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December 19, 2005

Obesity Before Pregnancy

Obesity Before Pregnancy
A child's weight may be influenced by his mother even before he is actually born, according to new research. Results of the study, which included more than 3,000 children, suggest that a child is far more likely to be overweight at a very young age - at 2 or 3 years old - if his mother was overweight or obese before she became pregnant. A child is also at greater risk of becoming overweight if he is born to a black or Hispanic mother, or to a mother who smoked during her pregnancy.

And there's a good chance that an overweight child will stay overweight for the rest of his or her life.

"Weight persists with time, so a child who is overweight by her second birthday is more likely to be overweight at a later age," said Pamela Salsberry, the study's lead author and an associate professor of nursing at Ohio State University. "Prevention of childhood obesity needs to begin before a woman ever gets pregnant".

Salsberry conducted the study with Patricia Reagan, a professor of economics at Ohio State. Their study appears in the recent issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The scientists analyzed the data for 3,022 children included in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth's (NLSY) Child-Mother file. The NLSY collected height and weight information at multiple points in time. In this study, children were weighed when they were roughly ages 3, 5 and 7. The survey also gathered information on each child's race and ethnicity, and asked each mother to recall her pre-pregnancy weight, if she had smoked while pregnant and if she had breast-fed her child.

Children were considered overweight if their body mass index (BMI) was greater than or equal to the 95th percentile for their age and gender. BMI is a measurement that relates weight to height. A child in the 95th percentile for his weight is heavier than 95 percent of the children his age.........

Emily      Permalink


December 19, 2005

New Look At Gene Regulation

New Look At Gene Regulation
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have purified a novel protein and have shown it can alter gene activity by reversing a molecular modification previously thought permanent.

In the study, the authors showed that a protein called JHDM1A is able to remove a methyl group from histone H3, one of four histone proteins bound to all genes. Until just last year, the addition of a methyl group to a histone had been regarded as irreversible.

"That histones can become methylated has been known for over three decades, and just now we're learning that those methyl groups can also be removed," said Dr. Yi Zhang, the lead author.

Zhang is professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UNC's School of Medicine and the university's first Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He also is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The new study is now online in the journal Nature.

"Human genes are so tightly compact within the nucleus that if the DNA of a single cell were unwound and stretched, it would be a line of about two meters in length," said Zhang. "Histones are necessary to package the DNA so that it fits inside a cell's nucleus".

Because they are so intimately associated with DNA, even slight chemical alterations of histones can have profound effects on nearby genes. Depending on the precise location and how a number of methyl groups are added, their presence can either switch affected genes on or off.

The first enzyme to remove methyl groups from histones, or histone demethylase, was identified last year. This was a breakthrough in the study of histone modifications, but Zhang thought pieces of the puzzle were still missing.

"We hypothesized that there were more demethylase enzymes out there for two reasons," Zhang said. "For one, the prior demethylase identified, called LSD1, could not remove a chain of three methyl groups from a histone, or a trimethyl group. Secondly, common baker's yeast does not have LSD1, eventhough it does have proteins adding methyl groups to histones".........

Scott      Permalink


December 19, 2005

Weak Chlorine Solutions Can Kill Noroviruses

Weak Chlorine Solutions Can Kill Noroviruses
Chlorine solutions much weaker than previously believed can still be used to kill more than 99 percent of noroviruses, the chief cause of outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness around the world, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concludes.

Scientists presented their findings over the weekend at the 2005 International Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, which ends today (Dec. 19) in Washington, D.C. They discovered for the first time that dilute solutions of hypochlorous acid, or free chlorine, as low as 200 -- or even 20 -- milligrams per liter will completely inactivate noroviruses on surfaces such as stainless steel and ceramic tile.

Dr. Mark D. Sobsey, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC School of Public Health, and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Geunwoo Park conducted the research. They also found that the dilute chemical worked quickly -- in five minutes or less.

"This is good news since noroviruses are the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis," said Sobsey, director of the school's Environmental Health Microbiology Laboratories. "They have caused countless outbreaks of gastroenteritis in health-care facilities, schools, food establishments, hotels and resorts and on cruise ships".

