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What next for the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic?

Flu • • Public HealthSep 28 10

Now that the H1N1 influenza pandemic is officially over, what will happen to the virus? In a perspective article published today in the online open-access journal mBio®, scientists from the National Institutes of Health delve into history and explore the fates of other pandemic influenza viruses in order to speculate on the future of the most recent pandemic virus.

“While human influenza viruses have often surprised us, available evidence leads to the hope that the current pandemic virus will continue to cause low or moderate mortality rates if it does not become extinct,” write Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and his NIAID coauthors, Jeffery Taubenberger and David Morens.

The impact of the virus in the upcoming influenza season will depend directly on the degree of existing immunity in the population, provided the virus does not undergo any changes. The authors currently estimate that approximately 59% of the United States population has some level of immunity due to either exposure to the pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1) virus, vaccination or exposure to a closely related influenza virus. That number will continue to increase through immunization with the 2010-2011 seasonal influenza vaccines, which will contain the pH1N1 strain.

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China offers hope of easing one-child policy

Public HealthSep 28 10

China marked the 30th anniversary of its controversial one-child policy with talk of relaxing rules, at least in some provinces, that have reined in population growth but caused heartache for millions of couples.

With a population expected to peak at 1.65 billion in 2033, China has been cautious about dropping an unpopular policy that was originally supposed to last one generation.

Central planners say the one-child policy has spared China from the pressures of hundreds of millions of additional people that would have strained scarce water and food resources as well as the nation’s ability to educate and employ them.

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Magnetic pulses can sway the hand you use, briefly

Brain • • NeurologySep 28 10

Whether your left or right hand reaches for the phone, elevator button or cup of coffee is typically decided unconsciously. Now, a new study suggests that magnetic pulses sent into your brain could alter that choice.

The finding is preliminary, but it brings to mind past efforts to “correct” the handedness of lefty children. In Germany, for example, such “conversions” were standard practice until the 1970s, according to Dr. Stefan Kloppel of the University of Freiburg.

Kloppel, who has studied how the brain makes these decisions, was not involved in the current study and noted that such conversion is no longer recommended.

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Beatrice Hahn and George Shaw, Pioneers in HIV Research, to Join Penn Medicine

AIDS/HIV • • Public HealthSep 23 10

Beatrice Hahn, MD and George Shaw, MD, will be joining the faculty of the Penn Center for AIDS Research in the School of Medicine in 2011. Both are international leaders in human and simian immunodeficiency virus research and have made groundbreaking contributions to this field for over two decades. Hahn and Shaw have also contributed significantly to the study of the transmission of human infectious pathogens from non-human animals.

Hahn’s most recent work, reported in the cover story of the September 23, 2010 issue of Nature describes groundbreaking studies identifying the origin of Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly form of malaria, in West African gorillas, findings that will spearhead new research to understand host/pathogen interactions that underlie the transmission and pathogenicity of malaria.

“Individually and together, Dr. Hahn and Dr. Shaw will bring additional depth to Penn Medicine in this critical area of science,” says Dr. Arthur H. Rubenstein, Executive Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of the School of Medicine.

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Improving Endpoints for Cancer Immunotherapy Clinical Trials

Cancer • • ImmunologySep 23 10

The Cancer Research Institute (CRI) Cancer Immunotherapy Consortium (CIC), the leading global initiative in advancing the emerging field of immuno-oncology, has proposed criteria for improved endpoints for cancer immunotherapy trials, which were published online on September 8 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

These improved clinical trial endpoints help to distinguish between the effects of chemotherapy and immunotherapy and address long-needed adjustments of standard endpoints such as survival and anti-tumor response. In addition, they introduce harmonization criteria for immune response assays to help establish immune response as a biomarker in clinical trials.

Over the last six years, the CIC has worked across the community of scientists involved with cancer immunotherapy within academia, industry, and regulatory agencies, and has developed these trial endpoint recommendations based on consensus workshops and clinical and laboratory data.

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New Signaling Pathway that Controls Cell Development and Cancer

CancerSep 23 10

Researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered a new cell signaling pathway that controls cell growth and development, a pathway that, when defective, helps promote the formation of several major forms of human cancer, including lymphoma and leukemia.
The new pathway, part of a global DNA damage response, turns off 136 genes, including some that have are known to cause cancer because, unchecked, they can promote aberrant cell division.

“It’s important to make sure this pathway works correctly, because it prevents cells from dividing excessively” said Dr. Michael Teitell, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher and senior author of the study. “When this pathway is defective, cancers can happen.”

The study appears in the Sept. 24, 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Cell.

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Novo says cancer risk with insulin drops over time

CancerSep 23 10

The raised risk of cancer in people using insulin decreases over time, a large study showed, Novo Nordisk, the world’s biggest maker of insulin, said on Thursday.

Novo-owned Steno Diabetes Center said the biggest-ever registry linkage study on the effect of insulin duration or diabetes duration on cancer incidence confirmed a link between diabetes and cancer.

“This increased incidence was especially evident in the first years after diagnosis but decreased over time,” Steno said in a statement.

