An Actual Conversation With Maggie | Rett Syndrome

by ajtesler

We got the Eye Gaze Computer!!!  After a very hard fought battle with the district, they gave us the communication device Maggie needed.  They wanted to help the whole time, there were just a lot of hoops we had to go through.  But in the end, we got it.  I spent the better part of the last month programming it and then reprogramming it and then reprogramming it again.  I want to make sure it’s the perfect thing for her and they can never take it away.  (They could take it away if she doesn’t show an aptitude for it by the end of March)  It’s a PC, so it’s slow, and programming has been extremely tedious.  I’ve fallen asleep with it in my hands on more than a few occasions.

But now it’s in good enough shape where Maggie can really start to use it.  It’s been awesome.  She’s picked it up really quickly and we are able to actually communicate with her.  Look, it’s not perfect – we have to put in her vocabulary and words that we don’t know she knows, she doesn’t get to use.  The height and orientation have to be perfect for it to work and with her moving so much, just getting her to sit and attend to an activity is a tall order.  And, any extra second you take adjusting is another second she can decide “I’d rather do something else”.  But, while I don’t get to have a conversation, to the fullest extent of the law, I do get to hear what she’s thinking, more or less, some of the time, when she decides she wants to share.  At least now, it’s slightly more her decision than it was a month ago.

I’ll let the video speak for itself.  Accept, of course, all the words above I already am using.





  • Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain (that’s your tummy and below)
  • Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual

Occasionally there can be other symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, extreme fatigue (feeling very tired), unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite. Any post-menopausal bleeding should always be investigated by a GP.

6 Signs Of The Ovarian Cancer That Might Kill You Silently

6 Signs Of The Ovarian Cancer That Might Kill You Silently


  • Frequent – they usually happen more than 12 times a month
  • Persistent – they don’t go away
  • New – they are not normal for you and may have started in the last year

If you regularly experience any of these symptoms – and they are not normal for you – visit your GP. It is unlikely that your symptoms are caused by a serious problem, but it is important to get checked out.

“I took this thought home with me. Please listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Never ever be afraid to start the ball rolling by going to your GP. It could be too late to conquer it. Don’t wait. Too many loved ones too many friends need you. You are special.” Moira, Warrington

A bloated tummy, needing to wee more, tummy pain, and always feeling full could all be symptoms of ovarian cancer. Our ovarian cancer Symptoms Diary app is an easy way to accurately record your symptoms and communicate more effectively with your GP. You can also download a print version of the Symptoms Diary.


We asked women with ovarian cancer to talk to us about their experience of ovarian cancer symptoms. Find out what they said in this video.



Know what’s normal for you and keep a diary, noting down which days you get each symptom, and how bad you perceive them to be. Also note down if you think the symptoms are gradually getting worse, or if they are stopping you from doing an activity that you would normally be involved in. You can use this to give your GP detailed information.



Other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have symptoms similar to ovarian cancer but if your symptoms don’t clear up, go back to your GP or seek a second opinion, even if you’ve had tests. Take this information, or our Target Ovarian Cancer symptoms leaflet with you to help you explain (also available in other languages). If you’d like to order symptoms leaflets by post, please visit our materials order form.

The symptoms information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.

See Why Hundreds of People Are Sending This Shirt to a Mom They’ve Never Met

Behold, the power of Facebook: Deborah Skouson, the mother of a girl with autism, updated her status last week with a call to action to her 500-odd Facebook friends.

Her daughter, Cami, has become attached to one very specific shirt, and it’s now the only top she’ll wear. Her mom is desperate to find another one, but there’s one problem: it’s discontinued.

“For the past 4 to 5 years, she has been fixated on THIS shirt,” Skouson wrote on her Facebook page. “She got her first one in kindergarten five years ago, and we have found four more since then, mostly on eBay. Her current one is almost unwearable, and eBay has gone dry. ”

The shirt, from Target’s popular Circo brand, was sold in 2011-2012 and is pink with a flower print.

In her plea, Skouson offered to pay for the shirt and shipping for anyone who has the exact shirt . . . in any size. “It has to be this exact shirt,” she added. “We’ve tried similar shirts, and they don’t cut it with Cami!”

Nearly a week after her initial post, her story — along with a photo of Cami happily wearing the shirt — was shared on popular local news anchor Frank Somerville’s Facebook page. In no time, Skouson’s request went viral, with more than 22,000 shares combined. And miraculously, she’s received 80 identical shirts so far – many internationally – with more on the way.

