Monday, December 19, 2011

Rare strain of AIDS virus moves beyond Cameroon: doctors

What now?

Posted: 25 November 2011

A very rare strain of AIDS virus previously found only among a few people in Cameroon has most probably spread outside the West African country. (AFP/Annie Hautefeuille)
PARIS: A very rare strain of AIDS virus previously found only among a few people in Cameroon has most probably spread outside the West African country, according to a case reported by The Lancet on Friday.

The first identified infection with the so-called "group N" strain of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was found in 1998 in a Cameroonian woman who had progressed to AIDS.

Since then, more than 12,000 HIV-infected patients living in Cameroon have been tested for group-N infection, but only 12 cases, including two couples, have ever been found.

The new case, reported by French doctors, involves a 57-year-old man who was admitted to the Saint Louis Hospital Paris in January suffering from fever, rash, swollen lymph glands and genital ulceration.

The patient had high levels of a virus in the HIV-1 family, but tests to pinpoint the particular strain proved inconclusive. On February 9, the patient developed facial paralysis.

The French team then carried out further tests on blood samples, which were found to react in an antibody essay of the N strain.

Tracing his sexual history, the researchers believe the infection was "probably" acquired from intercourse with a partner in Togo, from which he had just returned.

"This case of HIV-1 group-N primary infection indicates that this rare group is now circulating outside Cameroon, which emphasises the need for rigorous HIV epidemiological monitoring," says the doctors, led by Professor Francois Simon.

The finding is important because the patient suffered not only severe symptoms but also a fast-track decline in his immune system, as shown in the number of his CD4 white blood cells.

He was given a powerful five-drug combination of antiretrovirals, to which he responded, but needs close monitoring in the future, the letter said.

Group N may have leapt to humans from chimpanzees, possibly through the handling of bushmeat infected with the simian equivalent of HIV, scientists say.

It is one of four sub-types of virus gathered in the HIV-1 family, the others being M, which is by far the most prevalent, O and P. The P strain, like O and N very rare, may have jumped to humans from gorillas, according to a study published in 2009.

There is also a minority viral family called HIV-2, which also may have passed to humans from animal primates.


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Rare strain of AIDS virus moves beyond Cameroon: doctors

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US approves drug for middle-of-the-night insomniacs

Will this really be necessary? Any side effects?

Posted: 24 November 2011

WASHINGTON: The US Food and Drug Administration, for the first time, approved Wednesday medication specifically designed for those who wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back to sleep.

Intermezzo, manufactured by Transcept Pharmaceuticals of California, is a lower-dose formulation of zolpidem, first approved in the United States in 1992 and better known as the insomnia treatment Ambien.

"This is the first time the FDA has approved a drug for this condition," the federal government agency said in a statement.

"Intermezzo should only be used when a person has at least four hours of bedtime remaining. It should not be taken if alcohol has been consumed or with any other sleep aid."

The recommended dose is 3.5 milligrams for men and half that for women, after clinical tests indicated that women cleared zolpidem from their bodies more slowly than men do.

"With this lower dose, there is less risk of a person having too much drug in the body upon waking, which can cause dangerous drowsiness and impair driving," said Robert Temple of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Spokesmen for Transcept Pharmaceuticals could not be reached for comment.


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US approves drug for middle-of-the-night insomniacs

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New pill for advanced lung cancer patients

By Jessica Yeo
Posted: 22 November 2011

SINGAPORE: Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer in Singaporean men, and the third most common in women.

Now, patients in their fourth stage of the disease can opt to take a pill called Iressa, if they carry a mutated gene known as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).

It is estimated that around 40 percent of all patients in Singapore carry this mutation, which is more common in Asians, non-smokers and women.

The Health Sciences Authority approved the drug in December last year.

The pill targets an enzyme found in the mutated gene reactor, which helps to suppress the growth of cancer cells and is said to prolong the patients' lives.

Dr Gilberto De Lima Lopez, a senior consultant with the Department of Medical Oncology at the John Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre, said: "This drug has a much better ratio of the benefits to the risks that they entail.

"Patients who receive this drug have better response rates and the disease stays under control for longer as well than when they use chemotherapy."

58-year-old retiree Mohamad Yusof Johari was diagnosed with cancer in April and has been on Iressa since then.

He said: "(My) experience with this drug is that you'll have less side effects unlike ordinary chemotherapy. After the third week (after) taking this drug, I see its effectiveness. Quite good."