Decontamination of affected facilities can prove difficult since the viruses persist on environmental surfaces and are resistant to some widely used sanitizers, he said. And they are highly infectious even at low doses.

In their studies, the researchers dried a group II norovirus -- the predominant form circulating in the USA -- and a widely used indicator virus, bacteriophage MS2 infecting E. coli, on stainless steel and ceramic surfaces, Sobsey said. After treating those surfaces with a 200 milligrams per liter solution of hypochlorous acid for one minute, they tested them to learn how much virus remained. The viruses dropped 99.99 percent.........

Mark      Permalink


December 19, 2005

Good For The Heart And For The Wallet

Good For The Heart And For The Wallet
Health care costs often increase when newer, more effective therapies are introduced to the marketplace, placing a financial burden on patients and insurers that can last for years. However, the same may not be true for a drug recently shown to greatly improve outcomes in African-American heart failure patients.

According to a report in today's issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, this heart failure drug is not only a promising therapy option, but one that is cost-effective as well.

A team of scientists led by Derek Angus, M.D., M.P.H., professor of critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, examined data from the African-American Heart Failure Trial (A-HeFT) study in order to determine the trial participants' ongoing health care costs. AHeFT, the results of which were published November 2004 in the New England Journal of Medicine, compared outcomes in patients who took a medicine with two active drug ingredients, isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine (ISDN/HYD), to those in patients receiving a placebo regimen. The trial demonstrated the effectiveness of ISDN/HYD for treating heart failure in African-American patients.

According to the new analysis, total health care costs for the AHeFT participants who were treated with ISDN/HYD were 22 percent lower. Their total health care costs - those resulting from hospitalizations, doctors visits for any conditions or illnesses, but not including the cost of the drug itself - averaged $15,384 over the course of the 12-month trial. Such costs for patients who did not receive the drug averaged $19,728. Health care costs specifically related to heart failure were almost 34 percent lower on average, $5,997 versus $9,144. When the cost of the drug was factored in, there was still an average savings of 6 percent, or $533, on heart failure-related costs for ISDN/HYD patients compared to those who didn't receive the drug, and a 9 percent, or $1,730, average savings on total health care costs.........

Daniel      Permalink


December 19, 2005

Twins Comparison Shows Genetic Factors for Dementia

Twins Comparison Shows Genetic Factors for Dementia
On average, twins of people who have been diagnosed with dementia score lower on cognitive tests than do the twins of people without dementia, new research has found. The study, which included more than 100 Swedish twins age 65 and older, also found that, on average, identical twins of people with dementia have poorer cognitive skills than do fraternal (non-identical) twins of people with dementia.

The scientists suggest that these differences in thinking skills reflect a genetic risk for dementia. However, they emphasize that cognitive changes and elevated genetic risk do not always predict that twins or siblings of people with dementia will eventually develop dementia themselves.

The research, reported in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology, was led by Margaret Gatz, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a Zenith Award from the Alzheimer's Association. The University of Southern California Alzheimer's Disease Center is one of more than 30 Alzheimer's Disease Centers nationwide supported by the NIA.

"This research is intriguing because it associates genetic risk for dementia with twins' cognitive deficits, even in the absence of dementia," says Neil Buckholtz, Ph.D., chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch of NIA's Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program. "The differences in cognitive deficits between identical and fraternal twins are also important, suggesting that the twins who were more similar genetically had the greater risk."

The study included 112 members of the Swedish Twin Registry who were at least 65 years old in 1998. The registry, established in 1961, includes all twins born in Sweden. Of the study participants, 23 were identical twins and 62 were fraternal twins whose co-twins had dementia but who did not have dementia themselves. A comparison group included 27 non-demented twins whose co-twins did not have dementia. The comparison group was similar to the other participants in terms of age, gender, and level of education.........