It seems Cami won’t have to part with her beloved pink flower shirt just yet.


Marks & Spencer launching autism-friendly school wear

The National Autistic Society are delighted to have teamed up with Marks & Spencer to support the development of their brand new ‘Easy Dressing’ school uniform collection. It’s available for sale from 1 August.

Following a product development campaign called ‘Inventors Wanted’, M&S received lots of feedback asking them to do more for people who struggle with clothing – especially children on the autism spectrum.

After consulting with professionals working with autistic children, they decided to develop an ’Easy Dressing’ school uniform range. The charity was thrilled to be approached by M&S to work with them to develop the clothing.

As a first step, students at our very own Helen Allison School told the designers what they like and don’t like about clothes – particularly the kind of things like labels and fastening that can feel very fiddly, and even painful and distracting because of their sensory sensitivities.

Boy and girl wearing M&S clothes

And, in March, M&S came back to the school with prototypes of the five garments in the range for the students to try out (pictured, left).

The young people and teachers were really enthusiastic and Corinna Laurie, an occupational therapist at the school and author of The National Autistic Society’s Sensory Strategies booklet, welcomed the new clothing range:

“Parents often ask me where they can buy clothes that reduce the impact of their children’s sensory sensitivities. Children can become distressed and distracted by uncomfortable seams and labels, itchy fabric and fiddly buttons on regular school uniforms. So I jumped at the opportunity to provide input about M&S’s new ‘Easy Dressing’ range. It’s been great to be involved as the clothes have been developed with help from professionals and students at The National Autistic Society’s Helen Allison School.

“It’s really wonderful that this leading retailer is taking on the issue of autism-friendly clothing. I know this range will offer families a school uniform which is easy to wear from both a sensory and motor skills perspective. I can’t wait to be able to recommend it to the families I work with!”

As well as working with the charity to develop the range, M&S will also be donating 10% from every item sold to The National Autistic Society.

Go to the M&S website if you’d like to register your interest in their ‘Easy Dressing’ range, so they can let you know when the range is ready to purchase on their website.

About the ‘Easy Dressing’ range

Trousers (girls and boys)

A ‘pull up’ trouser up to age 16, so children of all ages do not need to worry about fiddly zips and buttons. No back pocket for comfort and the care label has been moved to inside the pocket.

It also features M&S’ Triple Action Stormwear finish which repels water and stains.

Shirts (girls and boys)

M&S has replaced the first four buttons with a hidden panel of soft Velcro®, this should make getting dressed quicker with less time spent fiddling with small buttons. It is their Ultimate non-iron shirt, meaning the taped seams, non-iron and Stain Away™ finishes makes life easy for parents.

Long-sleeve polo (unisex)

M&S has replaced all the buttons with a hidden panel of soft Velcro®. Like this shirt, this should make getting dressed quicker. It also features a two piece collar so that a tie can be worn with it for a smarter appearance.

Our supporters have also asked us about seam-free socks and if they will be available with this range.

Although not part of the range, M&S have told us that they have an Ultimate Comfort Sock which is made from cotton and modal, with a cushioned heel and sole for extra comfort and a flat toe seam. M&S re-introduced the black colourway after receiving feedback from a customer with a son on the autism spectrum and this was the only sock he found comfortable and wouldn’t continually take off throughout the day.


Rett syndrome: How life changed after my daughter’s diagnosis

By Jennifer Facchinelli

Happy Ava during therapy

In the special needs community, there’s a term for the day your kid is diagnosed: D Day. Ours was Thursday, June 12th, 2014 at 11:42 a.m. I remember the exact time because I was impatiently checking the clock when the neurologist called us into his office.

Our daughter Ava was almost two years old and was being tested for Rett syndrome. The symptoms of Rett syndrome are often described as a mix of cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, autism, anxiety disorder, severe apraxia, scoliosis and epilepsy. It’s a rare, non-inherited genetic disorder that almost exclusively affects girls, and it tends to rear its ugly head just after their first year of life (although in some cases it can appear as early as six months of age). The “hallmark” of Rett syndrome is near-constant repetitive hand movements, but the impairments that come with Rett are far more profound. The syndrome can affect a kid’s ability to speak, eat, walk and breathe.

I expected the test to come back positive, but hearing the doctor say the words still left me devastated. My beautiful angel (a pet name we’d given her at birth due to her sweet disposition) was now my “silent angel.” I was so profoundly sad, scared and dejected. And also very angry. A list of all the things Ava would never be able to do raced through my mind. In the months leading up to her diagnosis, Rett had been a distant “worst case scenario”—but now it was our reality.