Channel NewsAsia understands that a month's worth of Iressa costs about S$1,600, after MediSave subsidies. The original cost of the drug is about S$2,600.

Daniel Tan, associate consultant at the National Cancer Centre, said: "These targeted drugs at the moment are covered under the schemes that are available for patients with cancer and the price of the medication is equivalent to chemotherapy in terms of out of pocket expenses."

Iressa is currently available in most hospitals and clinics.


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New pill for advanced lung cancer patients

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Cervical vaccines for poorer countries

Vaccine research NVGH test tubesImage by Novartis AG via FlickrI was gonna say, "What's it got to do with being poor?", but then again, I'm thankful that even the poor gets their share of proper treatment, at the very least...

Posted: 18 November 2011

PARIS: A major campaigner in vaccines for poorer countries announced plans on Thursday for innoculating up to two million women and girls against cervical cancer by 2015.

GAVI, a Geneva-based public-private partnership set up in 2000, said the initiative was approved at a board meeting in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka.

The scheme depends on price negotiations with manufacturers and assurances from governments that they can distribute the vaccines effectively, it said in a press release.

Nine countries are candidates for the vaccine, although their names are being withheld at this stage, said a spokesman for GAVI, reached by phone from Paris.

The cost of the project cannot be disclosed immediately because of the sensitive nature of the price talks, he added.

The vaccine shields against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes some 275,000 deaths each year from cervical cancer, 88 per cent of them in developing countries.

HPV vaccines have been available in rich countries since 2007. It can take 10 or 15 years for advanced vaccines to be rolled out in poorer settings.

"The HPV vaccine is critical to women and girls in poorer countries because they usually do not have access to screening to prevent cervical cancer and treatment taken for granted in richer nations," said GAVI's chief executive, Seth Berkley.

The GAVI board also agreed to seek funds for vaccines against German measles, also called rubella, a childhood disease which is highly dangerous for pregnant women, leading to miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects.


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Cervical vaccines for poorer countries

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New drug reduces mortality of heart patients: study

An example of a heart attack, which can occur ...Image via WikipediaMy heart is relieved....!

Posted: 14 November 2011

WASHINGTON: The anti-clotting drug Rivaroxaban lowered risk of death, heart attack and stroke in acute coronary syndrome patients, a new study showed.

The study presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida, Sunday concluded that patients who took Rivaroxaban had a 16-percent reduced risk of cardiovascular death, stroke or heart attack compared to patients who didn't.

"Our findings are important because blocking the production of thrombin is an important new way to improve acute coronary syndrome patients' long-term risk of death, stroke and heart attack after being hospitalized with an acute coronary syndrome," said Michael Gibson, senior investigator of the TIMI Study Group at Harvard Medical School.

He explained that people with a heart attack or unstable angina make too much thrombin, an enzyme that forms clots.

Therefore, researchers focused on ways to reduce the production of thrombin with Rivaroxaban, he said.

More than 15,000 people hospitalized with a recent heart attack or unstable angina were analysed in the course of the study.

The study has also found that the risk of death, including all causes of death, was reduced more than 30 percent with the addition of Rivaroxaban.

Meanwhile, stent thrombosis was reduced by 31 percent in patients taking the drug compared to patients who didn't.

However, a separate study focusing on the anti-clotting drug Vorapaxar has found that it failed to reduce patients' odds of experiencing adverse outcomes after treatment for unstable angina or a heart attack due to a partial artery blockage.

Patients on Vorapaxar also had an increased risk of bleeding, the report said.

The study was conducted at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina.


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New drug reduces mortality of heart patients: study

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New drug zaps fat cells in monkeys

Would a drug for slimming be effective in humans as well, when it is for monkeys?

Posted: 10 November 2011

Chimpanzees play at a zoo.(AFP PHOTO BORIS ROESSLER GERMANY OUT)
WASHINGTON: An experimental drug helped obese monkeys lose 11 percent of their extra weight in a month, a promising sign in the hunt for obesity drugs that could apply to humans, US researchers said Wednesday.

The drug, known as Adipotide, works by attacking the blood supply of a certain kind of fat, known as white adipose tissue, that tends to accumulate under the skin and around the belly.

Most other obesity drugs focus on either reducing appetite, boosting metabolism or preventing the absorption of fat.

