Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Curry kills cancer cells

A molecule found in a curry ingredient can kill oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory, suggesting it might be developed as an anti-cancer treatment, scientists said on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: AP

LONDON - A MOLECULE found in a curry ingredient can kill oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory, suggesting it might be developed as an anti-cancer treatment, scientists said on Wednesday.

Researchers at the Cork Cancer Research Centre in Ireland treated oesophageal cancer cells with curcumin - a chemical found in the spice turmeric, which gives curries a distinctive yellow colour - and found it started to kill cancer cells within 24 hours. The cells also began to digest themselves, they said in a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Previous scientific studies have suggested curcumin can suppress tumours and that people who eat lots of curry may be less prone to the disease, although curcumin loses its anti-cancer attributes quickly when ingested. But Sharon McKenna, lead author of the Irish study, said her study suggested a potential for scientists to develop curcumin as an anti-cancer drug to treat oesophageal cancer.

Cancers of the oesophagus kill more than 500,000 people across the world each year. The tumours are especially deadly, with five-year survival rates of just 12 to 31 per cent. Ms McKenna said the study showed curcumin caused the cancer cells to die 'using an unexpected system of cell messages'.

Normally, faulty cells die by committing programmed suicide, or apoptosis, which occurs when proteins called caspases are 'switched on' in cells, the researchers said.

But these cells showed no evidence of suicide, and the addition of a molecule that inhibits caspases and stops this 'switch being flicked' made no difference to the number of cells that died, suggesting curcumin attacked the cancer cells using an alternative cell signalling system. -- REUTERS

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coffee may halt liver disease

WASHINGTON - RESEARCHERS in the United States have found another good reason to go to the local espresso bar: several cups of coffee a day could halt the progression of liver disease, a study showed on Wednesday.

Sufferers of chronic hepatitis C and advanced liver disease who drank three or more cups of coffee per day slashed their risk of the disease progressing by 53 per cent compared to patients who drank no coffee, the study led by Neal Freedman of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) showed.

For the study, 766 participants enrolled in the Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-Term Treatment against Cirrhosis (HALT-C) trial - all of whom had hepatitis C which had not responded to treatment with anti-viral drugs - were asked to report how many cups of coffee they drank every day.

The patients were seen every three months during the 3.8-year study and liver biopsies were taken at 1.5 and 3.5 five years to determine the progression of liver disease.

'We observed an inverse association between coffee intake and liver disease progression,' meaning patients who drank three or more cups of java were less likely to see their liver disease worsen than non-drinkers, wrote the authors of the study, which will be published in the November issue of Hepatology.

Even caffeine, the chemical that gives a cup of coffee its oomph, came under the spotlight, having been found in previous studies to inhibit liver cancer in rats, but drinking black or green tea had little impact on the progression of liver disease, although there were few tea drinkers in the study. -- AFP

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Growing doubts about HIV vaccine

Doubts have been raised about the reliability of a trial suggesting success for a vaccine against HIV.

In the large-scale trial in Thailand, a combination of vaccines seemed to give volunteers a protective effect of 31%.

The US military and Thai government, who co-sponsored the trial, said the effect was not caused by random chance but was statistically significant.

But new data, being published at a conference in Paris on Tuesday, is believed to question that assertion.

It was the world's largest clinical trial of a HIV vaccine - involving 16,000 people in Thailand aged between 18 and 30.

Among the 8,000 volunteers who had been given the combination of vaccines, 51 had gone on to become infected with the virus.

Of the group given a placebo, there were 74 positive cases.

The numbers were small, but according to Seth Berkley of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, the results were "exciting news and a significant scientific achievement".

He said: "Now we have got a vaccine candidate that appears to show a protective effect in humans, albeit partially."

Lack of detail

But there were concerns as well. Researchers were not able to indicate just how the vaccines were working.

And, as more data was given to scientists, the claims about statistical significance began to look increasingly shaky.

Gus Cairns, who works with UK HIV information charity NAM, said: "This particular study was in the awkward position of producing a result that was only just statistically significant.

"This means there was a one in 26 chance that the results could be due to pure chance - and that this may not reflect anything at all.

"That's difficult. And there is also subset analysis of this study that if you only look at the people who strictly adhered to the protocol - ie took all their vaccine doses - then it becomes not statistically significant."

The problem is that the initial figures given for the numbers infected included all those who got HIV once the trial started, including those who got it in the course of the six-month regime of injections.