In retrospect, while D Day was definitely our lowest point, it was also the day we started to claw our way back up. We threw ourselves into learning as much about Rett as possible, leaning on therapists, teachers, doctors and parents in the community. We zeroed in on the positive things they had to say about their experiences. Contrary to many outdated medical descriptions online and in print, we discovered that many girls regained—or learned new—motor skills with the help of intensive therapy. With the rise in recent years of eye gaze technology (computers with special cameras that allow the eyes to act as a computer mouse), those living with Rett not only proved they could communicate, but could even read despite never having been formally taught. And so, our family made a conscious decision never to set limits for Ava. “Can’t” and “won’t” became the worst four-letter words in our house. A good friend and fellow mom of a daughter with Rett syndrome once told me, “If you don’t believe in your kid, nobody else will.”

Today, about 18 months later, Ava is doing better than I ever imagined possible. She has an intense regime of unique physiotherapy called Cuevas Medek Exercises (CME), which helps improve gross motor skills and movements that allow kids with Rett to learn to stand, sit and walk. Ava can walk with assistance and we’re hoping one day she can do so independently. She also does occupational therapy on a weekly basis, and she’s starting to make small gains in her ability to control and use her hands purposefully.

Perhaps the most striking development is her ability to communicate. Not being able to talk doesn’t mean our little girl doesn’t have a lot to say. She’s learning to use her eye-gaze computer (Tobii) and is progressing quickly, often stringing together three to four words to create complete thoughts. Using various methods of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), she is showing us how incredibly smart she truly is—she knows all of the letters of the alphabet, is beginning to identify first letter sounds, and can spell her name. We’ve learned it’s OK to have high expectations and not set arbitrary limits on her overall potential. Most importantly, we’ve learned to listen to what Ava has to say, regardless of how she chooses to communicate it.


Ava uses her Tobii eye gaze computer.

We have so much hope for her future. Suffice it to say, Rett syndrome is not all rainbows and unicorns. It sucks. Really, really sucks. Her therapy appointments take a significant amount of time, money and effort. It’s tiring not only for Ava, but also for me. On days when she’s not feeling well or her apraxia (a motor planning disorder that affects speech and movement) is kicked into high gear, it’s tempting to admit defeat and surrender. But on those days, we lean on each other and rely on the support of family and friends. I know our efforts are not only benefitting Ava, but helping us just as much by allowing us not to feel so helpless.

I don’t know what the future holds for Ava. But I’m confident we’re headed in the right direction.

Jennifer Facchinelli is an elementary teacher (on leave) and mom to two beautiful girls.


16 Young People With Tourette Syndrome Share What They Want You To Know

By Mike Spohr

1. “I wish people knew that staring at me when I am ticcing makes me feel much worse than just asking me what I’m doing.”

"I wish people knew that staring at me when I am ticcing makes me feel much worse than just asking me what I'm doing."

Mary Kathryn Larson

“I feel pretty comfortable explaining my condition. I wish people knew that I am not embarrassed about having Tourette, but am proud to share my story.”

—Mary Kathryn Larson, 17, from Westlake Village, California

2. “I wish people knew that only about 10% of those with Tourette’s have coprolalia (uncontrollable swearing).”

"I wish people knew that only about 10% of those with Tourette's have coprolalia (uncontrollable swearing)."

Gavin Austin

—Gavin Austin,18, from Albuquerque, New Mexico

3. “There really isn’t a way to just make the tics go away.”

"There really isn't a way to just make the tics go away."

Katrina Bergeon

“There are different medications and types of therapy, but what works for one person may not work for another. Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no cure that can help everyone’s tics.”

—Katrina Bergeon, 16, from Litchfield, New Hampshire

4. “Tics hurt.”

"Tics hurt."

Tyler Childers

“I play hockey, so I know pain. Sometimes the pain of repeatedly straining the same muscles for a tic pushes me over the edge. When I say I am tired or grumpy or in pain it’s not an excuse or an exaggeration.”

—Tyler Childers, 13, from Billings, Montana

5. “Having Tourette syndrome does not define my identity.”

"Having Tourette syndrome does not define my identity."

Zoe Kaplan

“Rather, it adds to the multitude of characteristics that make me who I am. I have a bachelor’s degree, I have blue eyes, I am passionate about gender studies, I play ultimate Frisbee and I have tics.”

—Zoe Kaplan, 21, from Middletown, Connecticut

6. “Tourette makes me nervous in certain social situations.”

"Tourette makes me nervous in certain social situations."

