Author:
Väike Nirvana

Research news: ethnic roots of Estonian peoples, problematic use of social networking sites, reducing the fear of pain, and a novel solution for wound treatment

Arts and Humanities 

Website created in interdisciplinary collaboration offers readers a modern view of the history of the Estonian peoples 

The work of the Collegium for Transdisciplinary Studies in Archaeology, Genetics and Linguistics and other outstanding Estonian researchers has led to an extensive website eestijuured.ee, focusing on the core questions of the humanities – who we are and where we come from. For the first time, a 21st-century treatment of the ethnic history of the Estonian peoples from the beginning of the Holocene to the present day is available to the public. For the website, a total of 50 researchers have written stories based on the latest research on hunter-gatherers who arrived in Estonia and their cultural, linguistic and genetic evolution into the digital nation of the 21st century. The readers can also access the original research articles linked to the content. 

Thanks to the research results of archaeology, history, genetics, linguistics, folklore, ethnology, geology and geography gathered in cooperation with experts from various disciplines, it was possible to draw more precise and comprehensive conclusions and generalisations to understand the processes that have influenced and continue to influence the formation of the Estonian peoples. This unprecedented approach made it possible to link the results from natural sciences and linguistics with archaeological and historical contexts. 

The website eestijuured.ee was launched in December in the framework of the project "The ethnic history of Estonian peoples in the light of new research", funded by the Ministry of Education and Research. The website currently available only in Estonian will be translated into English and Russian during this year. 

See the website eestijuured.ee and read more about the project in ETIS

Further information: Mari Tõrv, Associate Professor in Archaeology, Research Fellow in Analytical and Physical Chemistry, mari.torv@ut.ee 

 
Social Sciences 

Fear of missing out increases addiction to social networking sites. A study among Facebook users suggests it can lead to depressive symptoms, especially among younger and more neurotic people 

Despite the many benefits social networking sites may offer, they can also harm users' mental well-being. For example, it may be used excessively by people who experience the fear of missing out and are inclined to depressive moods. Psychologists have found that one of the most important factors that make technology use problematic is personality traits. 

Researchers from the University of Tartu and Maastricht University conducted two studies to find links between the problematic use of social networking sites and mental health. The first study looked at the relationship between the intensity of Facebook use and the user's depressive symptoms, and the role of age, personality traits and how problematic they perceive their Facebook use to be. 

Previous research has shown that excessive use of social networking sites often indicates an inclination to depression, which can be accompanied by sadness and a lack of interest in everyday activities. Researchers at the University of Tartu and Maastricht University found that when intensive Facebook use becomes problematic, it can affect the user's mental health and lead to depressive symptoms, particularly among young people and users who score higher on neuroticism. These results agree with previous findings that younger people are at higher risk of developing technology addiction. 

Another study sought to understand to what extent a person's fear of missing out increases their use of social networking sites and whether greater self-control reduces it. Researchers found that in people who tend to be more depressed, the fear of missing out exacerbates addiction to social networking sites. 

The results of the studies help to understand which groups of users are more likely to be harmed by excessive use of social networking sites and offer valuable information for counsellors and psychologists in supporting the mental health of users of social networking sites. 

Read more about the studies in the journals BMC Psychology and Psychological Reports

Further information: Nino Gugushvili, doctoral student at the University of Tartu and Maastricht University, n.gugushvili@maastrichtuniversity.nl  

Medicine

Holograms help children overcome fear of pain 

Every year, millions of children have to undergo painful medical procedures such as vaccinations, blood sampling or minor surgery. Children often perceive these events as very fearful, which can lead to treatment failure, slower healing and anticipatory anxiety, even throughout adult life. Researchers at KU Leuven and the University of Tartu have collaborated on a new empathy- and trust-building technical solution, Little Nirvana, which prepares and accompanies the child throughout a potentially painful or uncomfortable medical intervention. 

Little Nirvana consists of tools used both at the hospital and at home. In the waiting room, children can use a tablet with games that, among other things, teach them breathing techniques for relaxation. In the procedure room, they will find a multisensory solution based on 3D technology: a screen, a hologram of a friendly bird called Milo, and an interactive wand to help distract the child from the painful procedure by offering exercises and games. In addition, the project involved creating an instructive mobile app to practise techniques to reduce hospital anxiety at home. 

A study led by KU Leuven, in collaboration with the Children's Clinic of Tartu University Hospital, proved the effectiveness of Little Nirvana. The interactive tools kept the children happy and focused, and the procedure was successful even with those who used to scream hysterically and refuse any needle-related interventions. Both children and their parents were very satisfied with the solution. 

Little Nirvana is the second technical solution developed at the university to reduce hospital anxiety and pain in children. Hypervsn 3D holograms developed by University of Tartu researchers are already used in hospitals across Estonia. 

Read more about Little Nirvana on the project's home page
Further information: Anneli Kolk, Associate Professor of Paediatric Neuropsychology, anneli.kolk@ut.ee 

Science and Technology 

Novel solution for wound treatment 

Health issues resulting from modern lifestyles and living longer are putting medical science to the test. In the course of life, the building blocks of the body – the cells – are destroyed, and to maintain the normal functioning of the organs, it is necessary to ensure that cells are constantly regenerated. Cells are supported and their behaviour is regulated according to the situation (normal state, tissue repair, disease) by an elastic network of protein fibres called the extracellular matrix. 

In a project that ended in December, University of Tartu researchers discovered the importance of two extracellular matrix proteins – olfactomedin-4 (Olfm4) and thrombospondin-4 (Thbs4) – in repairing liver injury. In studying skin regeneration, the researchers also found that the levels of both proteins increased in healing skin wounds. Moreover, both proteins can increase the migratory capacity and division of the skin's main components – keratinocytes and fibroblasts. These proteins also appear to play a role in cell division-related skin diseases, as Olfm4 is more abundant in the lesions of atopic dermatitis and Thbs4 in psoriasis. 

Large-scale gene-protein association studies were performed using the proteotranscriptomics and phosphoproteomics-proteotranscriptomics method developed at the University of Tartu Chair of Cell Biology. In the study, researchers were able to identify the signals that mediate the effects of Thbs4 and Olfm4. Surprisingly, researchers found that these were the signalling pathways activated by POU5F1, a factor determining the properties of embryonic stem cells, and female sex hormones. Embryonic stem cells are only present in the first stages of foetal development. The activation of the POU5F1 pathway suggests the ability of these proteins to activate stem cell properties that are latent in more mature cells and thereby increase their tissue repair capacities. 

Based on this new knowledge, University of Tartu researchers, in collaboration with biochemists at the University of Helsinki, plan to develop novel therapeutic gels to promote wound healing, suitable for the treatment of both traumatic and chronic wounds. 

Read more about the recent project in ETIS
Further information: Viljar Jaks, Associate Professor in Cell Biology, viljar.jaks@ut.ee

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