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Sensor biochips could aid in cancer diagnosis and treatment

CancerOct 23 09

It is very difficult to predict whether a cancer drug will help an individual patient: only around one third of drugs will work directly in a given patient. Researchers at the Heinz Nixdorf Chair for Medical Electronics at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have developed a new test process for cancer drugs. With the help of microchips, they can establish in the laboratory whether a patient’s tumor cells will react to a given drug. This chip could help in future with the rapid identification of the most effective medication for the individual patient.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the Western world. According to the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, approximately 450,000 people develop cancer every year in Germany. Although the doctors who treat cancer have numerous cancer drugs at their disposal today, the treatment must be precisely tailored to the patient and the type of cancer in question to be as effective as possible. If it takes a second or third try to find a drug that works, the patient loses valuable time in which the tumor can continue to grow.

In the future, miniature laboratories could provide the fast help required here. A lab-on-a-chip is a device—made of glass, for example—that is just a few millimeters across and has bioelectronic sensors that monitor the vitality of living cells. The chips sit in small wells, known as microtiter plates, and are covered with a patient’s tumor cells. A robot changes the culture fluid in each well containing a chip at intervals of just a few minutes.

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Researchers find ways to encourage spinal cord regeneration after injury

Backache • • TraumaOct 20 09

Animal research is suggesting new ways to aid recovery after spinal cord injury. New studies demonstrate that diet affects recovery rate and show how to make stem cell therapies safer for spinal injury patients. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news on brain science and health.

In other animal studies, researchers identified molecules that encourage spinal cord regeneration and ways to block molecules that discourage it. The findings may help shape therapies for the more than one million people in North America who have spinal cord injuries.

Research released today shows that:

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Iraq to shut thousands of schools over H1N1 flu

Flu • • Public HealthOct 20 09

Iraq will temporarily shut down thousands of schools in two provinces and some in Baghdad after discovering 36 new cases of the H1N1 flu virus, Iraqi officials said on Tuesday.

Iraq’s health ministry has discovered the flu in 22 secondary school girls and nine of their relatives in Wasit province, four students in Baghdad and a man in Dhi Kar province, General Director of Public Health Ihsan Jaafar said.

Provincial authorities in both provinces said they would briefly shut schools to prevent the virus’ spread. The officials said around 1,200 Wasit schools would close for a week and some 1,500 schools in Dhi Kar for 10 days from Wednesday.

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Bowel disease drugs increase cancer risk: study

Cancer • • InfectionsOct 19 09

Some treatments for inflammatory bowel disease increase the risk of infection-related cancers, French scientists said on Monday, but the benefits of the drugs still outweigh the risks.

Thiopurine drugs—immunosuppressive medicines that inhibit the body’s immune system—are regularly used to treat inflammatory bowel disease, the researchers said, but can increase the risk of cancers linked to viral infections.

Laurent Beaugerie and colleagues at the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris looked at more than 19,000 patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Around 30 percent of the patients were taking thiopurines, 14 percent had stopped taking them and 56 percent had never taken them.

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More MRI machines may mean more back surgeries

Backache • • SurgeryOct 19 09

A new study suggests that the increasing availability of MRI scanners may be feeding an increase in surgery for lower back pain—despite doubts about the effectiveness of surgery for most people.

Looking at MRI availability in 318 U.S. metropolitan areas, researchers found that Medicare patients with low back pain were more likely to get a scan when they lived in an area with more MRI machines.

Greater MRI availability was also linked to higher odds of getting lower back surgery, the investigators report in the journal Health Affairs.

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Loss of Tumor-Suppressor and DNA-Maintenance Proteins Causes Tissue Demise

CancerOct 19 09

A study published in the October issue of Nature Genetics demonstrates that loss of the tumor-suppressor protein p53, coupled with elimination of the DNA-maintenance protein ATR, severely disrupts tissue maintenance in mice. As a result, tissues deteriorate rapidly, which is generally fatal in these animals. In addition, the study provides supportive evidence for the use of inhibitors of ATR in cancer therapy.