Daniel      Permalink


December 19, 2005

Survey Shows Continued Decline in Drug Use by Students

Survey Shows Continued Decline in Drug Use by Students
Overall, the 2005 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey showed good news. While there was no substantive change in any illicit drug use between 2004 and 2005, analysis of the survey revealed an almost 19 percent decline in past month use of any illicit drug by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders between 2001 and 2005. This trend is driven largely by decreasing rates of marijuana use among these students. For example, since 2001, past month use of marijuana has fallen by 28 percent among 8th graders and by 23 percent among 10th graders.

Since 1975 the MTF survey has measured drug, alcohol, and cigarette use and related attitudes among adolescent students nationwide. Survey participants report their drug use behaviors across three time periods: lifetime, past year, and past month. Overall, 49,347 students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades from 402 public and private schools participated in this year's survey. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and conducted by the University of Michigan.

While the 2005 survey showed a continuing general decline in drug use, there are continued high rates of non-medical use of prescription medications, particularly opioid painkillers. For example, in 2005, 9.5 percent of 12th graders reported using Vicodin in the past year, and 5.5 percent of these students reported using OxyContin in the past year. Long term trends show a significant increase in the abuse of OxyContin from 2002 to 2005 among 12th graders. Also of concern is the significant increase in the use of sedatives/barbiturates among 12th graders since 2001.

"I'm pleased to see the decreased drug use noted in this survey; however, the upward trend in prescription drug abuse is disturbing," says NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. "We need to ensure that young people understand the very real risks of abusing any drug."........

JoAnn      Permalink


December 19, 2005

The Best Way To Cope With The Flu

The Best Way To Cope With The Flu
Tissues. Wastebaskets. Hand sanitizers.

These are some of the best weapons you may have in your arsenal to help you avoid getting - and giving - the flu this year.

Daniel Havlichek, a Michigan State University doctor and chief of the College of Human Medicine's Infectious Disease Section, said coughing or sneezing into a tissue, rather than your hand, is one of the best ways to avoid spreading germs.

"Coughing into your hand and then shaking someone else's hand or touching them or a doorknob is a great way to spread influenza or the viruses that cause the common cold," said Havlichek, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine. "A tissue will do a much better job of keeping germs from spreading. Then you just throw it away and then wash your hands. It is also important to rest and take time off if you become ill so that you don't spread infection to others".

Hand washing remains one of the most effective, and easiest, ways to avoid illness.

"Winter in particular is a time when hand washing can be effective in preventing the spread of illness," said Vincent Young, an MSU doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.

Havlichek is also a strong proponent of the use of hand sanitizers, those waterless cleaners that are popping up everywhere.

"These are as effective as washing your hands," he said. "In some respects they are even more effective at killing bacteria and viruses than soap and water, eventhough you still need to wash your hands with soap and water regularly to prevent build up of the sanitizer, which can make it less effective".

Paula Guss, a nurse with the MSU Office of the University Physician, said other ways to help avoid the flu, and other infectious illnesses, include eating right, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep.........

Mark      Permalink


December 19, 2005

Immunotherapy for precancerous changes of the cervix

Immunotherapy for precancerous changes of the cervix Dr. Daron G. Ferris
Immunotherapy for premalignant changes of the cervix.

Whether young women with premalignant changes of the cervix can avoid surgery by using an agent that helps the immune system target the virus responsible is under study at the Medical College of Georgia.

"Infection with human papillomavirus initiates these premalignant changes and this treatment uses that fact to target the lesions," says Dr. Daron G. Ferris, family medicine physician, colposcopist and director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Center at the Medical College of Georgia. "We are telling the immune system to go find HPV and eliminate it. When the immune system attacks the HPV, it also attacks the premalignant changes".

Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country and the major cause of cervical cancer, Dr. Ferris says. Strains that cause cervical cancer get inside cells in the cervix and slowly change them. "In the beginning, women commonly have mild premalignant changes. The good news is, most of the time, these mild changes go away on their own. About 70 percent of the time, we don't have to do any therapy other than following patients closely," Dr. Ferris says.

Unfortunately, cells may also develop moderate to severe changes called cervical dysplasia. "These are true cancer precursors. There is a 30 to 50 percent chance that severe dysplasia will progress to cancer if they are not treated," Dr. Ferris says.