The research, led by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, offers a potential new pathway for treatment and has also shown effects in mice who lost 30 percent of their body weight during treatment.

"Most drugs against obesity fail in transition between rodents and primates," said co-senior author Renata Pasqualini, whose study appears in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"We're greatly encouraged to see substantial weight loss in a primate model of obesity that closely matches the human condition."

The monkeys in the study were spontaneously obese, meaning they overate of their own free will, avoided exercise and therefore had packed on extra pounds.

Their weight declined for the first three weeks of treatment, though a small uptick was seen in the fourth week. The average weight loss during that span of time was 11 percent of their body weight.

The drug designed by the MD Anderson group "binds to a protein on the surface of fat-supporting blood vessels," and contains a "synthetic peptide that triggers cell death," the findings said.

"Their blood supply gone, fat cells are reabsorbed and metabolized."

Clinical trials of the drug on obese men with prostate cancer are planned next, in which human subjects will get daily injections of the drug for 28 days.

"The question is, will their prostate cancer become better if we can reduce their body weight and the associated health risks?" asked co-author Wadih Arap, a professor in MD Anderson's David H. Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers.

Another promising sign was that monkeys treated with the drug showed an improvement in their resistance to insulin, suggesting it may help ward off the development of type 2 diabetes.

However, it was seen to have some damaging effects to the kidneys, which could be lessened by administering the drug in smaller doses.

The journal noted that Arap, Pasqualini and some other researchers involved in the project own equity positions in two drug-development companies working on the research.

Those positions are "subjected to certain restrictions under institutional policy. MD Anderson manages and monitors the terms of these arrangements in accordance with its conflict-of-interest policy," it said.

Funding for the research came from grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and several other foundations.


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New drug zaps fat cells in monkeys

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Scientists find big chink in malaria's armour

Posted: 10 November 2011

Dengue virus is primarily transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes
PARIS: Researchers said Wednesday they had discovered a unique microscopic channel through which malaria parasites must pass to infect red blood cells, a finding that opens up a highly promising target for a vaccine.

The doorway mechanism is common to all known strains of the deadliest mosquito-borne pathogen, Plasmodium falciparum, which means that a future vaccine could in theory work against all of them, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

The death toll from malaria has declined by a fifth over the last decade, but the disease still claims some 800,000 lives every year, mostly children under five in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Our findings were unexpected and have completely changed the way in which we view the invasion process," said Gavin Wright of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the study's senior co-author.

The breakthrough "seems to have revealed an Achilles' heel in the way the parasite invades our red blood cells."

Up to now, scientists assumed that P. falciparum had several options for piercing the defences of blood cells.

But in experiments, Wright and colleagues showed that intrusion depends on the interaction between a specific molecule on the parasite, called a ligand, and a specific receptor on the blood cell.

Blocking this interaction repels the pathogen's attempt to breach the cell's protective wall, they found.

"By identifying a single receptor that appears to be essential for parasites to invade human red blood cells, we have also identified an obvious and very exciting focus for vaccine development," said co-author Julian Rayner, also from the Sanger Institute.

Early results from clinical trials in Africa showed that the world's first malaria vaccine, reported in a study last month, cut infection rates by roughly half. The vaccine, made by the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, works by triggering the immune system.

"These reports are encouraging," said Adrian Hill, a researcher at Oxford's Jenner Institute. "But in the future more effective vaccines will be needed if malaria is ever to be eradicated."

Hill added: "The discovery of a single receptor that can be targeted to stop the parasite infecting red blood cells offers the hope of a far more effective solution."


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Scientists find big chink in malaria's armour

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'TB sniffer' offers hope of early diagnosis

Posted: 08 November 2011

Indian medical nurses display placards in Hyderabad. (AFP Photo/Noah Seelam)
NEW DELHI: Indian researchers said on Monday they were close to developing an "electronic nose" to sniff out tuberculosis on the breath - offering rapid diagnosis that could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

The "E-Nose" is a battery-operated, hand-held unit, similar to a police breathalyser used to catch drunk drivers.

A patient blows into the device and sensors pick up TB biomarkers in the breath droplets, resulting in an almost instantaneous and highly accurate diagnosis.

The "E-Nose" is a collaboration between the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi and Next Dimension Technologies in California.

"We hope to have a prototype ready for clinical testing by October 2013," said lead researcher Ranjan Nanda.