Bailey McIntyre

“At the movie theater, I have this feeling that I’ll be shouted at for repetitively disrupting the family film. In class, I always freak out that my tics will cause the other kids to scold me and glare at me. I have come to accept my Tourette and I just hope that other people will come to accept it also.”

—Bailey McIntyre, 16, from Gainesville, Florida

7. “Vocal tics may be the more noticeable symptom of Tourette syndrome, but they’re merely the tip of the iceberg.”

"Vocal tics may be the more noticeable symptom of Tourette syndrome, but they're merely the tip of the iceberg."

Charles Griebell

“My motor tics are much more uncomfortable, yet they are less obvious. They are the ‘unseen’ part of the iceberg. I want there to be more education and awareness so kids will feel relieved once they know that tics like eye rolling or stomach tensing aren’t symptoms of a life-threatening disease.”

—Charles Griebell, 16, from Princeton, New Jersey

8. “I wish people understood that I have to tic.”

"I wish people understood that I have to tic."

Gardner Thor

—Gardner Thor, 14, from New York City

9. “I want teachers and students to know what people with Tourette go through every day.”

"I want teachers and students to know what people with Tourette go through every day."

Olivia Woodrich

“I used to be ashamed of having Tourette and tried to hide my tics, especially in school. I would concentrate so hard on trying to suppress my tics that I couldn’t focus on my schoolwork. Not only did this result in bad grades, but others thought I was a bad student who didn’t try, when the opposite was true.

“Things only turned around when I got teachers who were trained in understanding Tourette. I no longer try to hide my tics and am thankful for all I have been through, even the bullying, because it made me the person I am today.”

—Olivia Woodrich, 17, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

10. “Tourette is not autism.”

"Tourette is not autism."

Jack Shink

“Sometimes people confuse Tourette with autism even though the two are very different. I think the reason they do that is because there is more awareness about autism and other disabilities.

“I wish people knew more about what causes Tourette and how we can cure it, so kids don’t have bodies they can’t control or say things they do not mean.”

—Jack Shink, 15, from Wayzata, Minnesota

11. “When you ask me to stop my tics, it only makes them worse.”

"When you ask me to stop my tics, it only makes them worse."

Tempest Allred

“I can’t control my tics; not what they are, when they happen, or how loud they are. My tics change all the time. There is no limit to how many tics I can have.”

—Tempest Allred, 14, from Spanish Fork, Utah

12. “I’m more comfortable when others don’t acknowledge my tics.”

"I'm more comfortable when others don't acknowledge my tics."

Hayley Gripp

“When I’m around people who know that I yell out the word ‘Chimpanzee’ or that I have a ‘Meow’ tic, their jokes actually intensify and multiply the tics. For a long time, I joked along with them, but inside I so badly wanted to yell, ‘Enough already!’ The only thing that kept my mouth shut was the fear of being labeled as having a victim mentality. After speaking with a close friend, she inspired me to speak up. I’m no longer afraid, and I share this experience in the hope that others with Tourette syndrome will overcome their fear as well.”

—Hayley Gripp, 22, from Los Angeles, California

13. “I wish people knew that asking someone with Tourette to ‘try’ to suppress their tics is like asking someone without Tourette to ‘try’ not to blink.”

"I wish people knew that asking someone with Tourette to 'try' to suppress their tics is like asking someone without Tourette to 'try' not to blink."

Adam Fishbein

—Adam Fishbein, 18, from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania

14. “It’s hard to have Tourette.”

"It's hard to have Tourette."

Willow Daly-Griffen

“Ticcing frequently makes it take longer to focus on schoolwork. Other students don’t understand the ticcing. They think it’s fake and can’t understand that I can’t stop it. It’s not easy and the tics aren’t the hardest part anymore. The hardest part is having OCD and anxiety on top of Tourette that makes me worry about everything.”

—Willow Daly-Griffen, 12, from South Dayton, New York

It is common for people with Tourette syndrome to be affected by another co-occurring condition. Some co-occurring conditions are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD).

15. “In a perfect world, everyone would know and understand what Tourette syndrome is.”

"In a perfect world, everyone would know and understand what Tourette syndrome is."

Lucy Wolf

“If everyone knew about Tourette, I wouldn’t get as many stares and angry looks in public. I wouldn’t constantly have to apologize for something I can’t control. I wouldn’t have to explain myself every time I meet new people. I wouldn’t have to deal with people who think that Tourette isn’t real or that I’m faking it to get attention.”

