Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Study confirms groundbreaking advance in stem cells

Breakthroughs, breakthroughs... are they finally seeing the beneficial impact to our daily lives?

Posted: 24 January 2012

A scientist works on stem cells.
PARIS: The first use of embryonic stem cells in humans eased a degenerative form of blindness in two volunteers and showed no signs of any adverse effects, according to a study published by The Lancet on Monday.

Publication in the peer-reviewed journal marks an important step for embryonic stem cells, which were hailed as a miracle cure after they were discovered in 1998 but then ran into technical and political hurdles.

The results of the cautious first-stage test, designed to evaluate whether the treatment is safe, had been previously announced by Massachusetts biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) Inc.

The positive outcome in the United States opened the way to the first trials in Europe, which began on Monday.

Embryonic stem cells are extraordinarily versatile cells, found in early-stage embryos, that can differentiate into any tissue of the body.

Scientists have been hoping to turn them into replacement for tissue lost through disease or lost in accidents or war.

The quest to use embryonic stem cells has been arduous.

One problem is biological: that donated stem cells, provoking an immune response, can be rejected by the body or cause cancer. The other is ethical, with moral conservatives contending that an embryo is a human life.

Addressing the biological question, ACT used the stem cells at a so-called "immunoprivileged" site, the eye, where there is not a strong immune response because of a shield known as the blood-ocular barrier.

Around 50,000 embryonic stem cells that had diversified into replacement cells for the pigmented layer of the retina were transplanted into two legally-blind volunteers.

One, a woman in her 70s, had a condition called dry age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world; the other was a woman in her fifties who had Stargardt's macular dystrophy, the commonest form of vision loss among young people.

For the next six weeks, the patients received treatment to prevent their immune systems from attacking the implanted cells, but this was gradually scaled back.

In the first four months, no signs of cancer, rejection or other safety concerns emerged and both patients recovered a little vision, although this was not the point of the test.

At the outset, the older patient was able to read 21 letters on a standard chart of visual acuity. This rose to 33 letters after two weeks before settling at a stable ability to read 28 letters, the study said.

The woman with Stargardt's disease, a former graphic artist, at first could only see hand movements, but this improved after the transplant to being able to see single fingers and to reading five letters of the alphabet.

"However, that doesn't really capture the difference it has made in their life," Bob Lanza, ACT's chief scientific officer, said in an email to AFP.

"The Stargardt's patient reports that she can see more colour and has better contrast and dark adaptation out of the operated eye. In fact, she started using her computer and could even read her watch... (and) says she can even thread a needle now."

Lanza noted that the improvements occurred in patients who were already at a very advanced state of the disease, so the trials were encouraging for patients at an earlier stage of degeneration.

Clinical trials of novel drugs or treatments typically undergo a three-phase process, enrolling a progressively larger number of patients, to make sure they are firstly safe and, secondly, effective.

The Lancet had been scheduled to publish the study on Thursday but released it on Monday as ACT launched its first European trials of the retinal treatment.

Twelve patients with Stargardt's have been cleared by British medical authorities to undergo transplant, with progressively higher doses of cells, at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

- AFP/al

Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
Study confirms groundbreaking advance in stem cells

Enhanced by Zemanta

S'pore averted dengue outbreak in 2011

Now, this is a local news to me!

Posted: 20 January 2012

Dengue virus is primarily transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes
SINGAPORE: Singapore is enjoying a brief respite from the dengue virus, with the number of cases in 2011 much lower than what was expected for a peak or near-peak year of the six- to seven-year dengue cycle traditionally seen.

There were about 5,330 dengue cases in 2011, slightly lower than the 5,363 cases in 2010.

But it is significantly lower compared with the last outbreak in 2005, when the number of cases hit about 14,000, as well as in 2007 when there were about 8,000 cases. In 2006, there were about 3,000 cases.

The local dengue incident rate - which is the number of people who came down with the disease per 100,000 population - was less than 100, compared with 300 during the 2005 outbreak.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which gave this update on Friday, said a serious dengue outbreak in 2011 was averted due to the contributions of the various sectors in the community.