But if these were excluded, as they would be in many trials, then the numbers change - and so do the claims of a protective effect.

Study power reduced

These details have been substantiated by the US military HIV research programme.

In an update to the study, they indicated that if you looked at the data in this way, it does not reach statistical significance and the study's power is reduced.

Researchers are expected to give a more detailed breakdown at the Global HIV vaccines meeting in Paris.

Many scientists have been upset that the initial information about the trial came out via a press conference, rather than via a peer reviewed journal.

But according to Dr Aland Bernstein, executive director of the Global HIV vaccine enterprise, the issue of how the information came out does not matter.

"At the end of the day what matters to me is the long run. If that work doesn't hold up that's fine, we'll hear no more of it.

"If it holds up, and we'll only know that over the weeks and months ahead, then it is an important contribution - and whether we heard those results on 24 September or 24 October it doesn't matter in the long run."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pepsi sorry for girl-getting app

SAN FRANCISCO - US SOFT drink giant PepsiCo has apologised for a free iPhone application crafted to help men seduce women and keep records of conquests but the program remained available on Tuesday.

Pepsi's 'AMP Up Before You Score' iPhone application categorises women into 24 types and then uses the Apple smartphone's Internet capabilities to link users to information about them and what they like. AMP is an energy drink made by PepsiCo.

A 'translator gadget' powered by Google Translate

'Let's say you meet a girl who is way into being green and you need a vegan restaurant stat; we've got you covered,' a voice-over maintained on Tuesday in an online Pepsi video about the AMP at YouTube.

'If you are anticipating a successful night, the Before You Score app gives you up to the minute information, feeds, lines and much more to help you amp up and talk to 24 different types of ladies.'

Nightie to remember

Types of women listed in the application include punk rocker, bookworm, aspiring actress, artist, and sorority girl.

A 'Keep a List' feature in the program reportedly prompts users to add women's names and encounter details to a 'brag list' if they 'get lucky'. -- AFP

Phone-tumour link tenuous

Research has failed to establish any clear link between use of the mobile and cordless phones and several kinds of cancer. -- BH FILE PHOTO

WASHINGTON - STUDIES on whether mobile phones can cause cancer, especially brain tumours, vary widely in quality and there may be some bias in those showing the least risk, researchers reported on Tuesday.

So far it is difficult to demonstrate any link, although the best studies do suggest some association between mobile phone use and cancer, the team led by Dr Seung-Kwon Myung of South Korea's National Cancer Centre found.

Dr Myung and colleagues at Ewha Womans University and Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul and the University of California, Berkeley, examined 23 published studies of more than 37,000 people in what is called a meta-analysis. They found results often depended on who conducted the study and how well they controlled for bias and other errors.

The use of mobile and cordless phones has exploded in the past 10 years to an estimated 4.6 billion subscribers worldwide, according to the UN International Telecommunication Union. Research has failed to establish any clear link between use of the devices and several kinds of cancer.

The latest study, supported in part by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, examined cases involving brain tumours and others including tumours of the facial nerves, salivary glands and testicles as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphomas.

It found no significant association between the risk of tumours and overall use of mobile phones, including cellular and cordless phones. -- REUTERS

New prostate surgery not better

CHICAGO - MEN who have less invasive prostate cancer surgery - often done robotically - are more likely to be incontinent and have erectile dysfunction than men who have conventional open surgery, US researchers said on Tuesday.

Many men, especially those who are wealthy and highly educated, favour minimally invasive surgery because they assume the high-tech approach will yield better results, but the evidence on that is mixed, the team reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr Jim Hu of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said that the use of minimally invasive surgery has taken off since the introduction and heavy marketing of robot-assisted surgery, such as the da Vinci system made by Intuitive Surgical Inc.

The system consists of robotic arms, controlled from a console, that allow surgeons to perform less invasive surgeries. Hospitals advertise the systems as being able to reduce trauma, blood loss, risk of infection, scarring and often pain.

While both approaches fared equally well as a cancer treatment, they found that men who got the minimally invasive approach had shorter hospital stays, were less likely to need blood transfusions, and had fewer breathing problems after surgery than those who got conventional surgery.

