Monday, August 15, 2011

Dengue vaccine could be ready by 2015: Sanofi

Posted: 11 June 2011

BANGKOK - French drugs group Sanofi said on Friday that its vaccine against dengue, a mosquito-borne infection that kills thousands of people around the world each year, could be launched in about four years.

"The vaccine could be available... around 2015," Jean Lang, head of vaccine development at the group's subsidiary Sanofi-Pasteur, told reporters in Bangkok.

The launch date is dependent on regulatory approval in each country based on the results of trials.

The vaccine is the first for dengue to undergo advanced "Phase III" clinical trials - the final stage before the results are submitted for regulatory approval.

About 4,000 children in the central Thai province of Ratchaburi, one of the worst affected areas in the country, are participating in a study that aims to establish the efficacy of the vaccine.

Dengue causes severe, flu-like symptoms in about 50 million people every year, mainly in developing countries.

There are four strains, one of which is a potentially lethal type.

Dengue has reemerged in recent years as a serious public health threat in tropical regions.

There is currently no treatment, cure or vaccine.

- AFP/al

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Dengue vaccine could be ready by 2015: Sanofi

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Parkinson's patients show high melanoma risk

Posted: 07 June 2011

A cancer patient receives radiation treatment
WASHINGTON: People who suffer from Parkinson's disease face up to twice the risk of developing deadly skin cancer, an analysis of 12 studies on the topic showed on Monday.

Previous research has shown mixed results, but the meta-analysis by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and published in the journal Neurology showed a significantly higher risk of melanoma in Parkinson's patients.

Men with Parkinson's are twice as likely to develop melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and women with Parkinson's were 1.5 times as likely to receive the same diagnosis.

There was no link observed between non-melanoma skin cancer and Parkinson's in the dozen studies which spanned 1965 to 2010.

Since the studies were small in size, most showing fewer than 10 cases of people with both conditions, it was difficult to draw individual conclusions.

However, the meta-analysis showed a distinctly increased risk.

"Parkinson's disease patients in general have a lower risk for cancer, smoking-related cancers in particular, but they may have a higher risk for melanoma," said study author Honglei Chen.

"One possible explanation for the link between Parkinson's and melanoma is that the two diseases may share some genetic or environmental risk factors," Chen said.

"However, our understanding of this link is very preliminary."

Worldwide estimates of the number of people living with Parkinson's, a brain disease that causes physical tremors and difficulty with movement and balance, range from five to 10 million.

About 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year, according to the World Health Organization.

- AFP/cc

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Parkinson's patients show high melanoma risk

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Wrinkles can predict woman's bone break risk

When it is not just skin-deep...

Posted: 07 June 2011

WASHINGTON: Wrinkles on a woman's face may be able to predict how likely she is to suffer from bone fractures, according to a US study released on Monday.

That's because the level of proteins in the skin and bones are linked, so if a woman's face and neck are severely wrinkled, she faces a higher risk of bone breakage due to bone density loss, said Yale University researchers.

Researchers examined 114 early post-menopausal women, whose last menstrual period was within three years, as part of an ongoing clinical trial at numerous sites in the United States.

They measured the women's skin at 11 locations on the face and neck, both visually and using a device known as a durometer to assess how rigid the skin was on the forehead and cheek.

Bone mass and density were measured with a portable ultrasound and X-ray.

"We found that deepening and worsening skin wrinkles are related to lower bone density among the study participants," said Lubna Pal, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Yale School of Medicine.

"The worse the wrinkles, the lesser the bone density, and this relationship was independent of age or of factors known to influence bone mass."

More resilient skin was linked to better bone density, said the study released at the Endocrine Society meeting in the northeastern city of Boston, Massachusetts.

"Our findings that the appearance and physical properties of the skin can reflect the quality of the skeleton are noteworthy because this may allow clinicians to identify fracture risk in post-menopausal women 'at a glance' without depending on costly tests," said Pal.