Essentially, says senior author Eric Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor of Cancer Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the findings highlight the fact that day-to-day maintenance required to keep proliferative tissues like skin and intestines functional is about more than just regeneration, a stem cell-based process that forms the basis of tissue renewal. It’s also about housekeeping, the clearing away of damaged cells.

Whereas loss of ATR causes DNA damage, the job of p53 is to monitor cells for such damage and either stimulate the early demise of such cells or prevent their replication, the housekeeping part of the equation.

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New chromosomal abnormality identified in leukemia associated with Down syndrome

Cancer • • Genetics • • Psychiatry / PsychologyOct 19 09

Researchers identified a new chromosomal abnormality in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that appears to work in concert with another mutation to give rise to cancer. This latest anomaly is particularly common in children with Down syndrome.

The findings have already resulted in new diagnostic tests and potential tools for tracking a patient’s response to treatment. The research, led by scientists from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, also highlights a new potential ALL treatment. Clinicians are already planning trials of an experimental medication targeting one of the altered genes.

This study is published in the October 18 online edition of Nature Genetics.

“A substantial proportion of children with ALL lack one of the previously identified, common chromosomal abnormalities. Also, children with Down syndrome have an increased risk of ALL, but the reasons why are unclear,” said Charles Mullighan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant member in the St. Jude Department of Pathology. Mullighan is senior author of the study, which involved scientists from 10 institutions in the U.S. and Italy. “Our results have provided important data regarding the mechanisms contributing to leukemia in these cases,” he said.

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New IOF report explains importance of FRAX® in osteoporosis management

Gender: Female • • Public HealthOct 19 09

The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) will issue a new 16-page report on FRAX® to mark World Osteoporosis Day on October 20, 2009. The report is available at http://www.iofbonehealth.org/publications/frax.html

The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) will issue a new 16-page report on FRAX® to mark World Osteoporosis Day on October 20, 2009. The report is available at http://www.iofbonehealth.org/publications/frax.html

FRAX®, or ‘WHO Fracture Risk Assessment Tool’, is a free online tool developed by the World Health Organization at http://www.shef.ac.uk/FRAX/. The tool helps clinicians to better identify women and men in need of intervention (at highest risk of fragility fractures) and thereby to improve the allocation of limited healthcare resources. FRAX® utilizes several known clinical risk factors rather than BMD alone to calculate a patient’s 10-year fracture probability, thus making it particularly useful in regions where DXA technology is scarce or not available.

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FDA warns against fake online H1N1 remedy claims

Drug Abuse • • Public HealthOct 19 09

The U.S. government this week warned against the online marketing of unlicensed health remedies claiming to protect against H1N1 swine flu infection, including fake “Tamiflu” pills from India.

The Food and Drug Administration reported on Thursday that it had purchased and analyzed several products represented on the Internet as Tamiflu, Roche Holding AG’s brand name version of the antiviral drug oseltamivir.

One order, which arrived in an unmarked envelope from India, consisted of unlabeled white pills that contained talc and the common pain reliever acetaminophen, the FDA said. Others contained various amounts of oseltamivir but were not approved for use in the United States.

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Swine flu vaccines delayed, US CDC says

Flu • • Public HealthOct 19 09

Delivery of some swine flu vaccines has been delayed because companies cannot make as much as they had hoped, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

The CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat said while 40 million doses had been anticipated for the end of October, only about 28 to 30 million doses would be available.

“Yields for vaccine are lower than would be hoped,” Schuchat said in a telephone briefing.

She also said deaths from H1N1 swine flu were above the epidemic threshold in some U.S. cities and states. H1N1 flu activity was widespread in 41 states, she said.

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Be overweight and live longer

Obesity • • Public HealthOct 16 09

Contrary to what was previously assumed, overweight is not increasing the overall death rate in the German population. Matthias Lenz of the Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Natural Sciences of the University of Hamburg and his co-authors present these and other results in the current issue of Deutsches Ärtzeblatt International (Dtsch Artzebl Int 2009; 106[40]: 641ԃ).