These include households, town councils, government agencies and construction sites.

NEA said it will continue to work with members of the Inter Agency Dengue Taskforce to remove as many potential public breeding spots as possible and conduct educational visits in homes, ahead of the coming warmer months.

It has also reminded residents not to let their guard down this festive period, despite the low dengue transmission.

It said its educational visits to homes since November 2011 show that more can be done to keep homes free of mosquito breeding.

A majority of about 1,300 breedings detected by officers during these visits were found in domestic containers, flower pot plates and ornamental containers.

With the festive period around the corner, many are decorating their homes with floral decorations such as lucky bamboo, cherry blossoms and pussy willows.

NEA said residents must ensure that their vases and plant bowls do not breed mosquitoes. They must change the water on alternate days.

- CNA/cc

Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
S'pore averted dengue outbreak in 2011
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, February 24, 2012

First gene-link to inherited prostate cancer

Posted: 12 January 2012

Genetic sample test. (AFP Photo/Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)
WASHINGTON - US researchers said Wednesday they have found the first genetic mutation linked to an inherited form of prostate cancer, raising new hope of one day improving early screening for the disease.

The mutation appears only in a small subset of prostate cancer patients, but those who inherited it showed 10 to 20 times higher risk of developing prostate cancer, particularly before age 55, the researchers said.

The advance, described in the New England Journal of Medicine, comes amid a two-decade search for clues about the genetic origins of prostate cancer, the most commonly diagnosed male cancer with 240,000 new US cases each year.

Other attempts to isolate particular gene links to prostate cancer have shown mixed results.

"This is the first major genetic variant associated with inherited prostate cancer," said co-author Kathleen Cooney, professor of internal medicine and urology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

The mutation of the HOXB13 gene is believed rare in the general population - only one percent of men are thought to carry it - but among those who do, the risks of developing prostate cancer while young may skyrocket.

"The mutation is significantly more common in men with a family history of prostate cancer that strikes at an earlier age, compared to older patients with no family history," said University of North Carolina scientist Ethan Lange, who was part of the research team.

While more study is needed, scientists hope the finding could lead to genetic tests for men at high risk for prostate cancer, much the same way as women with family history of breast cancer may get tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

"Still, our results strongly suggest this is the most clinically important mutation identified for prostate cancer to date," said Lange.

For this study, researchers honed in on a certain chromosome region, 17q21-22, using samples from young patients with prostate cancer from 94 families who had taken part in studies at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University.

Using the latest technology, they sequenced the DNA of more than 200 genes in that chromosome region and found that four separate families had the same mutation in the HOXB13 gene.

The gene is crucial during fetal development of the prostate and the gland's function in later life.

Of the total 5,100 men scanned, 72 were found to have the mutation, or about 1.4 percent of subjects studied.

In a control group of 1,400 men without prostate cancer, researchers found only one who carried the mutation.

Two different mutations on the same gene were found in families of African descent, but since very few of the participants were black, more research is needed to determine the significance of those.

"It's what we've been looking for over the past 20 years," said co-author William Isaacs, professor of urology and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"It's long been clear that prostate cancer can run in families, but pinpointing the underlying genetic basis has been challenging and previous studies have provided inconsistent results."

Prostate cancer kills about 32,000 men in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Hereditary prostate cancer accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all cases.

African-Americans are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as whites. The disease is common in North America and northwestern Europe, but less so in Asia and South America.

"Previous research has identified multiple genetic foci that appear to be associated with an increase risk of prostate cancer, but the identification of a specific prostate cancer gene has been challenging," said Manish Vira, a urologist at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, who was not part of the study.

"Just as in patients with breast cancer and the BRCA gene, one could envision a future in which a man with a family history of prostate cancer is screened for this particular mutation, and if positive, would begin early screening as he would be at risk for early onset prostate cancer."