TB kills close to 1.7 million people globally every year, and researchers estimate the "E-Nose" could save 400,000 lives a year in developing countries through early diagnosis, treatment and reduced transmission.

TB is currently detected through sputum tests that are costly and take several days.

On Monday, the project was awarded a $950,000 grant by the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada, a non-profit organisation working on health issues in the developing world.

"Our research shows it might also be possible to use this technology for the early detection of other diseases like lung cancer and pneumonia," Nanda told AFP.

Each "E-Nose" would cost roughly $20-30 and its size and battery operation would make it accessible to rural communities in countries such as India with poor or non-existent power supplies.

According to the World Health organisation, India leads the world in TB infections which kill close to 1,000 people every day.

"Our goal is to make the Electronic Nose widely available in poor, remote areas where tuberculosis often breeds and spreads, devastating so many lives," Nanda said.

Tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection that spreads through the air. If left untreated, each person with active TB will on average infect between 10 and 15 people every year, according to the WHO.

- AFP/de

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'TB sniffer' offers hope of early diagnosis

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For wounded Marines, a 'lollipop' to ease pain

Posted: 02 November 2011

WASHINGTON: US Marines badly wounded in Afghanistan may get a "lollipop" with a powerful pain killer from now on instead of the traditional shot of morphine, a Marine Corps spokesman said Tuesday.

The new treatment offers an alternative to the morphine needle "you see in the World War II movies," with medics jabbing a syrette into a soldier's leg or arm, Captain Brian Block said.

The Fentanyl lollipop offers medics a faster way to ease the pain of a battlefield injury as the drug can be absorbed more rapidly through a lozenge in the mouth than from a needle injected into a muscle, Block said.

"The absorption is actually faster through the blood vessels in the mouth. You don't have to worry about shock which will constrict the blood vessels in a major muscle in a leg or an arm," Block told AFP.

After US Marine special operations forces used the new sucker successfully, commanders ordered the lollipop to be distributed to medics throughout the Marine Corps, he said.

The marines started delivering the lollipop to medical corpsmen about two months ago, he said.

"Some medics have it now. And it will continue to be fielded until it's out there for everybody," he said.

The lollipop also gives medics more control over the dosage, as the lozenge can be withdrawn at any moment, unlike a shot of morphine, he said.

"If the patient goes into shock or if there's a reason that you need to limit the dosage that you're giving to them, you can just pop it out of the mouth in a way that you couldn't (with the syrette).

"Once the morphine's in, the morphine's in."

Like other medicine distributed to military medics, the lollipops are subject to strict controls and will not be handed out directly to troops on the battlefield, he said.

"We'll take the appropriate steps to maintain accountability and maintain that they're being used appropriately," he said.

Medics in Afghanistan will still have the option of employing the morphine syrette, a small needle on a collapsible tube.

And for the moment, the pain-killing sucker will come in only one flavor -- "berry," he said.


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For wounded Marines, a 'lollipop' to ease pain

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Light drinkers have higher breast cancer risk, says study

Posted: 02 November 2011

WASHINGTON: Light to moderate alcohol drinkers have an increased risk of breast cancer compared to women who do not drink beer, wine or liquor, said a US study published on Tuesday.

Women who drink three to six glasses of alcohol per week have a 15 percent higher risk of getting breast cancer than women who do not drink, said the research led by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Women who drink on average two glasses daily of alcohol show a 51 percent higher risk of breast cancer, said the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers followed 105,986 women who answered survey questions about their health and alcohol consumption from 1980 until 2008.

The higher breast cancer risk was seen whether the women drank early in life or whether they were drinking after age 40, suggesting that even stopping may not have an effect on lowering risk.

The findings also present a dilemma for women who may choose to drink small amounts of alcohol, such as red wine, for heart health.

"There are no data to provide assurance that giving up alcohol will reduce breast cancer risk," said an accompanying editorial by Steven Narod, a doctor at the Women's College Research Institute, Toronto.

"Women who abstain from all alcohol may find that a potential benefit of lower breast cancer risk is more than offset by the relinquished benefit of reduced cardiovascular mortality associated with an occasional glass of red wine," he wrote.

The study authors said that the reason for the boost in breast cancer risk remains unknown, but hypothesised that it could be due to the elevation of sex hormones circulating in a woman's system after she drinks alcohol.