—Lucy Wolf, 16, from Harker Heights, Texas

16. “Although Tourette has given me many challenges, I wouldn’t change my life.”

"Although Tourette has given me many challenges, I wouldn't change my life."

Jack Varanelli

“I have friends, get good grades, and play sports. Tourette may be part of who I am, but it’s not the most important part.”

—Jack Varanelli, 14, from Chantilly, Virginia


Husband of Woman Brain Damaged by Rock Thrown from Overpass Kills Himself 2 Years After Her Injury


The husband of Sharon Budd, the 54-year-old Ohio woman left brain damaged after teens threw a rock through the windshield of her moving car has committed suicide – two years after the incident.

Randy Budd, 55, was pronounced dead on Saturday in his Uniontown, Ohio, home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Harry Campbell, chief investigator for the Stark County Coroner’s Office, tells PEOPLE.

Budd and wife Sharon were the only ones in the home at the time, and his death came after he texted several family members telling them he loved them and made several phone calls to his brother, Campbell said.

In addition, he sent a message to Pennsylvania state Sen. Gene Yaw urging him to “please” get legislation passed to require fencing on highway overpasses,PennLive reported.

“The Budd family are all together and are grieving the loss of their dad, husband and brother,” the family said in a statement to The Canton Repository. “We deeply appreciate the tremendous support our family has received from the Massillon, Canton and Hartville areas over the past several years. We ask for your prayers and some privacy as we deal with our loss.”

Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson told PennLive that Randy was a victim of the four teenagers who injured Sharon two years ago.

“Randy Budd did not die from a gunshot,” Johnson charged. “He died when those kids threw a rock through his windshield.”

Husband of Woman Brain Damaged by Rock Thrown from Overpass Kills Himself 2 Years After Her Injury| Crime & Courts, Death

Sharon and Randy Budd before accident


Sharon, who was married to Randy for 33 years, was driving with her husband and daughter Kaylee, 21, from Ohio to New York to see a Broadway play in July 2014 when a boulder came crashing through the window of their Nissan Rogue.

The former middle school language arts teacher and breast cancer survivor was hit in the forehead, suffering irreparable brain damage, a crushed skull and the loss of her right eye. She subsequently lost the ability to handle everyday tasks like showering and dressing herself, the family previously told PEOPLE.

Dylan Lahr and Keefer McGee pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the incident, last year.

McGee was sentenced to 11 and a half to 23 months in county jail, according tolocal outlet WNEP, while Dylan was sentenced to 54 months to 24 years in prison.

Tyler Porter, who pleaded no contest to criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, was sentenced to 22 months to 10 years in a state prison, followed by 10 years’ probation, WNEP said.

Brett Lahr, who also pleaded no contest to criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, was sentenced to 18 months to 20 years in prison, his lawyer told PEOPLE in June 2015.

Last June, Randy told PEOPLE that the teens, “need a wake up call. We want them to come out and be productive citizens and to stop this destructive criminal behavior. I was young once too, but I never did anything like this – for God’s sake it was a 5 lb. rock.”

Husband of Woman Brain Damaged by Rock Thrown from Overpass Kills Himself 2 Years After Her Injury| Crime & Courts, Death

Sharon Budd in hospital


At the time, Dylan’s lawyer R. Bruce Manchester told PEOPLE, “Dylan appreciates the seriousness and magnitude of the injuries that Ms. Budd has suffered. He is, in my opinion, very remorseful. He’s willing to pay his dues.”

Johnson, who prosecuted McGee, Porter and the Lahrs, claimed to PennLive that Randy could no longer live with his wife’s severe medical condition.

“They killed him like they killed her,” he said.

Originally of Massillon, Ohio, Randy worked as vice president of sales and marketing of Radius Hospitality, a hotel management, sales and revenue management company, PennLive reported.

In his younger years, he was an MLB pitcher for the Montreal Expos.

After Sharon’s accident, Randy worked with an Ohio state legislator to get an Ohio Department of Transportation policy in place the requires protective fencing on new overpasses and ones undergoing significant renovations, according to the Associated Press. He was working with Sen. Yaw to do the same thing in Pennsylvania.

In addition to Sharon and daughter Kaylee, Randy is survived by sons Lucas, James and Joe.


Menopause reversal restores periods and produces fertile eggs

Women who have already passed through the menopause may be able to have children following a blood treatment usually used to heal wounds

Mother holding baby

MENOPAUSE need not be the end of fertility. A team claims to have found a way to rejuvenate post-menopausal ovaries, enabling them to release fertile eggs, New Scientist can reveal.

