

Squassi A, et al. Reationship between oral health in children and poverty related factors. Acta Odontal Latinoam. 2008; 21(1): 49.

Hotez, et al. The anti-poverty vaccine. Vaccine. 2006 26 July 24(31-32); 5787.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – their child is hanging out with a group of delinquents! They are probably asking themselves why this is happening…

Florida State University criminologist Kevin M. Beaver may have an answer for them. According to a new study published in the Journal of Genetic Psychology, this may be genetic. A certain variation in a gene encoding the dopamine transporter gene, DAT1, may cause adolescents to seek out anti-social peers.

The dopamine transporter gene actually clears dopamine, an important “feel-good” neuro-transporter, from the brain. This chemical is part of our brain’s reward/motivation system and plays a role in drug addiction as some drugs (such as ecstasy) mimic dopamine and leave you feeling depressed once the high wears off. DAT1 variation seen in this study may cause lower levels of the protein to be expressed (see this paper), theoretically allowing for higher levels of dopamine.

Some good news from this study is that the association of this gene with the risky behavior is only seen in males with a “high-risk” family environment. So, being an active, positive participant in your child’s life is IMPORTANT to their happiness and well-being.

It has previously been suggested that abnormally high levels of dopamine can play a role in such conditions as ADHD, schizophrenia, and mania. This leads me to believe that there may be many reasons why kids with this problem may hang out with anti-social, delinquent peers and, perhaps, why parents that are actually paying attention to their children may help circumvent the problem.

I find this study interesting because it emphasizes the fact that both genetic AND environmental factors can and do play a role in our actions and in disease. I think it is very important for us to remember that often times there are multiple factors playing a role in every biological process, making things much more complicated to understand and treat.

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