Apple’s new Health app features medical health records, how our genetic machinery winds down may one day help solve criminal cases, and is there really such a thing as Broken Heart Syndrome?

Genes Could Record Forensic Clues to time of Death

(Science News, 2/13/2018), Erika Engelhaupt)

Dying, it turns out, is not like flipping a switch. Genes keep working for a while after a person dies, and scientists have used that activity in the lab to pinpoint time of death to within about nine minutes. During the first 24 hours after death, genetic changes kick in across various human tissues, creating patterns of activity that can be used to roughly predict when someone died, researchers report February 13 in Nature Communications. What has become clear is that death isn’t the immediate end for genes. In the new work, researchers examined changes in DNA’s chemical cousin, RNA. “There’s been a dogma that RNA is a weak, unstable molecule,” says Tom Gilbert, a geneticist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen who has studied postmortem genetics. “So people always assumed that DNA might survive after death, but RNA would be gone.” But recent research has found that RNA can be surprisingly stable, and some genes in our DNA even continue to be transcribed, or written, into RNA after we die, Gilbert says.

Medical Records May Finally Be Coming to Your Apple Smartphone

(NPR, 2/14/2018, Alan Yu)

If you’ve ever tried to switch doctors, you know how frustrating it can be. Apple hopes to put a stop to all of that. In the upcoming release of Apple’s iOS operating system for iPhones this spring, the Health app will include health records, so patients can take information about their immunizations, medications, lab results and more with them. The feature will first be available to patients of medical providers who partnered with Apple, including Johns Hopkins Medicine; OhioHealth; Ochsner Health System in Jefferson Parish, La.; and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. It won’t cost those patients anything to use this feature, assuming they’re already iPhone users. Apple’s announcement says more medical facilities will offer this feature in the coming months.

Valentine’s Day Special: The Broken Heart Syndrome

(ZME Science, 2/15/18, Francesca Schiopca)

There is nothing more beautiful and fulfilling than love. But there is an unforeseen disadvantage to it, and that is called the broken heart syndrome. First described in Japan in the ’90s, this curious condition is not yet fully understood. What scientists know is that it’s triggered by powerful emotional and physical stressors and it affects the heart muscle, which loses the ability to contract normally. The disease is known by many names: stress cardiomyopathy, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (from the Japanese word takotsubo—“octopus trap,”—because the left ventricle takes on a shape resembling a fishing pot), or apical ballooning syndrome. Research shows that up to 5% of women evaluated for heart attacks actually have this disorder. Studies carried out on rats whose ovaries had been removed, showed that the ones given estrogen while under stress had less left-ventricle dysfunction and higher levels of some heart protective-substances.


—Compiled by Social Media Specialist Jillian Scola