But they were also more likely to have complications involving the genital and urinary organs, and they were more often diagnosed as having incontinence and erectile dysfunction than men who got open surgery. -- REUTERS

Chocs, water blunt pain

When the rats ate chocolate or drank water, their pain response to the heat from the light bulb from under the cage was dulled. -- ST PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

WASHINGTON - CHOCOLATE activates a part of the brain that blunts pain and makes it difficult to stop eating, a study published on Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience has found.

But drinking water has the same effect and does not contribute to the growing problem of obesity, according to the study led by University of Chicago neurology professor Peggy Mason and neurobiology research associate Hayley Foo.

Prof Mason and Prof Foo gave rats either a chocolate chip to eat or water to drink as they lit a lightbulb underneath their cages.

The heat from the bulb normally caused the rodents to lift their paws.

But when the rats ate chocolate or drank water, their pain response to the heat was dulled and they did not lift their paws as quickly as when they were not eating. They also kept on eating.

Prof Mason said that eating stimulates a system in the part of the brain that controls subconscious responses, which is known to blunt pain. -- AFP

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kids Can Use Imagination to Lessen Pain: Study

TEHRAN (Press TV) --Children can be taught to use their active imaginations to tackle frequent conditions such as stomach pain, a new study finds.

Functional abdominal pain, frequent abdominal pain with no identifiable cause, is commonly reported in one in every five children.

Previous studies had reported that hypnosis is an effective treatment for such conditions as it can reduce "hypersensitivity."

According to the study published in Pediatrics, "guided imagery" can help alleviate stomach pain in children more effectively than performed standard care.

Guided imagery is a technique, which prompts the subject to imagine things that reduce discomfort. Relaxation-type CDs asking subjects to imagine themselves in scenarios like floating on a cloud is a common tool used in this technique.

"Such self-administered treatment is, of course, very inexpensive and can be used in addition to other treatments, which potentially opens the door for easily enhancing treatment outcomes for a lot of children suffering from frequent stomach aches," said scientists.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Clue to ear's evolution

WASHINGTON - RESEARCHERS digging in north-eastern China say they have discovered the fossil of a previously unknown chipmunk-sized mammal that could help explain how human hearing evolved.

Paleontologists unearthed the 123-million-year-old creature, which is just 15cm long, in fossil-rich Liaoning Province, near the Chinese border with North Korea.

What is most surprising, and thus scientifically interesting, is the animal's inner ear,' said Zhe-Xi Luo, a curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and one of the study's authors. The condition of the 'remarkably well preserved' three dimensional fossil has allowed an international team of researchers to reconstruct how the creature's middle ear was connected to its jaw.

The find could be the link that explains how the three bones of the mammalian middle ear became separated from the jaw hinge - where the reptilian ear is found - to form a complex and highly-performing hearing system. 'Mammals have highly sensitive hearing, far better than the hearing capacity of all other vertebrates, and hearing is fundamental to the mammalian way of life,' said Mr Luo.

The development of the ear is seen as key to understanding survival techniques that steered mammals, including human ancestors, through the dinosaur-infested mesozoic period around 250 to 66 million years ago. 'The mammalian ear evolution is important for understanding the origins of key mammalian adaptations,' he said.

But there are still doubts where the creature, Maotherim asiaticus, fits in the evolutionary chain, and the novel ear connection could simply be a adaptation caused by changes in development, rather than an evolutionary link. The report is published in the Oct 9 issue of the journal Science. -- AFP

Decoding the human genome

WASHINGTON - SCIENTISTS have decoded the three dimensional structure of the human genome, opening the way for new insights into its functioning and structures, according to a report published on Thursday.

'By breaking the genome into millions of pieces, we created a spatial map showing how close different parts are to one another,' said Nynke van Berkum, one of two main authors of the study, which appears in the journal Science. 'We made a fantastic three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle and then, with a computer, solved the puzzle,' said Dr Berkum, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Massachusetts Medical School.

To do it, scientists used a new technology called 'Hi-C' that allowed them to solve previously unanswered questions about how each human cell could contain some three million pairs of base DNA and still be able to access functionally crucial segments.

'We've long known that on a small scale, DNA is a double helix. But if the double helix didn't fold further, the genome in each cell would be two meters long,' said Erez Lieberman-Aiden, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology and a researcher at Harvard and the Broad Institute.

'Scientists have not really understood how the double helix folds to fit into the nucleus of a human cell, which is only about a hundredth of a millimeter in diameter. This new approach enabled us to probe exactly that question,' said Mr Lieberman-Aiden, the study's other main author.