An abnormal Pap smear detects such abnormalities and colposcopy, a technique for examining the cervix for signs of premalignant or malignant cellular changes, typically is performed in follow up. Tests also may be performed to detect the 13 oncogenic strains of HPV.

Patients who have cervical dysplasia may get one of several surgical approaches to remove affected cells and adjacent tissue. "We want to make sure there is only normal, healthy, unexposed skin left after surgery so that when the woman heals, there is no disease left behind," Dr. Ferris says. These approaches, which are 90 percent to 95 percent effective, require removing some of the cervix's mucus-secreting tissue, which can reduce fertility and increase chances of premature delivery.........

Emily      Permalink


December 18, 2005

Testosterone Therapy For Alzheimer Disease

Testosterone Therapy For Alzheimer Disease Dr. Alois Alzheimer, described Alzheimer's disease in 1906
Testosterone replacement treatment may help improve the quality of life for elderly men with mild cases of Alzheimer's disease, as per a studyposted online today that will appear in the February 2006 print issue of the Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

"There is a compelling need for therapies that prevent, defer the onset, slow the progression, or improve the symptoms of Alzheimer disease (AD)," the authors provide as background information in the article. They note that hormonal therapies have been the focus of research attention in recent years since male aging is associated with a gradual progressive decline in testosterone levels. "The gradual decline in testosterone level is associated with decreased muscle mass and strength, osteoporosis, decreased libido, mood alterations, and changes in cognition, conditions that may be reversed with testosterone replacement." The authors add that the age-related decline in testosterone is potentially relevant to AD as prior studies have found significantly lower concentrations of the hormone in middle-aged and elderly men who developed AD.

Po H. Lu, Psy.D., from the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues conducted a 24-week, randomized study to evaluate the effects of testosterone treatment on cognition, neuropsychiatric symptoms, and quality of life in 16 male patients with mild AD and 22 healthy elderly men who served as controls. The study participants were randomized to receive packets of gel to apply on their skin that either contained testosterone or a placebo. Standardized tests were administered at least twice (baseline and end) during the study for the assessment of cognitive functions and quality of life.

"For the patients with AD, the testosterone-treated group had significantly greater improvements in the scores on the caregiver version of the quality-of-life scale," the scientists report. "No significant therapy group differences were detected in the cognitive scores at end of study, eventhough numerically greater improvement or less decline on measures of visuospatial functions was demonstrated with testosterone therapy compared with placebo. In the healthy control group, a nonsignificant trend toward greater improvement in self-rated quality of life was observed in the testosterone-treated group compared with placebo therapy. No difference between the therapy groups was detected in the remaining outcome measures."........

Daniel      Permalink


December 18, 2005

Eye Cell Implants Improve Motor Symptoms

Eye Cell Implants Improve Motor Symptoms
A preliminary study suggests that implants of cells from the human retina improved motor symptoms in patients with Parkinson disease, and they appear to be safe and well tolerated, according to a report in the recent issue of the Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Parkinson disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by tremor, rigidity, postural instability, and slowed ability to start and continue movements. Most patients with PD require treatment with the medicine levodopa to control symptoms three to five years after a diagnosis of PD. However, disease progression and long-term oral therapy with levodopa may lead to the development of motor fluctuations and dyskinesias (difficulty or distortion in performing voluntary movements). Human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells produce levodopa and can be isolated from post mortem human eye tissue, grown in culture, and implanted into the brain attached to microcarriers. These implants have ameliorated the motor deficits in animal models of Parkinson disease, according to background information in the article. (The retinal pigment epithelium is the pigment cell layer found in the inner layer of the retina of the eye.)

Natividad P. Stover, M.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and his colleagues conducted an open-label pilot study to evaluate the effect of unilateral implantation of human RPE cells attached to gelatin microcarriers. Six patients with advanced Parkinson disease received cell implants, which were inserted into the brain tissue. The scientists performed efficacy evaluations at one and three months after surgery, and then at six, nine, 12, 15, 18 and 24 months. Yearly follow-up visits are ongoing and will continue.

"The implants were well tolerated," the authors report. "We observed an average improvement of 48 percent at 12 months after implantation in the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale motor subscore with the patient in the off state, which was sustained through 24 months." .........