- AFP/de

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Light drinkers have higher breast cancer risk, says study

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Scientists make human blood protein from rice

Posted: 01 November 2011

WASHINGTON: Scientists at a Chinese university said Monday they can use rice to make albumin, a protein found in human blood that is often used for treating burns, traumatic shock and liver disease.

When extracted from rice seeds, the protein is "physically and chemically equivalent to blood-derived human serum albumin (HSA)," said the research in the US-published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings could lead to a breakthrough in production of HSA, which typically comes from human blood donations.

The demand for the blood protein is about 500 tons per year worldwide, and China has faced worrying shortages in the past.

The rice method was devised by scientists at Wuhan University in China and colleagues from the National Research Council of Canada and the Center for Functional Genomics at the University at Albany in New York.

First, they genetically engineered rice seeds to produce high levels of HSA. Then, they worked out a way to purify the protein from the seeds, gathering about 2.75 grams of the protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice.

When they tested the rice-made protein in rats with liver cirrhosis, a common condition for which the human equivalent is often used, they found it produced similar outcomes to treatment with HSA.

"Our results suggest that a rice seed bioreactor produces cost-effective recombinant HSA that is safe and can help to satisfy an increasing worldwide demand for human serum albumin," said the study.

The protein is often used in the manufacture of vaccines and drugs and is given to patients with serious burn injuries, hemorrhagic shock and liver disease, the researchers said.

In 2007, a shortage in China led to price spikes and a brief rise in the number of fraudulent albumin medicines on the market.

Concerns have also been raised about the potential for the transmission of hepatitis and HIV, since the protein comes from human blood.

Large-scale planting of genetically modified rice fields that could produce enough seed for mass production of the protein also raises environmental and food supply contamination concerns, since rice is a major world food staple.

However, the study authors noted that rice is a largely self-pollinating crop, pointing to previous studies that showed "a very low frequency (0.04-0.80%) of pollen-mediated gene flow between genetically modified (GM) rice and adjacent non-GM plants."

More research is needed to evaluate the safety of the rice-derived protein in animals and humans before it can be considered for the market.


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Scientists make human blood protein from rice
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back pain? Try yoga

Posted: 01 November 2011

People practising yoga
WASHINGTON: People who took yoga classes for chronic lower back pain experienced more lifestyle improvements and better overall health than those who sought a doctor's advice, said a study published Monday.

The research in the US journal the Annals of Internal Medicine was led by scientists at the University of York, included more than 300 people and was described as the largest of its kind to date in the United Kingdom.

Researchers derived their study samples from a group of people who were already seeing a doctor for chronic or recurrent back pain. They assigned 156 of them to yoga classes and left 157 to the care of their physicians.

After three months, the yoga group reported they "were able to undertake 30 per cent more activities compared with those in the usual care group," said the study.

The main advantage appeared to be having more confidence to perform daily tasks such as "walking more quickly, getting dressed without help or standing up for longer periods of time," and not necessarily pain relief, it said.

Those taking yoga reported slightly less pain compared to the usual care group, but the difference was of "marginal statistical significance," the researchers said.

The data adds to a series of studies on how yoga may improve health. A study published earlier this month in the US journal Archives of Internal Medicine found yoga and stretching alleviated back pain more than reading a self-help manual.

Other studies out this year have suggested yoga can lower stress and improve quality of life among breast cancer patients, as well as cut irregular heartbeat episodes in half among cardiac patients.

The study authors said the findings are important because 80 percent of people in the United Kingdom suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, with few effective treatments.

"Back pain is an extremely common and costly condition. Exercise treatment, although widely used and recommended, has only a small effect on back pain," said lead investigator David Torgerson.

"Our results showed that yoga can provide both short and long-term benefits to those suffering from chronic or recurrent back pain, without any serious side-effects."

- AFP/wk

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Back pain? Try yoga

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Aspirin slashes cancer rate for those with hereditary risk

Sometimes I get tired following these studies, and i get confused... maybe I need an aspirin...

Posted: 28 October 2011

PARIS: Long-term, daily doses of aspirin led to a fall of some 60 percent in cases of colorectal cancer among people with an inherited risk of this disease, the journal The Lancet reported on Friday.

The trial - considered to be broad in sample and long in duration - confirms evidence elsewhere that aspirin has a protective effect against cancer of the colon and rectum, it said.

The study enrolled patients with Lynch Syndrome, a fault in genes charged with cellular repair that leads to colorectal and other cancers.