- AFP/al

Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
First gene-link to inherited prostate cancer

Enhanced by Zemanta

Cholesterol meds raise diabetes risk in women: study

And each and every medicine has a side effect, the doctor says...

Posted: 10 January 2012

A nurse tests a blood sample from a patient using a glucometer (file pic).
WASHINGTON - Post-menopausal women who take medication to lower their cholesterol face a higher risk of getting diabetes than women who do not take the popular drugs, known as statins, said a US study on Monday.

The risk was apparent even after researchers adjusted for variables such as age, race/ethnicity and body mass index, said the study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The link appeared regardless of what type of statin, or what dosage, the women were taking, said the study which included 153,000 women with an average age of 63.

The researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota called for more study on the matter but said in the meantime there was no need to revise the guidelines for statin use in non-diabetic people, pointing out that statins aim to fix the negative heart consequences of diabetes.

"Women who are taking statins should be aware of the need to check their blood sugars, along with their liver function tests," said Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

"Due to the extensive use of statins in the aging female population, it is critical that more studies are done to help understand the association with statins and the development of diabetes," added Steinbaum, who was not part of the study.

Statins have been dubbed "the aspirin of the 21st century" for their perceived benefits in cardiovascular health and relatively few side effects. Worldwide sales total more than $20 billion annually.

Popularly known names such as Lipitor, Pravachol, and Crestor are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States. About 42 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol.

The drugs help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering a person's low-density lipoprotein (LDL), sometimes known as "bad cholesterol".

A review published by JAMA in June 2011 showed that high doses of statins were linked to higher numbers of new diabetes cases in patients, leaving doctors to balance the benefits and risks according to each individual patient.

- AFP/al

Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
Cholesterol meds raise diabetes risk in women: study

Enhanced by Zemanta

Nicotine therapy "no help" to smokers

Posted: 10 January 201

Photo illustration of a man smoking a cigarette
WASHINGTON: Gums, patches and nasal sprays that supply smokers with nicotine do not help people quit cigarettes over the long term any better than going it alone, a US study said on Monday.

The research by the Harvard University School of Public Health followed 787 adults in the state of Massachusetts who had recently quit smoking, and found that over time just as many relapsed after nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as without -- about a third.

"This study shows that using NRT is no more effective in helping people stop smoking cigarettes in the long term than trying to quit on one's own," said lead author Hillel Alpert, a research scientist at Harvard.

Study participants were surveyed over three time periods: 2001-2002, 2003-2004, and 2005-2006.

Not only were relapse rates about the same among those who used NRT and those who did not, the study found that heavily dependent smokers who took NRT without professional therapy were twice as likely to relapse as those who did not use NRT.

"This may indicate that some heavily dependent smokers perceive NRT as a sort of 'magic' pill, and upon realizing it is not, they find themselves without support in their quitting efforts, doomed to failure," said the study in the journal Tobacco Control.

Although previous randomised controlled studies have shown NRT to be effective in helping smokers quit, the latest research shows the weakness of those trials among the general population in a real-life setting, the authors argued.

The study also showed that very few people follow the recommendations of using NRT for eight weeks, with many opting for shorter periods of use.

The NRT industry has boomed since nicotine gum was first introduced in 1984, according to background information in the article. Back then, NRT products were a $45 million industry in the United States.

Since over-the-counter sales of NRT were approved in 1996, the industry has soared to $800 million per year. On top of that, sales of prescription drugs to stop smoking reached $841 million dollars in 2007.

More public funds are also helping to subsidise stop-smoking therapies to low-income Americans, with 39 state Medicaid programs covering one or more kinds of NRT in 2011, compared to 17 states in 1996.

Meanwhile, rates of smoking in the United States have levelled off at about 20 percent of the population in the past five years after a steady period of decline.

"What this study shows is the need for the Food and Drug Administration... to approve only medications that have been proven to be effective in helping smokers quit in the long-term and to lower nicotine in order to reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes," said co-author Gregory Connolly, director of Harvard's Center for Global Tobacco Control.

GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, whose US products include the NicoDerm CQ patch and Nicorette gum, responded to the study by saying "there remains strong support for NRT's efficacy and its positive impact on public health."

In a statement, it cited the World Health Organisation, leading experts and world governments which "agree that NRT products have a crucial role to play in helping to reduce the devastating toll of disease caused by tobacco dependence."

It also referenced "numerous studies (that) show smokers who use NRT products per the dosing recommendations, combined with support, can double their chances of successfully quitting over 'cold turkey.'"

- AFP/wk

Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
Nicotine therapy "no help" to smokers

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

'Couch potato pill' may also prevent heatstroke

Is this a good news, or what?

Posted: 09 January 2012

AICAR became dubbed the "couch potato pill" after it was found to develop muscles and boost endurance among completely inactive laboratory rodents. (AFP/File)
PARIS: A drug discovered nearly four years ago that builds muscles in lazy mice may also prevent heatstroke, according to lab research reported on Sunday.

If further tests work out, the compound could help athletes or soldiers who are so sensitive to heat that they could die from exertion on a hot day, its authors say.

In 2008, a drug known as AICAR became dubbed the "couch potato pill" after it was found to develop muscles and boost endurance among completely inactive laboratory rodents. It is now being explored as a treatment for several muscle diseases and metabolic disorders.

In a paper published by the journal Nature Medicine, researchers in the United States said they discovered by chance that AICAR also protects mice against a disorder called malignant hyperthermia.

This deadly condition is linked to a basket of flaws in a gene called RYR1, a trait which exists in mice as well as humans.

A rise in body temperature causes a leak of calcium in muscle cells, triggering a molecular cascade that eventually makes the muscles contract and break down.

Potassium and protein then pour out of the crippled muscle cells and into the bloodstream, reaching toxic levels that lead to heart or kidney failure.

Tests on mice genetically engineered to have the RYR1 mutation found that AICAR worked perfectly in preventing malignant hypothermia, says the study.

"When we gave AICAR to the mice, it was 100 percent effective in preventing heat-induced deaths, even when we gave it no more than 10 minutes before the activity," said Susan Hamilton, a professor of molecular physiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

AICAR -- full name 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleoside -- works by stopping the calcium leak, thus preventing the vicious circle from getting under way.

The finding may lead one day to a drug that would be used preventatively for heat-sensitive young athletes or soldiers in the desert who must wear heavy gear.

Abnormalities in the RYR1 gene are believed to occur in about one person in every 3,000.

But the researchers theorise that the future drug may also work for people without the RYR1 flaw.

"We think the fundamental process that occurs during heatstroke in individuals with RYR1 mutations is likely to be similar to what happens even in their (the mutations') absence," said Robert Dirksen, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

"The difference may be that individuals with RYR1 mutations are more easily thrust into the process, whereas those without (the mutations) need to be pushed more -- for example, by exposure to even greater temperatures or a long time, in order to move beyond a critical threshold."


Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
'Couch potato pill' may also prevent heatstroke

Enhanced by Zemanta

ADHD kids helped by healthy diet

Posted: 09 January 2012

Eating high-sugar and high-fat foods may exacerbate symptoms of ADHD, some research has shown. (AFP/Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON: Simply eating healthier may improve the behavior of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder if therapy and medication fail, said a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers, however, said that their review of recent controlled scientific studies had shown conflicting evidence on the impact of supplements and restricted diets -- in some cases they were no better than the placebo effect.

Nutritional interventions should therefore be considered an alternative or secondary approach to treating ADHD, not a first-line attack, said the review by doctors at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

"Supplemental diet therapy is simple, relatively inexpensive, and more acceptable to patient and parent," than strict additive-free diets that have been popular in the past, said the study.

"Public education regarding a healthy diet pattern and lifestyle to prevent or control ADHD may have greater long-term success."

The study reviewed research published on the sugar-restricted, additive-free Feingold Diet, megavitamin therapies, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and the suspected link between ADHD and a "Western-style" high-fat, low-fiber diet.