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Wrinkles can predict woman's bone break risk

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Brain scans for Alzheimer's could be widespread soon

Posted: 07 June 2011

WASHINGTON - A brain scan to detect Alzheimer's disease could be available in hospitals worldwide within the next year and could boost efforts to detect the degenerative and fatal condition, experts said on Monday.

The technique, known as a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, can find and analyze a protein known as beta-amyloid, which is linked to Alzheimer's.

"Amyloid imaging with PET scans is expected to be widely available soon for clinical practice," said Christopher Rowe, a professor of nuclear medicine at Austin Hospital, Victoria, Australia.

"It will be an important new tool in the assessment of cognitive decline."

The results from three studies on advances in PET scans for Alzheimer's were presented at a meeting of the Society for Nuclear Medicine's annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

Researchers said that the new methods will be of growing importance as the world population ages, and could provide clues towards treating Alzheimer's. There is no known cure.

About 18 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia.

"From a macro perspective, amyloid imaging with PET scans can help to ascertain the likelihood that individuals will deteriorate cognitively within a few years, thereby enabling more efficient channelling of health care resources," said Kevin Ong, a research scientist at Austin Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.

"From a micro perspective, planning and lifestyle modifications are possible for individuals who seek screening for Alzheimer's disease."

Such scans could find clues of the onset of Alzheimer's long before symptoms are present. Previous research has shown that the disease can begin as much as decade before signs of dementia appear.

Amyloid plaque is found in the brains of healthy older people and builds up over time. Larger, faster buildup is linked to quicker memory decline and wasting away of brain tissue.

Amyloid plaques typically grow by about two to three percent per year, and are found in about 12 percent of people in their 60s, 30 percent of those in their 70s and 55 percent of people over age 80, the researchers said.

The studies presented spanned several years of research and involved hundreds of patients at all stages of cognitive function.

Two of the studies suggested that imaging agents known as F-18 labelled tracers, F-18 Florbetaben and F-18 Florbetapir, are the most likely to move into clinical practice in the near term.

- AFP/al


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Brain scans for Alzheimer's could be widespread soon

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New chemo regimen helps children with neuroblastoma

Posted: 06 June 2011

CHICAGO: A new high-dose chemotherapy regimen has been shown to improve survival of children with high-risk neuroblastoma, a common pediatric cancer, according to a European clinical trial published on Sunday.

"The study's results are important for patients with this extremely difficult to treat disease," said lead author Ruth Ladenstein of the University of Vienna and St. Anna Children's Cancer Research Institute in Vienna, Austria.

The results were presented in Chicago at the 47th annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. More than 30,000 researchers and representatives of pharmaceutical companies participated in the forum.

The phase 3 trial showed better overall survival with a combination of the myeloablative chemotherapy drugs busulphan and melphalan (BuMel) compared to a different myeloablative regimen of three chemotherapy drugs, carboplatin, etoposide and melphalan (CEM).

Previously, only 30 per cent of children with high-risk neuroblastoma survive long-term.

The study's results show that survival can increase by 20 per cent.

"We could potentially improve overall prognosis by up to 35 per cent in the future," Ladenstein said.

"Thus, we overcome the 50 per cent threshold in survival rates by choosing the right high-dose myeloablative regimen for these patients," she added.

Myeloablative chemotherapy is high-dose chemotherapy that kills cells in the bone marrow, including cancer cells.

Neuroblastoma is rare, but is the most common cancer in the first year of life and accounts for approximately 15 per cent of childhood cancer deaths.

About 650 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, with 40 per cent considered high-risk, meaning they are "very likely to recur or progress, despite therapy," the study said.

The trial involved 563 children -- median age 3. After three years, the survival was 60 per cent for those receiving busulphan-melphalan compared to 48 per cent for the CEM group "and the busulphan group had lower rates of relapse and progression."

"Based on the results, the randomization was stopped early," the study said.

The treatment-related death rate was 3 per cent for the busulphan regimen and 5 per cent for CEM, the study said.



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New chemo regimen helps children with neuroblastoma

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Ovarian cancer screening does not cut death risk: study

When help isn't help after all...