Mike      Permalink


December 18, 2005

A Digital Solution For Senior Care Providers

A Digital Solution For Senior Care Providers St. Paul's nurses try out an electronic version of the 24-hour patient log
A team of UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering students recently spent a day at St. Paul's Senior Homes and Services, demonstrating a system they designed to enable nurses to manage patient information via an easy-to-use computer interface.

The 'Digital Nursing' project is one of the first tangible results from the School's new Teams in Engineering Services (TIES) Program. TIES brings together multi-disciplinary teams of UCSD students to create technology solutions for nonprofit community partners. In turn, the students receive academic credit and a crash course in customer-driven engineering.

TIES was launched in Fall 2004 with 40 students and two community partners, St. Paul's and the Lakeside Conservancy. The program continued to gain momentum in 2005, with three new community clients signing on this fall, more than 70 students participating, and several new industry sponsors.

At St. Paul's, the UCSD team was assigned to create an electronic version of the 24-hour log, which is used to track changes in the condition of each St. Paul's assisted living facility residents. The current log is a hand-written document shared among all the nurses. Moving the log into a digital format would make resident care information easier to track, and a WiFi link would enable multiple nurses to access the log simultaneously from several different laptops.

The 11 students involved in the project (including cognitive science, computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering majors) approached the task by dividing into three teams: the user design team conducted research among the nurses to design user interface pages that coincide with the nurses' work practices; the software team developing the digital log as a web browser-based application; while the hardware team set up a server/workstation, addressed the needs of sustaining power, enabled a touch screen display, and integrated the entire design onto an existing nurses' cart.........

Janet      Permalink


December 17, 2005

Discovery of Remarkable Developmental Pathway

Discovery of Remarkable Developmental Pathway Image: Courtesy of Bruno Reversade and Edward De Robertis/HHMI at UCLA
Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists have discovered an important regulatory pathway that enables frog embryos to develop normally even after being split in half - as happens in the development of identical twins.

The scientists said their findings suggest that efforts to apply embryonic stem cells therapeutically to regenerate damaged or diseased tissue may have to overcome similar self-regulatory mechanisms present in stem cells. Such mechanisms might otherwise drive stem cells to attempt to differentiate into embryos with a number of cell types, rather than restricting themselves to a desired single type of tissue.

The researchers, graduate student Bruno Reversade and HHMI investigator Edward M. De Robertis, both at the University of California at Los Angeles, published their findings in the The experiments were conceived in an attempt to learn more about the mechanisms underlying the establishment of a morphogenetic field. This field consists of a gradient of regulatory proteins that aids in organizing the differentiation of embryonic cells and gives an organism its overall shape. Eventhough scientists had known that morphogenetic fields were responsible for the embryo's remarkable resiliency, very little was understood about how they function at the molecular level, said De Robertis.

For their studies, Reversade and De Robertis used early embryos of the African toad Xenopus. Widely used in embryological studies, Xenopus embryos are easy to grow and can be manipulated by tissue transplantation techniques. The scientists studied Xenopus embryos in the blastula stage, which resembles a hollow sphere of a few thousand cells.

The researchers were seeking to understand more about the regulatory role of a family of proteins called bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). Certain BMPs are known to be key regulators of the dorsoventral (back-to-belly) patterning of embryos. In such patterning, dorsal cells differentiate into neural cells and ventral cells become epidermal cells.........

Sue      Permalink


December 17, 2005

Brain Imaging to Learn if Alzheimer's Can Be Detected Earlier

Brain Imaging to Learn if Alzheimer's Can Be Detected Earlier MRI of Brain
Scientists at Emory University have received a $330,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other organizations to study the use of brain imaging to identify and treat Alzheimer's disease (AD) at an earlier stage. The multi-center research trial, called the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), will focus on brain imaging studies (MRI and PET scans) and biomarker tests (tests to detect diseases), together with measurements of memory, thinking, and daily functioning among three different groups of volunteers.

