Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New cancer treatment

27-year-od Dewi Hermawati is a survivor of a rare type of cancer where the patient suffered from inflammation of the brain. Doctors used an unconventional approach in the management of an inflammation of the brain associated with ovarian tumours. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

DOCTORS in Singapore have come up with a treatment approach for a rare condition associated with ovarian tumour.

They have written a journal article recommending this method as a standard to treat similiar conditions worldwide.

Known as paraneoplastic encephalitis, which is an acute inflammation of the brain, it occurs when there is cancer in the body causing an extremely active immune system to mistakenly attack the brain.

As a result, patients can suffer from neurological complications like fits, confusion or memory problems. If left untreated, this could eventually lead to permanent and severe brain damage or even death.

It is not known how common this condition is as there is no international data. But based on estimates, less than one percent of patients with cancers will have such a condition, said Dr Tan Min-Han, associate consultant at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCSS)'s department of medical oncology.

The fact that such a condition even exists only came to light in 2007 when a US doctor saw 12 patients who had cancers and were subsequently found to have inflammation of the brain.

Since then, about five patients in Singapore have been diagnosed with the problem.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tumours can re-seed themselves

WASHINGTON - TUMOURS can not only spread through the body by sending out tiny cells called seeds, but they can re-seed themselves, researchers said in a report on Thursday that may help explain why tumours grow back even after they are removed.

They said their findings, published in the journal Cell, may also help lead to the development of new drugs to stop the process of cancer spread, or metastasis. 'Circulating tumour cells can also colonise their tumors of origin, in a process that we call 'tumour self-seeding',' Joan Massague of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and colleagues wrote.

'Now we have found that tumors can recapture some of their most delinquent children, enriching themselves with the most aggressive metastatic cells, enabling them to grow faster and more robustly,' Mr Massague, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher, said in a statement.

'Now we are thinking that in some cases, maybe treatment left inflamed tissue that had been a home for those cells that escaped and were residing somewhere temporarily, perhaps in the bone marrow,' he added. 'They may have re-entered the circulation in the weeks and months after surgery, and now, through the self-seeding process, have homed in on this tissue and reproduced the tumor.'

Mr Massague's team used mice, injecting them with human breast cancer cells that had been genetically engineered with a jellyfish protein to make them glow green under ultraviolet light. They tracked these cells as they spread through the bodies of the mice.

Immune system signaling chemicals, including interleukin 6 and interleukin 8, appear to 'call' the tumor cells home, his team found. -- REUTERS

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

HIV/Aids top crises list

NEW YORK - DWINDLING funding for HIV/AIDS threatens to leave an estimated 10 million infected people without treatment in the developing world, making it one of 2009's Top 10 humanitarian crises, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Other crises that made the list released by the medical humanitarian group on Monday include: governments blocking access to lifesaving assistance in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Sudan; a lack of respect for civilian safety and aid efforts in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia; and inadequate international funds to fight neglected diseases and malnutrition.

Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders' US section, said the group wanted to alert policy makers not to let down their guard in the fight against HIV/AIDS, which continues to be a crisis despite the advent of life-sustaining treatment. 'When there are concerning signs of a retreat for access to treatment, it's important to state that HIV/AIDS is an emergency,' Ms Delaunay said.

The international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF for its French name 'Medecins Sans Frontieres,' began issuing its annual list in 1998 after a devastating famine in southern Sudan went largely unnoticed by the US media. The list, which does not rank the crises by order of importance, seeks to foster greater awareness of crises that may not receive adequate attention in the press.

Since pledging to support universal AIDS treatment coverage by 2010 at the G8 Summit in Scotland in 2005, many countries, including the United States, have announced plan to reduce or limit funding, she said.

'In some countries doctors are turning patients away, advised to wait until other patients die. What's going to happen is that patients are going to show up at the door of our clinics and there is a high possibility of us getting overwhelmed,' Ms Delaunay warned. -- AP

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Marriage good for health

WELLINGTON - DESPITE the barbs of comedians and the spectacular bust-ups documented in the gossip magazines, marriage really is good for you, international research has found.

A study of nearly 34,500 people in 15 countries found married people are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse, clinical psychologist Kate Scott of New Zealand's University of Otago said on Tuesday.

'What our study points to is that the marital relationship offers a lot of mental health benefits for both men and women, and that the distress and disruption associated with ending marriage can make people vulnerable to developing mental disorders,' Dr Scott said.

Being separated, divorced, or widowed is associated with increased risk of mental health disorders in both men and women, particularly with depression in men and drugs and alcohol abuse in women.

'One of the more important findings is that in recent years it has been asserted that marriage is better for men than for women in terms of mental health. This study does not agree with that position,' Dr Scott said.

'We found that compared to never getting married, getting married is good for both men and women in terms of most mental health disorders.' -- AFP

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sex a mind and body matter

SEX is a matter of both the mind and the body, so doctors need to see sexual issues as 'multidisciplinary'.

This was the thrust of the keynote address on Saturday on the future of sexual medicine.

Dr John Dean, president of the International Society for Sexual Medicine, who spoke at the 12th Biennial Meeting of the Asia Pacific Society for Sexual Medicine, said sexual medicine is a fairly new discipline.

But he added that it is not just a biomedical discipline.

'We are most comfortable with the biomedical aspects but we must remember that there are other aspects,' he said. These include the psychological and relationship aspects of sexual health.

Sexual medicine is not about disease, said the Briton, a sexual physician in private practice.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Popular diet product recalled

WASHINGTON - CANS of a popular, ready-to-drink weight loss product are being recalled in the United States after tests showed the liquid meals could be tainted with bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration said on Friday.

