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Research Roundup

February 1, 2011, Volume 57, No. 20

Youth Victims of Cyberbullying at Increased Risk of Suicide

Results released from the National Annenberg Survey of Youth reveal that 1 out of 7 or 14% of adolescents and young adults have experienced being a victim of cyberbullying. Those who experience cyberbullying report higher rates of thinking seriously about suicide in the past year. The rate of suicidal ideation among victims of cyberbullying was about four times higher than among youth who had not had the experience (27.4% vs. 7.5%).

The results come from telephone interviews with nearly 600 young people ages 14 to 22 in a nationally representative sample. The survey defined cyberbullying as occurring “when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person online or repeatedly picks on another person through e-mail or text messaging or when someone posts something online like an embarrassing photo about another person they don’t like.”

Although some prior studies report a strong association between having been bullied online and suicidal ideation, the association between the two has rarely been examined in college age youth. Prior studies of adolescents also indicate that victims of cyberbullying are more likely to experience symptoms of depression than non-victims and even more than victims of other forms of bullying. The Annenberg research also found that victims of cyberbullying were more likely to experience symptoms of depression in the past year, such as sadness and hopelessness, than non-victims.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) findings also show more strongly than past research that female youth are at high risk of being the targets of cyberbullying. The rates of victimization for females were more than twice as high as for males among both high school (18% vs. 7%) and college age (22% vs. 10%) youth.

Smaller percentages (8%) of young people in the survey admitted to having cyberbullied others online. However, unlike prior studies, no clear pattern of gender difference was found. For adolescents in the high school age range, females were more likely to report cyberbullying another person (10% vs. 4%). However, this pattern was reversed for older youth, where males were more likely to report perpetrating cyberbullying (11% vs. 6%).

The findings indicate that those who perpetrate cyberbullying are as troubled on average as those who are victims of their attacks. This suggests that school-based efforts to reduce cyberbullying may be more effective if they focus on youth who already experience symptoms of depression.

New Gene for Heart Failure in Caucasians

Nearly five million Americans live with heart failure, with as many as 700,000 new cases diagnosed each year. New research has identified a common genetic risk factor for heart failure in Caucasians that is also linked to kidney function. The study, a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine and other institutions, was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The big surprise is that our results point to a kidney gene, and not a heart gene,” said Dr. Thomas P. Cappola, assistant professor of medicine at Penn and a lead author on the study. “It does make a lot of sense, however. When physicians treat heart failure, kidney function is a major concern, and many heart failure drugs affect the kidney directly. Our findings show that the heart and kidney should also be considered together in exploring genetic predisposition to heart failure.”

Heart failure is very complex and this has often stymied research using traditional approaches. “Our study is a successful example of a newer model of biomedical research in which several laboratories and institutions combine numerous scientific approaches to tackle difficult research problems,” said Dr. Cappola.

The gene variant is common in Caucasians and changes the amino-acid sequence of CLCNKA, a kidney protein that controls chloride secretion in the urine. The change in CLCNKA substantially impairs its function. Similar but rare mutations in CLCNKA can cause striking elevation in renin and aldosterone, hormones which have been shown to increase heart failure risk.

The researchers say approximately one half of Caucasians have one copy of the variant CLCNKA gene, with an estimated 27% increase in heart failure risk, and one quarter carry two copies, with a 54% increase in risk. But they also caution that carrying the variant is not a definitive indicator of developing heart failure. Dr. Cappola said, “The more likely scenario is that heart failure risk associated with gene will only express itself if you have other cardiac problems. For example, if you have high blood pressure or a heart attack, the chance of developing heart failure is more likely if you have also inherited the CLCNKA risk variant.”

The researchers plan on continuing their long-standing collaboration by studying what CLCNKA might mean in clinical practice. If successful, these findings could open the door to tailored individual preventative therapy based on personal genotype, or “personalized medicine.”

Weightlifting Slashes Lymphedema Risk After Breast Cancer Treatment

Weightlifting may play a key role in a program to prevent the painful limb-swelling condition lymphedema following breast cancer treatment, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Combined with the team’s previous findings that the exercise limits a worsening of symptoms among women who already have lymphedema, the new data cements the reversal of long-running advice that breast cancer survivors should avoid lifting anything heavier than five pounds after they finish treatment. The research results are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers enrolled 154 breast cancer survivors without lymphedema who had breast cancer within the previous five years. Overall, they found that a slowly progressive weightlifting regimen did not increase the women’s chances of getting lymphedema. In fact, it cut risk of developing the condition during the yearlong study by 35%. Among women who had five or more lymph nodes removed during surgery, the impact of the weightlifting intervention was even greater—a nearly 70% risk reduction, with 22% of control group participants developing lymphedema, compared to 7% in the treatment group.

Lead author Dr. Kathryn Schmitz, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and a member of Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, cautions that women who have lymphedema or are at risk of the condition should speak with their doctors and seek guidance from a certified fitness professional to learn safe weightlifting techniques, many of which can even be practiced at home with proper equipment. Women with lymphedema should also wear a well-fitting compression garment during all exercise sessions.

The new study results, in combination with the exercise guidance for cancer survivors recently released by the American College of Sports Medicine, form a solid platform for patients to issue a call to action, Dr. Schmitz said.

Influence of Non-Catholics on the Changes Brought by Vatican II

A new analysis of voting patterns among bishops at the Second Vatican Council points to the indirect influence of non-Catholic churches in the Council’s liberalization of the Catholic Church.

Dr. Melissa Wilde, an associate professor of sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences, led a team of researchers that investigated data from the Vatican Secret Archive to determine the critical factors influencing how bishops voted at the Second Vatican Council. 

Their findings are outlined in “Religious Economy or Organizational Field? Predicting Bishops’ Votes at the Second Vatican Council,” published in the August issue of American Sociological Review

The researchers found that the relationship between the church and state as well as changes in the institution’s situation in relation to other institutions, particularly a loss of dominance and the presence of and relationship with other religious institutions, were crucial factors in predicting whether religious leaders would be open to change and also what kinds of change they would prioritize. 

They concluded that in places where the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed a stable monopoly as the state church, religious leaders were almost impervious to outside influence and opposed to most kinds of change. In areas in which Catholicism was not the established faith but where the religious field was stable, however, leaders of other religious institutions were a crucial source of influence on Catholic bishops who attended and voted at Vatican II.

The article also explores factors that predicted bishops’ votes on two of the most contentious issues dividing the Roman Catholic Church during Vatican II from 1962-1965: the validity of a document titled “On the Sources of Revelation,” which upholds the inerrancy of the Bible, and the importance of the Virgin Mary.


Almanac - February 1, 2011, Volume 57, No. 20