The team says its technique has restarted periods in menopausal women, including one who had not menstruated in five years. If the results hold up to wider scrutiny, the technique may boost declining fertility in older women, allow women with early menopause to get pregnant, and help stave off the detrimental health effects of menopause.

“It offers a window of hope that menopausal women will be able to get pregnant using their own genetic material,” says Konstantinos Sfakianoudis, a gynaecologist at the Greek fertility clinic Genesis Athens.

“It is potentially quite exciting,” says Roger Sturmey at Hull York Medical School in the UK. “But it also opens up ethical questions over what the upper age limit of mothers should be.”

Women are thought to be born with all their eggs. Between puberty and the menopause, this number steadily dwindles, with fertility thought to peak in the early 20s. Around the age of 50, which is when menopause normally occurs, the ovaries stop releasing eggs – but most women are already largely infertile by this point, as ovulation becomes more infrequent in the run-up. The menopause comes all-too-soon for many women, says Sfakianoudis.

The age of motherhood is creeping up, and more women are having children in their 40s than ever before. But as more women delay pregnancy, many find themselves struggling to get pregnant. Women who hope to conceive later in life are increasingly turning to IVF and egg freezing, but neither are a reliable back-up option.

The menopause also comes early – before the age of 40 – for around 1 per cent of women, either because of a medical condition or certain cancer treatments, for example.

“It offers hope that menopausal women will be able to get pregnant using their own genetic material“

To turn back the fertility clock for women who have experienced early menopause, Sfakianoudis and his colleagues have turned to a blood treatment that is used to help wounds heal faster.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is made by centrifuging a sample of a person’s blood to isolate growth factors – molecules that trigger the growth of tissue and blood vessels. It is widely used to speed the repair of damaged bones and muscles, although its effectiveness is unclear. The treatment may work by stimulating tissue regeneration.

Sfakianoudis’s team has found that PRP also seems to rejuvenate older ovaries, and presented some of their results at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Helsinki, Finland, this month. When they injected PRP into the ovaries of menopausal women, they say it restarted their menstrual cycles, and enabled them to collect and fertilise the eggs that were released.

“I had a patient whose menopause had established five years ago, at the age of 40,” says Sfakianoudis. Six months after the team injected PRP into her ovaries, she experienced her first period since menopause.

Sfakianoudis’s team has since been able to collect three eggs from this woman. The researchers say they have successfully fertilised two using her husband’s sperm. These embryos are now on ice – the team is waiting until there are at least three before implanting some in her uterus.

Older mothers

The team isn’t sure how this technique works, but it may be that the PRP stimulates stem cells. Some research suggests a small number of stem cells continue making new eggs throughout a woman’s life, but we don’t know much about these yet. It’s possible that growth factors encourage such stem cells to regenerate tissue and produce ovulation hormones. “It’s biologically plausible,” says Sturmey.

Fertilised eggs

Sfakianoudis’s team says it has given PRP in this way to around 30 women between the ages of 46 and 49, all of whom want to have children. The researchers say they have managed to isolate and fertilise eggs from most of them.

“It seems to work in about two-thirds of cases,” says Sfakianoudis. “We see changes in biochemical patterns, a restoration of menses, and egg recruitment and fertilisation.” His team has yet to implant any embryos in post-menopausal women, but hopes to do so in the coming months.

PRP has already been helpful for pregnancy in another group of women, says Sfakianoudis. Around 10 per cent of women who seek fertility treatment at his clinic have a uterus that embryos find difficult to attach to – whether due to cysts, scarring from miscarriages or having a thin uterine lining. “They are the most difficult to treat,” says Sfakianoudis.

But after injecting PRP into the uteruses of six women who had had multiple miscarriages and failed IVF attempts, three became pregnant through IVF. “They are now in their second trimester,” says Sfakianoudis.

Fertility aside, the technique could also be desirable for women who aren’t trying to conceive. The hormonal changes that trigger menopause can also make the heart, skin and bones more vulnerable to ageing and disease, while hot flushes can be very unpleasant. Many women are reluctant to take hormone replacement therapy to reduce these because of its link with breast cancer. Rejuvenating the ovaries with PRP could provide an alternative way to boost the supply of youthful hormones, delaying menopause symptoms.

Ovarian follicle
More eggs, please

Steve Gschmeissner/SPL

However, Sfakianoudis’s team hasn’t yet published any of its findings. “We need larger studies before we can know for sure how effective the treatment is,” says Sfakianoudis.