"The goal of the study is to learn how brain imaging can be used most effectively to monitor changes in the brain in Alzheimer's disease," says Allan Levey, MD, PhD, professor and chair of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine and lead investigator of the ADNI study at Emory. "Most importantly, the study will determine if brain imaging can be used to predict which healthy elderly individuals will develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and which individuals with MCI will go on to develop AD."

In recent years, the field of aging and dementia has moved toward trying to identify the earliest clinical signs of the process that is likely to evolve into AD. MCI has come to represent this transitional zone between the cognitive changes of normal aging and very early AD. MCI is most usually described as a subtle but measurable memory disorder. A person with MCI has memory problems greater than normally expected with aging, but does not show other symptoms of dementia, such as impaired judgment or reasoning. Researchers are still working to understand MCI and its relationship to Alzheimer's disease.

To date, this ADNI study is the most comprehensive effort to identify neuroimaging measures and biomarkers associated with cognitive and functional changes in the healthy elderly and those with both MCI and AD.........

Daniel      Permalink


December 17, 2005

How Chlamydia Escapes Defenses

How Chlamydia Escapes Defenses
Duke University Medical Center microbiologists have discovered that the parasitic bacteria Chlamydia escapes cellular detection and destruction by cloaking itself in droplets of fat within the cell. The scientists said that their findings represent the first example of a bacterial pathogen "mimicking" such a structure, or organelle, within a cell.

Not only do the findings suggest a novel mechanism of bacterial infection, but the new insights into Chlamydia's actions within infected cells provide rational targets for potential drugs to halt the spread of the bacteria, said the researchers. Chlamydia has been implicated in sexually transmitted infections, atherosclerosis and some forms of pneumonia.

Chlamydia is an obligate intracellular parasite that prospers within a host cell by hijacking the cell's internal machinery to survive and replicate. The bacterium lives within the cell in a protective capsule known as an inclusion. To date, it has not been clearly understood how Chlamydia has evolved to evade the cell's internal intruder alert system.

"In our experiments, we found that Chlamydia recruits lipid droplets from within the cell and stimulates the production of new droplets, which cover the surface of the inclusion," explained Yadunanda Kumar, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in Duke's Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. "This action of surrounding itself with lipid droplets may represent an example of organelle mimicry, where the chlamydial inclusion is protected from the cell's defenses by being perceived by the cell as just another lipid droplet."

Kumar presented the results of the Duke research Dec. 11, 2005, at the 45th annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco. The research was supported by National Institutes of Health, the Pew Foundation and the Whitehead Foundation.........

Mark      Permalink


December 17, 2005

Gene Mutation In Bardet-Beidl syndrome (BBS)

Gene Mutation In Bardet-Beidl syndrome (BBS)
Johns Hopkins researchers studying a rare inherited syndrome marked by eye and kidney problems, learning disabilities and obesity have discovered a genetic mutation that makes the syndrome more severe but that alone doesn't cause it. Their report appears in the advance online edition of Nature (Dec. 4).

The new discovery about Bardet-Beidl syndrome (BBS) came from a panoply of studies -- starting with comparative genomics and experiments with yeast, and moving to experiments with zebrafish and genetic analysis of families with the syndrome -- and mirrors what experts expect for the genetically complex common diseases that kill most Americans, like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

"Researchers are going to have to think very hard before they discount genetic variation that appears not to directly cause a disease," says the study's leader, Nicholas Katsanis, Ph.D., associate professor in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins. "The onus is on us to figure out how to dissect the effects of what appear to be silent genetic variants. I have a greatly renewed respect for the complexity of the genome, for the subtle ways that genes and gene products interact with each other".

Conventional wisdom says that a collection of subtle genetic variations contribute to a person's risk of common diseases, but hunting for such subtle effects is daunting. As a result, most gene hunts have targeted relatively rare diseases that appear from their pattern in families to be fairly simple genetically.

Katsanis and colleagues have recognized for years that BBS, eventhough rare, is more similar to the genetic complexity of common diseases, in part because patients with this condition have extremely variable severity, even within families. The newly identified mutation, in a gene called MGC1203, is the first to affect only the severity of the syndrome. Mutations in eight other genes, all dubbed BBS genes, are known to cause the disease, often in combination with each other.........