Most Germans are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2. About 20% are obese (BMI of 30 or over), with age- and gender-related differences. The authors systematically evaluated 42 studies of the relationships between weight, life expectancy, and disease.

The Sƃddeutsche Zeitung published an advance notice of the report (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/gesundheit/140/489526/text/), which shows that overweight does not increase death rates, although obesity does increase them by 20%. As people grow older, obesity makes less and less difference.

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Substance abuse diagnostic test for teens can also predict high risk sexual behavior

Psychiatry / Psychology • • Sexual HealthOct 16 09

Alcohol and drug use are known contributors to adolescents engaging in dangerous sexual activity; leading to substantial health risks such as unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted illnesses, drug overdoses and alcohol poisonings. Yet, research suggests that fewer than half of pediatricians report screening patients for substance use and at-risk sexual behavior. CRAFFT, the diagnostic test developed and currently being employed at Children’s Hospital Boston, allows primary care physicians to accurately screen teens for high risk drug and alcohol use in a matter of minutes. Now, according to a new study appearing in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Children’s researchers have established that the CRAFFT diagnostic test can also identify teens that are more likely to be engaging in high risk sexual behaviors.

The studies researchers found that teens who screened positive for substance use had significantly greater odds of having sexual contact after using drugs or alcohol. According to the findings, these teens were more likely to have unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners and even a sexually transmitted illness.

The cross-sectional survey consisted of 305 adolescents from ages 12- to 18-years-old in 3 different urban clinics. Participants were asked the CRAFFT questions, and also completed a self-administered questionnaire about high risk sexual behaviors. Of those who screened positive, 42.6% reported having sexual contact without a condom, 26.1% after drinking alcohol, 15.6% after drug use and 21.7% with a partner who had been drinking alcohol.

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Growing up with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Psychiatry / PsychologyOct 16 09

Saint Louis University researchers in the department of family and community medicine have received an $880,000, three-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to develop and test a new program aimed at helping older children and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) successfully transition into adulthood.

The new program will focus on teaching important life skills, such as how to cope with new situations and minimize disruptive behaviors that could lead to loss of employment or trouble with the law.

According to Leigh Tenkku, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Saint Louis University, while the effects of FASD are life-long, currently there are very few support systems in place to help these individuals and their families as they get older.

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Is the person next to you washing with soap?

Public HealthOct 16 09

People are more likely to wash their hands properly after using the toilet if they are shamed into it or think they are being watched, scientists said on Thursday.

Handwashing is the cheapest way of controlling disease but less than one third of men and two thirds of women wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet, a British study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed.

But when prompted by an electronic message flashing up on a board asking—“Is the person next to you washing with soap?”—around 12 percent more men and 11 percent more women used soap.

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Heart Test Found Safe for Pre-Transplant Kidney Patients

Heart • • Urine ProblemsOct 16 09

A screening test that measures whether a patient’s heart is healthy enough for a kidney transplant is not as dangerous as once thought, according to a study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society Nephrology (CJASN). The findings indicate that the test, called coronary angiography, does not cause a decline in kidney function for patients with advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) and can help determine when to schedule a patient for transplantation.

CKD may contribute to the development of heart disease, so physicians keep a close eye on CKD patients’ heart health. However, they are reluctant to perform coronary angiography—which uses dye and x-rays to show the inside of the heart’s arteries—in CKD patients, who are thought to have an increased risk of experiencing complications from the procedure. This is unfortunate because coronary angiography can help determine whether a patient is healthy enough to undergo a kidney transplant.

To determine the true risks of the test for patients with advanced CKD, Nicky Kumar, MBChB, MRCP (West London Renal and Transplant Centre, Imperial College Kidney and Transplant Institute, London), and her colleagues analyzed 76 patients with late stage CKD who were potential transplant recipients seen at their clinics from 2004 to 2007.

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