Lynch Syndrome occurs in around one in 1,000 people and accounts for about one in 30 cases of bowel cancer, The Lancet said.

A total of 861 patients were randomly designated to take either two aspirins daily, for a dose of 600mg, or a harmless dummy pill, known as a placebo, for at least two years. They were then regularly given colon exams.

When the data from this study were first examined in 2007, there was no difference in colorectal cancer incidence between the groups.

But things changed when the researchers checked again a few years later.

By this time, there had been 34 cases of colorectal cancer in the placebo group but 19 in the aspirin group - a reduction in incidence of 44 percent.

The doctors then looked further at those patients (60 percent of the total) who had been taking the aspirin or the placebo beyond the two-year minimum.

In this sub-group, the figures were even more impressive.

There were 23 cancers in the placebo group, but only 10 in the aspirin group, amounting to a fall of 63 percent. The difference began to be seen after five years.

In the light of this discovery, further research has been launched to see what is the best dosage and duration of aspirin treatment.

"In the meantime, clinicians should consider aspirin prescription for all individuals judged to be at high risk of colorectal cancer, but taking appropriate measures to minimise adverse effects," says the paper, headed by John Burn, a professor of clinical genetics at Newcastle University, northeastern England.

Last year, a study also published in The Lancet, found that rates of cancer of the colon, prostate, lung, brain and throat were all reduced by daily aspirin use. For the colon, the risk over 20 years declined by 40 percent.

Many doctors recommend regular use of aspirin to lower the risk of heart attack, clot-related strokes and other blood flow problems. A downside of extended daily use is the risk of stomach problems.

- AFP/de

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Aspirin slashes cancer rate for those with hereditary risk

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Yoga and stretching help lower back pain

The West is looking to the East now...

Posted: 25 October 2011

A participant strikes a pose during a female-only mass yoga event in Singapore. (AFP Photo/File/Simin Wang)
WASHINGTON: People who suffer chronic lower back pain saw about the same improvement after taking yoga classes taught by highly-trained teachers as they did from stretching classes, said a US study on Monday.

The findings, described by authors as the largest US randomised trial on yoga to date, appear in the October 24 issue of the Archives on Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.

"We found yoga classes more effective than a self-care book - but no more effective than stretching classes," said lead study author Karen Sherman, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.

"We expected back pain to ease more with yoga than with stretching, so our findings surprised us," she said.

The same group of researchers conducted a smaller trial in 2005 based on a randomised sample of 101 adults. That study suggested yoga was the best remedy for back pain because those who practiced it used fewer pain relievers and had better back function.

The latest data is derived from a sample of 228 people across six cities in the western state of Washington, and while it showed a slight lead by the yoga class, the difference was not enough to matter statistically.

The subjects were assigned to 12 weekly classes that lasted 75 minutes each.

The yoga was a type known as viniyoga, which features poses adapted for the individual condition of those in the class, breathing exercises and a deep relaxation period. Classes were taught by instructors with more than 500 hours of training.

The stretch classes were taught by licensed physical therapists with teaching experience and two hours of training in techniques that focused on the trunk, legs, hamstrings and hips. Some strengthening exercises were also included.

The third group was given a self-care book called "The Back Pain Helpbook" to read for tips on alleviating pain.

"Back-related dysfunction declined over time in all groups," the study said, noting that compared to the handbook group, the yoga group reported superior function at 12 and 26 weeks.

The stretching group reported superior function at six, 12 and 26 weeks. At no point in the follow-up analysis was there a statistically meaningful difference between the stretching and yoga groups.

"The most straightforward interpretation of our findings would be that yoga's benefits on back function and symptoms were largely physical, due to the stretching and strengthening of muscles," Sherman said.

She also acknowledged that the stretching classes were longer and more intense than those typically offered at neighbourhood gyms, so the trial may have been inadvertently comparing two very similar exercise methods.

"Our results suggest that both yoga and stretching can be good, safe options for people who are willing to try physical activity to relieve their moderate low back pain," she said.

"But it's important for the classes to be therapeutically oriented, geared for beginners, and taught by instructors who can modify postures for participants' individual physical limitations."

A separate study released earlier this year suggested yoga can lower stress and improve quality of life among breast cancer patients.

Another research team found that regular yoga practice by cardiac patients was able to cut irregular heartbeat episodes in half.

- AFP/de

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Yoga and stretching help lower back pain

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