Sue      Permalink


December 17, 2005

What Can Change in the Brain?

What Can Change in the Brain?
The brain's ability to reorganize itself - strengthening or weakening connections between neurons or adding or subtracting those connections - allows it to form memories, make transitions between sleep and waking, and focus attention on objects of interest.

This phenomenon is a form of neural plasticity. Chemical synapses, junctions where neurons communicate using chemical substances, have long been implicated in plasticity. Now, for the first time, Brown University researchers have demonstrated that electrical synapses are also subject to long-term changes in the brains of mammals. Their work appears in the journal Science.

"The fact that you can change the function of electrical synapses, and change them for longer than a few seconds, means that they may play a role in certain kinds of plasticity," said Barry Connors, a Brown professor of neuroscience and co-author of the paper.

"But plasticity governs a number of critical brain functions. Since electrical synapses help synchronize the activity of brain cells, these junctions probably help regulate specific brain rhythms that occur while you are awake or sleeping. So this work helps us better understand, in a basic sense, how the brain regulates behavioral states".

Carole Landisman, currently a neurobiology researcher at Harvard Medical School, is the lead author of the paper. Landisman was an investigator in Connors' lab at Brown, where the experiments were conducted.

To better understand how electrical synapses function, Landisman and Connors recorded activity from rat neurons that were connected by electrical synapses and stimulated other brain cells using brief bursts of electricity to see how the neurons would respond. They also treated neurons with two different drugs. All three techniques either activated or blocked metabotropic glutamate receptors or mGluRs, a type of neural trigger that responds to the amino acid glutamate, a transmitter molecule in the brain. The result: a long-lasting 20- to 30-percent reduction in electrical synapse strength.........

Daniel      Permalink


December 17, 2005

Cancer Support Cells May Evolve

Cancer Support Cells May Evolve Dr. Terry Van Dyke
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have demonstrated in a living organism that cancers may cause surrounding supportive cells to evolve and ultimately promote cancer growth.

The new research offers what is believed to be the first evidence that mutations within cancer cells can signal surrounding tissue cells to alter their molecular composition in ways that promote tumor growth and proliferation.

Moreover, the findings also suggest that cell mutations that promote cancer progression may arise in cells other than the predominant cancer cell.

The new findings are published as the cover story in today's (Dec. 16) issue of the journal Cell.

While not offering immediate application to the therapy of human cancers, the research indicates that new anti-tumor therapies may be more effective if their targets are broadened to include molecules within supporting cells of the cancer.

These additional target cells are in the tumor's surrounding "microenvironment," or stroma, including the supporting connective tissue that forms the framework of organs such as the breast, colon and prostate. They also are found in the tumor's blood vessels, or its vasculature.

"Basically, virtually all the studies on genetic changes or changes in gene expression have focused on the cancer cell, on events within the cancer cell itself," said Dr. Terry Van Dyke, professor of genetics and biochemistry and biophysics in the School of Medicine, member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the study's senior author.

Thus, research focused solely on the predominant cancer cell, such as epithelial cells that form the bulk of a number of tumors including breast cancer, would be on the accumulated mutations that have allowed the cell to survive and grow unchecked.........

Daniel      Permalink


December 17, 2005, 10:24 PM CT

Mental Health A Major Priority At White House Conference On Aging

Mental Health A Major Priority At White House Conference On Aging
The American Psychological Association (APA) applauds the inclusion of mental health issues as a priority resolution of the 2005 White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) .

Seventy-five percent (929 out of 1,200) of Conference national delegates voted to improve "recognition, assessment, and therapy of mental illness and depression among older Americans," a resolution supported by the APA. The resolution on the mental health of older Americans was ranked eighth by the delegates among the 10 most major priorities in dealing with America's aging population.

The WHCoA, is a nonpartisan, cross-disciplinary event made up of 1,200 delegates who formulate nonbinding policy recommendations to the president and Congress. The conference aims to help guide national aging policies and assist the public and private sectors for the next 10 years by promoting dignity, health, independence and economic security of current and future generations of older persons.