“One woman had been in menopause for 5 years. Six months after treatment, she had a period“

Some have raised concerns about the safety and efficacy of the procedure, saying the team should have tested the approach in animals first. “This experiment would not have been allowed to take place in the UK,” says Sturmey. “The researchers need to do some more work to make sure that the resulting eggs are OK,” says Adam Balen at the British Fertility Society.

To know if the technique really does improve fertility, the team will also need to carry out randomised trials, in which a control group isn’t given PRP.

Virginia Bolton, an embryologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, is also sceptical. “It is dangerous to get excited about something before you have sufficient evidence it works,” she says. New techniques often find their way into the fertility clinic without strong evidence, thanks to huge demand from people who are often willing to spend their life savings to have a child, she says.

If the technique does hold up under further investigation, it could raise ethical questions over the upper age limits of pregnancy – and whether there should be any. “I lay awake last night turning this over in my mind,” says Sturmey. “Where would the line be drawn?”

Health issues like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and miscarriage are all more common in older women. “It would require a big debate,” says Sturmey.


Sperm home test kit

How are the little swimmers doing? Low sperm counts or poor sperm quality are behind around a third of cases of couples who can’t conceive. A visit to a clinic for a test can be awkward, but a smartphone-based system lets men determine whether that’s necessary by checking their fertility at home.

Men often find it embarrassing to give a semen sample at a clinic, says Yoshitomo Kobori at the Dokkyo Medical University Koshigaya Hospital in Japan. So Kobori devised an alternative. “I thought a smartphone microscope could be an easy way to look at problems with male fertility,” he says.

Kobori and his colleagues came up with a lens less than a millimetre thick that can be slotted into a plastic “jacket”. Clipped on to the camera of a smartphone, it magnifies an image by 555 times – perfect for looking at sperm.

To do a home test, a man would apply a small amount of semen to a plastic sheet around five minutes after ejaculation and press it against the microscope.

Watch them swim

The phone’s camera can then take a 3-second video clip of the sperm. When viewed enlarged on a computer screen, it is easy for someone to count the total number of sperm and the number that are moving – key indicators of fertility.

Kobori says the system works as well as the software used in fertility clinics. When the team ran 50 samples through both systems, they got almost identical results. The work was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Helsinki this month.

The system can’t assess the ability of sperm to fertilise an egg. “This method is only the simple version of semen analysis,” says Kobori. But that could be enough for men to identify potential fertility problems, and decide whether to seek help from a doctor.


Science finds Soil can Help Depression and Anxiety

By Tanja Taljaard


How you can Benefit from Antidepressant Microbes in soil

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was recovering from a serious illness. While reflecting on that time in her life, she mentioned how her garden, and gardening, played a big part in her own healing. Walking with her in her vibrant garden, I could see and feel how being surrounded by these beautiful plants and using homegrown, organic vegetables and herbs as medicine would be healing on many levels.

Most ardent gardeners will concur that the act of gardening can reduce stress and improve your mood. When you think about it, there are obvious benefits from tending a garden. You’re outside in the fresh air and Vitamin D producing sunshine (which helps regulate your serotonin levels), rather than being cooped up inside. But now science is proving through experiments that there are actual microorganism in the soil that affect our sense of wellbeing.

There are actual microorganism in the soil that affect our sense of wellbeing

Playing in the Dirt

There are actual antidepressant microbes in soil. Mycobacterium vaccae is found in soil, and activates the release of brain serotonin. Serotonin and dopamine are two chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy. Both Dopamine and Serotonin are neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain. Dopamine affects your emotions, movements and your sensations of pleasure and pain. In the brain, Serotonin regulates mood, social behaviour, libido, sleep, memory, and learning. Interestingly, 95% of our serotonin is manufactured in the intestines, not the brain; therefore someexperts consider serotonin a hormone as well as a neurotransmitter. When you are gardening, M. vaccae is on your skin when you have your bare hands in the soil, you inhale it when you breathe, or it gets into your bloodstream through a little cut perhaps.

Soil on hands
Serotonin and dopamine are two chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy.

The effects of the soil bacteria were discovered accidently by oncologist Dr Mary O’Brien. She created a serum out of the M. vaccae bacteria and gave it to lung cancer patients to boost their immune system. She noticed that another effect of the serum was that the patients felt happier, more vital, and they suffered from less pain. Building on this, researchers Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenks administered M. vaccae to mice and performed behavioural tests. Jenks says, “What our research suggests is that eating, touching and breathing a soil organism may be tied to the development of our immune system and nervous system.” They found that not only were the mice less anxious, they showed improved cognitive function by navigating a maze twice as fast as the ones that did not eat the bacterium. Matthews states “It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.”

