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Gene Variations Linked to Brain Aneurysms

BrainApr 27 06

Variations in a gene seem to be linked to brain (cerebral) aneurysms, suggests research published ahead of print in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Brain aneurysms occur when a section of an artery bulges, often at a stress point, such as a branch or a bend. This weakens the wall and makes it prone to rupture and the discharge of blood into other areas of the brain.

The condition may affect up to 8% of the population, but inflammation is thought to have a key role.

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Britain Must Embrace Psychological Therapy for Mental Health Problems

Psychiatry / PsychologyApr 27 06

Britain must embrace psychological therapies on a large scale if we are to tackle our mental health problems effectively, argues a leading economist in this week’s BMJ.

Depression and anxiety disorders cost the UK around £ 17bn in lost output. New drug treatments are now available to all, but psychological therapies are not. Yet the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends psychological therapy as a cost effective treatment.

So should the Treasury support psychological therapy?

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Aspirin can prevent deafness in antibiotic use

Drug NewsApr 27 06

People treated with the antibiotic gentamicin can reduce the risk of permanent hearing loss, a possible side effect, by also taking aspirin, a study showed on Wednesday.

The finding could be especially important in poorer countries where gentamicin and similar drugs, known as aminoglycosides, are used widely because they are inexpensive and often available over the counter, the researchers said.

Millions of people take the drug worldwide each year and perhaps one in 10 permanently loses at least some hearing because of it, the co-author of the study, Jochen Schacht of the University of Michigan, told Reuters.

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At-risk drinking risky for older men

Psychiatry / PsychologyApr 27 06

Elderly men who engage in “at-risk” drinking have higher mortality rates than those who abstain or drink safer amounts of alcohol, a report indicates.

The authors define at-risk drinking as excessive drinking or the “use of alcohol in amounts deemed risky in the presence of relevant comorbidities.” An example of excessive alcohol use alone would be 3 drinks per day on 4 or more occasions per week. At risk drinking would also encompass 2-3 drinks per day with anxiety disorder or gout, or while taking medication for pain or insomnia, for example.

Dr. Alison A. Moore, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues examined the effect of alcohol use and co-morbid illness on 20-year mortality in 4,691 adults who were at least 60 years of age.

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Dual approach promising in advanced melanoma

CancerApr 27 06

A new analysis of a group of patients with advanced metastatic melanoma treated with peptide vaccines after surgery shows an average survival of nearly 4 years—far longer than seen in previous trials.

“Patients with resected Stage IV melanoma can do a lot better than we thought,” Dr. Jeffrey S. Weber of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles, the study’s lead author, told Reuters Health. “We would want to do at least that well, if not better, in any future trials.”

Weber and his team analyzed survival for 41 patients with Stage IV melanoma because “a fair number of the patients had done very well,” he explained. The patients, who had participated in a total of five clinical trials, had all undergone resection of distant sites of disease followed by peptide vaccines therapy.

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New technique to speed discovery of drug targets in chemical genetics

Drug NewsApr 27 06

Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have developed a new technique to speed discovery of drug targets in chemical genetics. As highlighted on the April cover of Chemistry & Biology, Fox Chase researcher Jeffrey R. Peterson, Ph.D., and his colleagues describe a new way to swiftly find the proteins targeted by small molecule inhibitors during high-throughput screening (HTS) experiments. The new work offers a critical solution to a common stumbling block in this booming field of drug discovery.

HTS allows researchers to test thousands of small drug-like molecules at once for a specific biological activity, such as inhibiting the cell movements that allow cancer cells to spread in the body. Screening for potential new drug compounds in complex systems differs from the traditional drug discovery approach, which begins with one particular protein of interest and tries to find inhibitors for that specific target.

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Consumer group awards ‘bitter pills’ to drugmakers

Drug NewsApr 27 06

It’s one of the most recognizable logos in drug advertising: a light green luna moth that floats across the television screen during advertisements for Sepracor Inc.‘s sleeping pill Lunesta.

A national health and consumer advocacy group on Wednesday singled out ads by Sepracor and four other drugmakers as evidence of overly aggressive direct marketing by pharmaceutical companies to consumers.

The Prescription Access Litigation Project (PAL), a coalition of 118 state, local and national consumer health advocacy groups, gave the five what it calls a “bitter pill” award.

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Aspirin Shows Promise in Combating Antibiotic-Induced Hearing Loss

Drug NewsApr 26 06

Around the world, inexpensive antibiotics known as aminoglycosides have been used for the past 60 years in the battles against acute infections and tuberculosis, as antibacterial prophylaxis in cystic fibrosis and other patients, and in and other conditions. But for all of the good they do, the drugs also have been widely linked to irreversible hearing loss.

Now, researchers at the University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute and their Chinese colleagues, working under the leadership of Jochen Schacht, Ph.D., and Su-Hua Sha, M.D., have found that the hearing loss can be prevented in many people with the use of another inexpensive, widely available medication: aspirin. The results appear in the April 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers studied 195 patients in China who received 80 to 160 milligrams of gentamicin (a type of aminoglycoside) intravenously twice daily, typically for five to seven days. Of those, 89 patients were given aspirin along with the antibiotic, and 106 were given placebos along with the antibiotic. The results were dramatic: The incidence of hearing loss in the group that was given placebos was 13 percent, while in the aspirin group it was just 3 percent, or 75 percent lower.