With over 36 million Americans older than 65, and the first of the 77 million baby boomers turning 60 this year, a surge of health care problems may soon face older adults. According to APA's Resolution on the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, 20-25 percent of older adults suffer from some form of mental disorder, which can impede physical health and independence. Fortunately, a wide variety of therapys are effective in improving mental and behavioral health problems in later life.

But, there are few geropsychology experts and other mental healthcare providers to provide this care to older adults at this time, particularly for those living in poor rural areas of the U.S. The mental health profession's growing role to address these concerns may reflect the start of a societal shift, said APA President Ronald F. Levant, EdD, a delegate at the conference. "We may be seeing the start of people viewing mental health as part of health overall," he says.........

JoAnn      Permalink


December 17, 2005

gene for debilitating vitamin B12 disease identified

gene for debilitating vitamin B12 disease identified
Researchers at the MUHC and McGill University have identified a gene responsible for a disease that impairs the body's ability to handle vitamin B12 and that may contribute to heart disease, stroke and dementia. The details of the CIHR and March of Dimes funded research are published in this week's issue of Nature Genetics. The research, which began more than 20 years ago, will allow doctors to perform earlier diagnosis, assess 'carriers' of the disease-Combined Methylmalonic aciduria (MMA) and Homocystinuria-and open the door to new and improved therapys for this debilitating disease.

"Eventhough this disease sometimes starts in adolescence or adulthood, we commonly diagnose this rare inability to process vitamin B12 in the first few months of life," says Dr. David Rosenblatt, Chairman of Human Genetics at McGill, Director of Medical Genetics in Medicine at the MUHC, Chief of Medical Genetics at the Jewish General Hospital and lead researcher of the new study. "Babies may have breathing, feeding, visual and developmental difficulties, older patients may develop sudden neurological disease."

Vitamin B12, which is found in all animal products-including dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish-but not in plants, is vital for synthesis of red blood cells and maintenance of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 also helps control homocysteine levels in the human body. Homocysteine control is important because in excess this compound can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

17 year-old Michael-a typical MMA and Homocystinuria patient-was diagnosed at 6-months of age, and has battled numerous medical challenges as a result of his condition. Michael is developmentally delayed, visually impaired and does not talk; he has suffered seizures since he was three years old, had a stroke by the age of seven and has since developed rheumatoid arthritis and scoliosis. Michael's diagnosis, which led the way to therapy involving injections of vitamin B12, was conducted at Dr. Rosenblatt's laboratory at the MUHC-one of only two centres in the world that perform these tests.........

JoAnn      Permalink


December 16, 2005

Racial Minority Participation in Clinical Trials

Racial Minority Participation in Clinical Trials
Racial minorities participate in health research studies at the same rate as whites when they meet the study criteria and when they are informed about the opportunity to enroll in the study, according to an article by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Yale School of Medicine.

Published in the December 6 PLoS Medicine, the study debunks the common belief that racial minorities are less willing to participate in research studies, and the authors suggest that minority involvement is linked more to access than attitude.

"It's been known for years that black patients are less likely to enroll in research studies than white patients," said a study author, Cary Gross, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine at Yale. "This is a problem because research studies are how we determine which new therapys are effective and which ones shouldn't be used. If the participants in these studies do not reflect the diverse nature of the population, then it won't be clear whether new therapys that may have been promising in the study setting actually work in the real world".

According to lead author Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., chair of the Department of Clinical Bioethics at NIH, there is a belief that racial and ethnic minorities are less willing to participate in health research due to a distrust of the research community stemming from past abuses. The most notable is the Tuskegee syphilis study, in which hundreds of poor African American men in Alabama were followed for decades without being told they had syphilis, promised therapys and prevented from getting penicillin to treat their syphilis.

The study found that whatever attitudes blacks and other ethnic minorities may have, they are still willing to participate in research when there is an opportunity to do so. The authors say that the main barrier to participation is access, knowledge that these studies exist, eligibility criteria that ensure minorities can participate, and overcoming existing logistical barriers such as the need for child care, the location of the study and reimbursement for travel expenses.........

Janet      Permalink




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