Posted: 05 June 2011

WASHINGTON - Women who are screened regularly for ovarian cancer, which is often diagnosed too late to be treated, show no lower risk of dying from it, a large US study showed on Saturday.

The randomized clinical trial of close to 80,000 women age 55 to 74 also found that some women underwent unnecessary surgery after false positives came up in either their ultrasound or blood scans.

Annual screening for ovarian cancer does not cut death rates in women at average risk "but does increase invasive medical procedures and associated harms," said the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Similar rates of cancer and deaths were seen across the both groups -- 212 ovarian cancer cases and 118 deaths from it in the intervention group over 13 years of follow up.

The unscreened group saw 176 cases of ovarian cancer and 118 deaths caused by it. The difference in survival rates "was not statistically significant," the study said.

However 3,285 women received false-positive results, and 1,080 underwent surgery to have one or both ovaries removed.

Fifteen percent of these women experienced "major complications," said the study led by Saundra Buys of the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, Salt Lake City.

There may be ways to improve upon the screening, such as examining small changes in the CA-125 blood test over time, rather than by a single measure as was done in this study, the authors said.

But even the best methods for annual screening may not help when it comes to a disease like ovarian cancer, which has often spread to other organs by the time it is detected and is the fifth deadliest cancer among women.

"Evidence from modeling suggests that aggressive cancers progress rapidly through the early stages, limiting the ability to detect these cancers with yearly screening."

- AFP /ls


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Ovarian cancer screening does not cut death risk: study

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AIDS at 30: New funds, smarter spending needed

Posted: 03 June 2011

We have a long way to go to prevent new HIV infections, says UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (AFP/File)
PARIS - More money, less waste and smarter programmes are urgently needed to consolidate precious gains in the war on AIDS and HIV, UNAIDS said on Friday ahead of the disease's 30th anniversary.

"The number of people becoming infected and dying is decreasing, but the international resources needed to sustain this progress have declined for the first time in 10 years, despite tremendous unmet needs," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned.

"We have a long way to go to prevent new HIV infections, end discrimination and scale up treatment, care and support," he said in a foreword to the report.

The 139-page document, "AIDS at 30: Nations at the Crossroads," coincides with the anniversary on June 5 of a 1981 report by US epidemiologists describing the case of five young homosexuals whose immune systems had been destroyed.

That condition, later named acquired immune deficiency syndrome, has since killed nearly 30 million people, and more than 33 million others have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it, according to UNAIDS estimates.

The UN General Assembly in New York will hold a high-level meeting from June 8-10 to assess progress in the campaign.

UNAIDS painted a tableau of early setbacks and later successes in the fight against a complex disease.

It hailed in particular "dramatic gains" in getting AIDS drugs -- once the preserve of rich economies -- to patients in poor countries.

At the end of 2010, 6.6 million people in low- and middle-income countries had access to treatment, it said.

This amounted to an increase of 1.4 million over 2009, and a 22-fold rise over 2001, "a vivid illustration of the power of international solidarity, innovative approaches and people-centred responses."

On the downside, the global tally still fell far short of the goal of "universal access" that the United Nations had enshrined for 2010. That deadline came and went with another nine million badly-infected people still in need of treatment.

Achieving that aim and tackling the many other issues of AIDS will require a major boost in funds, UNAIDS warned.

Between 2001 and 2009, resources for poorer countries rose 10-fold, from 1.6 billion dollars annually to 15.9 billion.

But this rise masks a flatlining that began with the 2008 financial crisis as western countries that are overwhelmingly the biggest foreign contributors began to tighten their belts.

The United States alone accounted for 3.165 billion dollars in AIDS support in 2009, followed by Britain, with 658 million and the Netherlands with 389 million dollars, although Denmark donated most as a percentage of its GDP.

"Waning support" had to be reversed, said the report.

Without naming names, it urged middle-income countries to entirely self-finance their AIDS programmes within the next few years.

And in a veiled reference to China and other developing giants, it said "some countries that are now emerging as global and regional economic powers may in due course" become donors rather than recipients.