Unilever United States announced that it was recalling 'all Slim-Fast ready-to-drink products in cans, due to the possibility of contamination with Bacillus cereus, a micro-organism which may cause diarrhea and possibly nausea and/or vomiting.'

The recall involves all Slim-Fast ready-to-drink products in cans regardless of flavor, sell-by date, or lot number, but not other Slim-Fast products such as meal bars or powder, Unilever said.

No one was available at Unilever to say how many cans of Slim-Fast were involved in the recall, but the company said in a statement that the recall was nationwide and concerned not only wholesale and retail outlets but also consumers who might have cans of the drink at home. -- AFP

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mobile phones 'have not increased brain cancers'

There has been no substantial change in the number of adult brain tumours since mobile phone usage sharply increased in the mid-1990s, Danish scientists say.

The Danish Cancer Society looked at the rates of brain tumours among 20 to 79 year olds from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

They found that trends in cancer rates had not altered from the period before mobiles were introduced.

But they say longer follow-up studies are needed.

The research, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, says radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted from mobile phones have been proposed as a risk factor for brain tumours, but a biological mechanism that could explain the potential effects has not been identified.

Cancer incidence

The study was based on 59,684 brain tumour cases diagnosed over 30 years from 1974 to 2003 among 16 million adults.

During this time, the incidence rate of cancers known as gliomas increased gradually by 0.5% per year among men and by 0.2% per year among women.

For cancers known as meningioma, the incidence rate increased by 0.8% among men and, after the early 1990's, by 3.8% among women.

This more rapid change for women was driven, the researchers say, by the 60-79 year age group.

Isabelle Deltour, of the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen who led the study said the lack of a detectable increase in tumour rates up to 2003 may suggest that the time it takes for cancer to develop from mobile phone use is longer than 10 years of exposure or that the number of tumours it promotes is too small to be detected.

She said: "Our results extend those of previous studies of time trends up to 1998 by adding five years of follow-up.

"Because of the high prevalence of mobile phone exposure in this population and worldwide, longer follow-up of time trends in brain tumour incidence is warranted."

Mike Dolan, of the Mobile Operators Association which represents all five UK network operators said: "This finding is consistent with previous studies in this field and will form part of the overall body of scientific research.

"The UK mobile phone operators are supporting a large cohort study which is a recommendation of this paper."

'Double trouble' antibiotic hope

A "double-headed" antibiotic could lead to powerful new drugs to beat resistance, say UK researchers.

It sticks to bacteria in two places making it more potent and reducing the chance that bacteria will adapt to resist it, the journal Science reports.

Although not itself suitable for use in patients, it is hoped drugs can be created based on the same principle.

But the news comes as experts warn that excessive regulation is preventing new antibiotics being developed.

An editorial in The Lancet medical journal has called for greater efforts to develop new antibiotics.

A recent EU report found that only 15 antibacterial drugs that offer a potential benefit over existing drugs are in development, and only five have reached the final stage of the trials process.

And the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy has set up a working group to try and address some of the barriers.

Natural compound

In the latest study, researchers looked at a naturally occurring molecule made by soil bacteria called simocyclinone.

It attacks an enzyme in bacteria called DNA gyrase, stopping them from growing.

This enzyme is also targeted by a commonly used group of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, but resistance to these drugs is growing.

The team showed that simocyclinone binds to a completely different, previously unexploited part of the enzyme and also latches on in two places or "pockets".

The "double-headed" nature of the antibiotic makes it 100 times more powerful than if each "head" attached to the bacteria individually.

And because bacteria would have to mutate in both binding sites, it cuts the potential for resistance.

Simocyclinone is a fairly large molecule and can not easily get into bacterial cells.

By designing molecules which bind to the enzyme in the same way, researchers say more effective antibiotics could be developed.

Drug design

Study leader Professor Tony Maxwell from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, said: "If you can knock out this enzyme, you have a potential new drug," said Professor Maxwell.

"The fact that there are two pockets means that it might require simultaneous mutations in both pockets for the bacteria to acquire full resistance to the drug, which is much less likely.

"You could say that this is a case of two heads being better than one."

Professor Laura Piddock from the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, said there are huge hurdles to developing antibiotics.

"Antibiotic drug development worldwide is in the doldrums because it's very expensive to get drugs through the regulatory process.

"These results are exciting because having a single molecule that targets two separate parts of the enzyme is new and novel.

"But clearly if someone comes up with a useable version of this molecule they're going to have to overcome some hurdles, which are so profound it makes you very pessimistic."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mammogram radiation ups risk

CHICAGO - LOW-DOSE radiation from mammograms and chest X-rays may increase the risk of breast cancer in young women who are already at high risk because of family history or genetic susceptibility, Dutch researchers said on Tuesday.

They said high-risk women, especially those under 30, may want to consider switching to an alternative screening method such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which does not involve exposure to radiation.

'Our findings suggest that low-dose radiation increases breast cancer risk among these young, high-risk women, and a careful approach is warranted,' said Marijke Jansen-van der Weide of the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands. 'I should recommend to be careful with radiation before 30 and to think about alternatives.'

Ms Jansen-van der Weide, who presented her findings at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago, said in a telephone interview.

For the study, Ms Jansen-van der Weide pooled data from six published studies that involved 12,000 high-risk women from Europe and the United States.

The team found that of the 8,500 women who had been exposed to radiation from chest X-rays or mammograms before the age of 20 or those who had had five or more exposures were 2.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than other high-risk women who had not been exposed. -- REUTERS