Three to five percent of US schoolchildren, or nearly five million youths, are diagnosed with ADHD, which involves hyperactive behavior, inability to pay attention, and impulsivity. It is often treated with stimulant medications such as the controversial Ritalin drug.

The precise causes of ADHD are unknown, although studies have pointed to hereditary factors as well as social and environmental influences. Eating high-sugar and high-fat foods may exacerbate symptoms, some research has shown.

But while proposed interventions such as giving iron supplements or cutting out additives and food dyes have soared in popularity in recent years, the Pediatrics article said there is little solid science to back up those claims.

For instance, the much-hyped Feingold Diet which advocates no red or orange color dyes in food as well as no apples, grapes, deli, sausage or hot dogs, was highly touted in the 1970s and 80s for improving symptoms in more than half of ADHD children.

"Controlled studies failed to confirm the effectiveness of the diet to the extent claimed," said the Pediatrics review, also noting that the regimen was very difficult for many parents to follow.

Similarly, studies focused on getting rid of potential allergens in the diet such as wheat, eggs, chocolate, cheese and nuts, have shown limited success with some ADHD kids "but a placebo effect could not be excluded," said the study.

Even when it comes to sugar and diet soda, two elements which many parents believe can trigger hyperactivity in children, scientific studies have been unable to prove a definitive link.

"The majority of controlled studies fail to demonstrate a significant adverse effect of sucrose or aspartame," said the study.

The authors noted that avoiding high sugar foods in young children "may prevent diet-related exacerbations of ADHD."

But when parents restrict a child's sugar intake in order to ward off bad behavior, their inherent belief that it will work is likely to blur any objective assessment of whether it works or not.

"In practice, the link between sugar and hyperactive behavior is so universal in the opinion of parents of children with ADHD that no controlled study or physician counsel is likely to change this perception."

The suspected role of zinc and iron-deficiency deserves further study, while megavitamin therapy has not been proven to work and may even be dangerous in the long term, it said.

For many parents, simply paying more attention to feeding their kids a healthy diet, rich in fish, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole-grains, is likely to help.

"A greater attention to the education of parents and children in a healthy dietary pattern, omitting items shown to predispose to ADHD, is perhaps the most promising and practical complementary or alternative treatment of ADHD," said the study.

Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, who was not part of the study, said more research is needed into dietary treatments for ADHD.

"We have more questions than answers," he said. "It is unfortunate that more research is not being done to examine the role of dietary interventions for the treatment of ADHD.

"Since some of these nutritional interventions cannot be patented, drug companies are not willing to underwrite the costs of the needed research."


Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
ADHD kids helped by healthy diet

Enhanced by Zemanta

Swiss pharma giant Novartis recalls drugs in US

I'm still here, and to break the silence, at the least, I post this... not a very good news, though.

Posted: 09 January 2012

Excedrin PM is sold over-the-counter at a drugstore in 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis said Sunday it was recalling four different products sold over the counter in the United States over reports of a malfunction at one of its plants. (AFP/Getty Images/File - Scott Olson)
GENEVA: Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis said Sunday it was recalling four different products sold over the counter in the United States over reports of a malfunction at one of its plants.

The affected drugs are Excedrin, NoDoz, Bufferin and Gas-X Prevention, Novartis Consumer Health (NCH) said in a statement.

"NCH is taking this action as a precautionary measure, because the products may contain stray tablets, capsules, or caplets from other Novartis products, or contain broken or chipped tablets," it said.

"Mixing of different products in the same bottle could result in consumers taking the incorrect product and receiving a higher or lower strength than intended or receiving an unintended ingredient.

"This could potentially result in overdose, interaction with other medications a consumer may be taking, or an allergic reaction if the consumer is allergic to the unintended ingredient," the statement said.

The group stressed however that it was not aware of adverse effects among the affected products' consumers.

The plant in Lincoln, Nebraska where the products are manufactured was shut down last month and Novartis said improvements were being carried out there.


Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
Swiss pharma giant Novartis recalls drugs in US

Enhanced by Zemanta