Donations from China and oil-rich Gulf nations have become a sticky issue in the field of AIDS.

Sources say Michel Kazatchkine, head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has worked hard to drum up help from these countries but so far to little effect.

The report also pointed the finger at countries that were doing too little to prevent new infections, or failing to spend money in ways that would have the greatest impact.

In West Africa, scarce funds for prevention programmes often bypassed sex workers or gays, whose HIV prevalence was 10 times greater than in the rest of the population.

In parts of southern Africa, older heterosexuals account for a big chunk of new infections, but there are few programmes specifically designed to convey a safe sex message to them.

And in Asia, meanwhile, some 90 of spending on prevention for young people fails to target the youngsters who are at higher risk of infection.

Veteran AIDS campaigner and former US president Bill Clinton said the fight against AIDS had to adjust to leaner times by being smarter and less wasteful.

NGOs had to cut their overheads, governments had to reduce costs and efforts had to be focused on population niches most at risk of infection.

"By doing these things, even with the same level of funding, we can prevent many more infections," Clinton said.



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AIDS at 30: New funds, smarter spending needed

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New MRSA 'superbug' found in cow's milk

Posted: 03 June 2011

An entirely new strain of the drug-resistant MRSA superbug has been found in cow's milk and people (AFP/Graphic)
LONDON - An entirely new strain of the drug-resistant MRSA superbug has been found in cow's milk and people in Britain and Denmark, a study published on Friday said.

The previously unseen variant "potentially poses a public health problem," said lead researcher Mark Holmes, senior lecturer in preventive veterinary medicine at Britain's Cambridge University.

There was no general threat to the safety of pasteurised milk and dairy products, but people working with animals could be at risk, said the study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Dubbed a "flesh-eating" bacteria in media reports, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has emerged as a major threat in hospitals around the world, becoming potentially deadly when it infects wounds.

"Although there is circumstantial evidence that dairy cows are providing a reservoir of infection, it is still not known for certain if cows are infecting people, or people are infecting cows. This is one of the many things we will be looking into next," Holmes told a news conference on Thursday.

"Drinking milk or eating meat is not a health issue, as long as the milk is pasteurized," he said, adding that the process of making cheese also "generally kills most of the bacteria".

Holmes said the main worry was that the new strain would be wrongly identified by traditional genetic screening tests as being drug-susceptible, meaning people could therefore be given the wrong antibiotics.

Colleague Laura Garcia-Alvarez, also from Cambridge University, said it was "certainly worrying" to find the new strain in both cows and humans but said the pasteurisation of milk would keep it out of the food chain.

"Workers on dairy farms may be at higher risk of carrying MRSA, but we do not yet know if this translates into a higher risk of infection," Garcia-Alvarez added.

The team stumbled on the new MRSA bug while investigating mastitis, a serious disease which affects dairy cows.

They found MRSA bacteria with the same mutated gene in 13 of 940 samples from 450 dairy herds in southwest England.

Tests on people treated for MRSA revealed the same new strain in 12 instances in Scotland, 15 from England and 24 from Denmark.

The scientists also spotted a "clustering" of human and cow samples containing exactly the same new strain, suggesting transmission between cattle and humans.

Separately another study released on Friday showed another new form of MRSA in hospitals in Ireland that is closely related to the previously unseen one found in Britain.

Like the British one, it is not detected by current genetic tests and is also found in cows, said the research published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

"The results of our study and the independent United Kingdom study indicate that new types of MRSA that can colonise and infect humans are currently emerging from animal reservoirs in Ireland and Europe and it is difficult to correctly identify them as MRSA," said David Coleman of Dublin University.

"This knowledge will enable us to rapidly adapt existing genetic MRSA detection tests, but has also provided invaluable insights into the evolution and origins of MRSA," he added.

The announcement of the new types of MRSA comes a day after the World Health Organisation said a lethal E.coli bacteria that has killed 18 people in Europe is "extremely rare" and had never been seen in an outbreak form before.



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New MRSA 'superbug' found in cow's milk

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