The researchers found that the human genome is organised in two distinct compartments that keep active genes accessible to proteins and separate from densely packed stocks of inactive DNA. Chromosomes snake from one compartment to another as their DNA alternates between active and inactive stretches of the genome. -- AFP

Virus causes chronic fatigue?

WASHINGTON - A VIRUS linked to prostate cancer also appears to play a role in chronic fatigue syndrome, according to research that could lead to the first drug treatments for a mysterious disorder that affects 17 million people worldwide.

Researchers found the virus, known as XMRV, in the blood of 68 out of 101 chronic fatigue syndrome patients. The same virus showed up in only 8 of 218 healthy people, they reported on Thursday in the journal Science.

Judy Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Nevada and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute and the Cleveland Clinic emphasized that the finding only shows a link between the virus and chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, and does not prove that the pathogen causes the disorder.

Much more study would be necessary to show a direct link, but Dr Mikovits said the study offers hope that CFS sufferers might gain relief from a cocktail of drugs designed to fight AIDS, cancer and inflammation.

CFS impairs the immune system and causes incapacitating fatigue, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sufferers can also experience memory loss, problems with concentration, joint and muscle pain, headaches, tender lymph nodes and sore throats. Symptoms last at least six months and can be as disabling as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, the CDC said. -- REUTERS

H1N1 more serious in youth

WASHINGTON - A STUDY of people who became seriously ill and died with the new pandemic swine flu confirms it is hitting a younger population than the seasonal flu and causes often different symptoms.

The study of 272 patients sick enough to be hospitalized showed about 40 per cent had diarrhoea and vomiting - usually rare with seasonal flu - and confirmed that quick treatment with antivirals could save lives.

Dr Seema Jain of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, who led the study, said the findings had informed the CDC's advice on who should worry about the new H1N1 virus and when to get treatment.

They said 45 per cent were children under 18, just 5 per cent were over 65 and 73 per cent had at least one underlying condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy.

The soonest any of the patients who died were treated with an antiviral drug was three days after they started showing symptoms, the researchers found. Patients treated earlier all survived.

Even if patients do not have the traditional risk factors for serious disease, they should get antiviral drugs if they are sick enough to be hospitalized, Dr Jain said. -- REUTERS

Arthritis hits more young

PAIN is what a 25-year-old arthritis sufferer has been living with for nine years. The university student, who wants to be known as Bai, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis - a form of arthritis - when he was 16.

More young Singaporeans like him are being diagnosed with arthritis, a chronic condition that causes painful inflammation of the joints.

In 2007, 4.9 per cent of people here aged 18 to 29 had arthritis, a survey by the Health Ministry showed. In 2001, just 0.3 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 had arthritis.

While the cause of arthritis remains unknown, two Singapore doctors have attributed the rising number of young sufferers to increased awareness, as well as the growing obesity rate (being overweight increases stress on joints).

They revealed this at a press conference on Thursday, during which the findings of a study on arthritis were announced.

The study of 508 Dutch patients found that early treatment with methotrexate, an anti-rheumatic drug, and infliximab, a genetically engineered drug derived from human genes, helped reduce disease activity and joint damage. -- MY PAPER

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Inhaler may up asthma risk

The study showed that asthma patients using their inhaler on a daily basis and who carry the Arg16 gene variant were at a 30 per cent greater risk of asthma attacks compared with those with the more usual form of the gene. -- ST PHOTO: ALAN LIM

LONDON - A COMMON asthma reliever drug may increase the risk of asthma attacks in some sufferers, British scientists said on Tuesday.

The researchers found that salbutamol, a popular inhaler medicine, as well as salmeterol, an ingredient in GlaxoSmithKline's Advair asthma product, are less effective in children with a specific gene variant and may worsen the health of some patients.

'This is a global question that needs to be addressed,' Professor Somnath Mukhopadhyay from Brighton and Sussex Medical School told Reuters.

Salbutamol is called albuterol in the United States and is used widely across the world, the researchers told a news conference in London.

The study showed that asthma patients using their inhaler on a daily basis and who carry the Arg16 gene variant were at a 30 per cent greater risk of asthma attacks compared with those with the more usual form of the gene.

The study says the risk is the same with salbutamol, which is short acting, and with salmeterol, which is longer acting. The study is due to be published in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology journal this month. -- REUTERS