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Ingredient in soap points toward new drugs for infection that affects 2 billion

Public HealthSep 22 10

The antibacterial ingredient in some soaps, toothpastes, odor-fighting socks, and even computer keyboards is pointing scientists toward a long-sought new treatment for a parasitic disease that affects almost two billion people. Their report on how triclosan became the guiding light for future development of drugs for toxoplasmosis appears in ACS’ monthly Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

In the study, Rima McLeod and colleagues point out that toxoplasmosis is one of the world’s most common parasitic infections, affecting about one-third of the world population, including 80 percent of the population of Brazil. People can catch the infection, spread by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), from contact with feces from infected cats, eating raw or undercooked meat, and in other ways. Many have no symptoms because their immune systems keep the infection under control and the parasite remains inactive. But it can cause eye damage and other problems, even becoming life threatening in individuals with immune systems weakened by certain medications and diseases like HIV infection, which allow the parasite to become active again, and in some persons without immune compromise. Most current treatments have some potentially harmful side effects and none of them attack the parasite in its inactive stage.

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New drug could help stop the spread of disease during cough: U of A research

Public HealthSep 22 10

What if there was a drug that could completely eliminate airborne disease transmission that occurs when someone coughs? Researchers at the University of Alberta believe they have found a way to achieve this.

The idea behind this work came from Malcolm King and his research associate Gustavo Zayas, who work in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine at the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. King and Zayas developed a drug that, when inhaled, would reduce or eliminate the amount of droplets, called bioaerosol, coming out of the mouth when a disease-infected person coughs. These airborne particles can stay in the air for minutes and sometimes even hours.

In order to help perfect this drug King and Zayas enlisted in the expertise of PhD student Anwarul Hasan and associate professor Carlos Lange, both from the Faculty of Engineering’s mechanical engineering department. It was Hasan and Lange’s role to find out how the size and amount of the cough-emitted droplets are affected by the new drug.

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Combined impact of lifestyle factors on mortality among Chinese women

Public HealthSep 15 10

In research published this week in PLoS Medicine, results from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study reveal the impact of lifestyle-related factors on mortality in a cohort of Chinese women – confirming the results from other Western research studies.

The large prospective cohort study by Wei Zheng and colleagues (from Vanderbilt University & Shanghai Cancer Institute) showed that lifestyle factors other than active smoking and alcohol consumption, have a major combined impact on total mortality on a scale comparable to the effect of smoking. For example healthier lifestyle-related factors, including normal weight, lower waist-hip ratio, participation in exercise, never being exposed to spousal smoking, and higher daily fruit and vegetable intake, were significantly and independently associated with a lower risk of total, and cause-specific, mortality.

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Funding: Supported by National Institutes of Health grant R37 CA070867. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Industry has sway over food safety system: study

Food & NutritionSep 14 10

The food industry is jeopardizing U.S. public health by withholding information from food safety investigators or pressuring regulators to withdraw or alter policy designed to protect consumers, according to a survey of government scientists and inspectors.

A study released on Monday by the Union of Concerned Scientists found one in four of those surveyed have seen corporate interests forcing their agency to withdraw or modify a policy or action designed to protect consumers during the past year.

Pressure to overhaul the food safety system has grown following several high-profile outbreaks involving lettuce, peppers, eggs, peanuts, spinach and most recently eggs that have sickened thousands and shaken the public’s confidence in the safety of the food supply.

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Want to live longer? Get a grip!

Public HealthSep 14 10

A firm handshake could be a sign of a longer life expectancy, according to British researchers.

Scientists at the Medical Research Council found that elderly people who could still give a firm handshake and walk at a brisk pace were likely to outlive their slower peers.

They found simple measures of physical capability like shaking hands, walking, getting up from a chair and balancing on one leg were related to life span, even after accounting for age, sex and body size.

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Disease risk eases in parts of flooded Pakistan

Public HealthSep 14 10

The risk of outbreaks of disease has eased in parts of flood-hit Pakistan as water recedes from many areas, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday, but the hard-hit south remains a worry.

The floods that began six weeks ago have inflicted havoc from the northwest to the far south of the country, destroying villages, bridges, roads, damaging millions of acres of cropland and displacing millions of people.

The government and aid agencies have warned of the spread of epidemics, particularly of water-borne diseases such as cholera, in the flood-stricken areas.

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Prepared Patient: Uncovering Your Health Risks

Public HealthSep 14 10

At various points in our lives, we’re curious about our health risks, wondering about our susceptibility for everything from high cholesterol to a deadly inherited disease. We might want to learn more about our risks when we reach a certain age or experience a bout of bad health; when we hear about a friend or co-worker coping with a dreaded illness; or read the latest headlines about disease research.

People can choose many paths to find out more about their personal risk(s) of disease, including community health screenings, health assessments provided by a doctor or an employer, or online calculators offered by hospitals, insurance providers and nonprofit health groups.

But the information and usefulness of these sources can vary, and may leave you with more questions than answers. For some, these first forays into sorting out personal risks can be more distressing than helpful.

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White Americans living longer with muscular dystrophy than African-Americans

Neurology • • Public HealthSep 14 10

A new study shows that white men and boys are living longer with muscular dystrophy due to technological advances in recent years, but that the lives of African-American men and boys with muscular dystrophy have not been extended at the same rate. The research will be published in the September 14, 2010, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Muscular dystrophy is a group of inherited muscle diseases that often lead to early death due to respiratory or heart failure.

“More research is needed to determine the causes of this difference between whites and African-Americans with muscular dystrophy so it can be addressed,” said study author Aileen Kenneson, PhD, who conducted the study while with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Possible contributing factors could be differences in the types of muscular dystrophy, environmental or genetic factors, other health conditions such as high blood pressure, individual social and economic factors or access to and use of treatment options.”

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