Healthy Soil, Healthy Body

Mycobacterium vaccae is one of a vast spectrum of microbes that have been interacting and co-evolving with us. The well-being of our immune system and psychology is enhanced by frequent exposure, in our early childhood, to a diverse group of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and worms. Our gastro-intestinal tract develops a hundred trillion microbes over time, determined in part by genetics and in part by what bacteria live in and on those around us. Prof Graham Rook refers to these creatures, which interact with us through our skin, lungs, and gut, as “Old Friends”. He says that deficiencies in microbial exposure could be the key to the recent increase in chronic health problems, including autoimmune diseases and depression. There is undeniable evidence that we need a diverse range of these organisms (found in animals, plants, soil, water and air) for the optimal functioning of our immune and nervous systems. Read more about the brain-gut connection here.

The well-being of our immune system and psychology is enhanced by frequent exposure, in our early childhood, to a diverse group of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and worms

Green is good for you

Simply seeing or looking at plants, trees and nature impacts your mental, social and physical well-being. Researchers have found that even viewing representations of nature can help the body to heal. Roger S. Ulrich, PhD investigated the effect that views from windows had on patients recovering from surgery. He discovered that patients whose hospital rooms overlooked trees recovered better than those whose rooms overlooked brick walls. Patients who could see nature got out of the hospital faster, had fewer complications and required less pain medication than those forced to stare at a wall.

Happy gardener
Looking at plants, trees and nature impacts your mental, social and physical well-being

Gardening is a physical activity, sometimes quite a vigorous workout, as many gardeners would tell you. Gardens can create community. There’s also something magical about being part of the creative process, tending and nurturing seeds and seedlings into fully-grown plants. Permaculturist Robyn Francis talks about the Harvest High – the release of dopamine in the brain when we harvest products from the garden. “Researchers hypothesise that this response evolved over nearly 200,000 years of hunter gathering, that when food was found (gathered or hunted) a flush of dopamine released in the reward centre of the brain triggered a state of bliss or mild euphoria. The dopamine release can be triggered by sight (seeing a fruit or berry) and smell as well as by the action of actually plucking the fruit.”


Are We Killing Scientific Innovation?

By Eleni Tsigas

What could the future of science hold if innovation were prized over conventional wisdom? In this recent TEDMed talk, Roberta Ness, vice president for innovation at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and James W. Rockwell professor in public health at the School of Public Health, discusses a radical idea to shake up the scientific process that she contends has stymied the creativity that science discovery so desperately needs.

In this 15-minute talk, Ness shares her personal experience with preeclampsia research as an important case study where her research was unfundable because it was such a crazy idea; it took years for others to catch up and today we know without a doubt that preeclampsia is linked to cardiovascular health. This way of thinking about research is at the core of the Preeclampsia Foundation’s Vision Grants – designed to provide seed money to young investigators with novel ideas. The focus is on “novel”, meaning “new or unusual in an interesting way.” This seed funding allows them to conduct the pilot studies needed to gather the basic data needed to go on and secure larger grants from “safe bet” funders. Under the Vision Grant program, even disproven hypotheses provoke new ideas and allow for course correcting in the early stages of a novel idea. We are still several weeks out from announcing our 2016 Vision Grant winners, but a review of our previous winners – with a look at where their careers and cool ideas have gone – demonstrates a predictable mix of fizzles and wins. As it should.

The Dallas News printed an interesting Q&A with Dr. Ness last year that summarizes the theme she has explored in several published books:  As research funders look to make prudent investments, big-name institutions can look like a safe bet while smaller, more nimble labs lose out. As money and power get concentrated, the aims of scientists can actually shift from major breakthroughs to incremental, but more reliable, short-term progress.

I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Dr. Ness in our role as a member of the Global Pregnancy Collaborative, a consortium funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and continue to be excited by the ideas she has posed for The Preeclampsia Registry – the dynamic research database that we launched in late 2013 and which has grown steadily since then. With the ever present need to fundraise, it’s sometimes hard for charities like the Preeclampsia Foundation to hold on to our core value of being “bold” but with innovators like Dr. Ness working with us, I’m encouraged that we will continue to be leaders in this field.

Working scientists, what do you think? Are you pushing the boundaries of innovation or stymied by a system that only rewards safe hypotheses? Is that what’s holding back great discoveries in preeclampsia? Feel free to shoot me your thoughts.