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Expert says fetuses cannot feel pain and fetal pain relief is not required during abortions

PainApr 26 06

There is good evidence that fetuses cannot feel pain, says an expert in the BMJ.

Proposals to tell women seeking abortions that their unborn child will feel pain, or to provide pain relief during abortions, are therefore scientifically unsound and may put women at unnecessary risk, argues Stuart Derbyshire, a senior psychologist at the University of Birmingham.

He examined the neurological and psychological evidence to support a concept of fetal pain.

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Older hearts suitable for transplantation

HeartApr 26 06

Long-term outcomes after transplantation of hearts from donors aged 50 years or older are broadly comparable to those achieved with hearts from younger donors, according to Canadian researchers.

“This is good news for people who are waiting for a heart transplant—knowing more than 20 percent of patients die waiting for a heart,” Dr. Shaoha Wang told Reuters Health.

In the March/April issue of the Journal of Cardiac Surgery, Wang and colleagues at the University of Alberta Hospital, Edmonton report on their analysis of all 338 adult heart transplants performed at their institution over a 15-year period.

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Four subtypes of blood cancer identified

CancerApr 26 06

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and collaborators have identified four distinct genetic subtypes of multiple myeloma, a deadly blood cancer, that have different prognoses and might be treated most effectively with drugs specifically targeted to those subtypes.

A new computational tool based on an algorithm designed to recognize human faces plucked the four distinguishing gene patterns out of a landscape of many DNA alterations in the myeloma genome, the researchers report in the April issue of Cancer Cell.

These results “define new disease subgroups of multiple myeloma that can be correlated with different clinical outcomes,” wrote the authors, led by Ronald DePinho, MD, director of Dana-Farber’s Center for Applied Cancer Science.

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Depression common in young women after heart attack

DepressionApr 25 06

Compared with men and older patients, women under the age of 60 who have had a heart attack have an increased risk of developing depression, according to a new report in this week’s issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In the community setting, depression is known to be especially prevalent among younger women - it is also known that symptoms of depression often occur after a heart attack. However, it was unclear if younger women who are hospitalized for a heart attack have higher risk of depression.

To investigate, Dr. Susmita Mallik, from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, and colleagues analyzed information for a total of 2,498 heart attack patients who were treated at 1 of 19 centers in the United States between January 2003 and June 2004. Depression, which was assessed during hospitalization, was defined as a score of at least 10 on the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders Brief Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ).

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Aspirin + Cholesterol Drugs + Blood Pressure Drugs = Less Severe Strokes

StrokeApr 25 06

Taking the “triple therapy” of aspirin, cholesterol drugs, and blood pressure drugs to prevent stroke also reduces stroke severity if one occurs, according to a new study published in the April 25, 2006, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

People who were taking all three drugs had less severe strokes, had shorter hospital stays, and were better able to function when leaving the hospital than those who were taking one, two, or none of the three drugs.

The study examined 179 people who came to the hospital within 24 hours after having a stroke. Researchers looked at how severe the strokes were, how much brain cell damage was caused by the stroke, and other factors. The participants were divided into five groups: 69 people were taking none of the three drugs; 47 people were taking aspirin only; 29 were taking aspirin and ACE inhibitors, or blood pressure drugs; 14 were taking aspirin and statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs; and 20 people were taking all three drugs.

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New method allows heart beat triggers to be viewed and better understood

HeartApr 25 06

Being able to witness the precise events that form the heart’s orchestral rhythm or the rat-a-tat-tat of irregular heartbeats could enable researchers to better understand the underlying causes of arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.

Indeed, a team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Carnegie Mellon University report they have developed unique chemical dyes that have made it possible to see what the naked eye has never seen before: action potentials, or voltage changes, of cardiac cells - including those deep inside the heart, which trigger and determine the pace of heartbeats.

The researchers describe seven of these “Pittsburgh” dyes - PGH I to IV and VI to VIII, for short - in the current issue of the Journal of Membrane Biology. Importantly, the PGH dyes are able to follow the electrical activity of cells several layers below the surface of the heart where the cardiac contractions are initiated and propagated.

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Beams of light used to move, select and trap protein molecules

Public HealthApr 25 06

A paper that outlines a new method to use a beam of light to trap protein molecules and make them dance in space has earned a place in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

The technique, developed by a team from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and Protein Discovery, is more than just a novelty, however, as it is useful for separating, concentrating and analyzing proteins quickly with high sensitivity and selectivity.

“With this technique, we can steer DNA or other biomolecules for transport in three dimensions and also separate them according to size and their isoelectric point,” said Chuck Witkowski, a co-author and president and chief executive officer of Protein Discovery, a Knoxville startup company. The ability to perform these functions with high efficiency and precision has applications for medical diagnostics and as a discovery tool.

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