Thursday, February 25, 2010

Babies after ovarian transplant

LONDON - A WOMAN has given birth to two children after her fertility was restored using transplants of ovarian tissue, the first time the complex treatment has produced two babies from separate pregnancies.

Claus Yding Andersen, the Danish doctor who treated the woman, said the case showed how this method of storing ovarian tissue was a valid way of preserving fertility and should encourage the technique to be used more in girls and young women facing treatment that may damage their ovaries.

This is the first time in the world that a woman has had two children from separate pregnancies as a result of transplanting frozen and thawed ovarian tissue,' said Dr. Andersen, who reported the case in the Human Reproduction medical journal.

Dr. Andersen's patient, Danish woman Stinne Holm Bergholdt, had ovarian tissue removed and frozen during treatment for cancer, and then restored once she was cured. She gave birth to a girl in Feb 2007 after receiving fertility treatment. She then conceived naturally and gave birth to another girl in Sept 2008.

Nine children have been born worldwide as a result of transplanting frozen and thawed ovarian tissue. Three (including Ms Bergholdt's two) were born in Denmark after treatment carried out by Dr. Andersen, who is Professor of Human Reproductive Physiology at the University Hospital of Copenhagen.

Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services in central England and Pete Braude, head of women's health at King's College London, both said the key to the success of this kind of treatment was the woman's age. Dr. Braude said the fact that Ms Bergholdt was 27 when her treatment began had boosted her chances. -- REUTERS

New pneumonia vaccine

WASHINGTON - PFIZER Inc's new version of a blockbuster vaccine that fights pneumonia, meningitis and other diseases caused by pneumococcus bacteria won approval from US health officials on Wednesday.

Government vaccine advisers recommended the new Prevnar 13 vaccine for infants who have not been immunised with the original version. They also urged one shot of Prevnar 13 for children up to age 5 who have already received all four doses of the earlier vaccine.

Prevnar 13 was the most important experimental product the company acquired in last year's purchase of Wyeth. It fights 13 strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. The original Prevnar, which targeted seven strains, was introduced in 2000 and has annual sales around US$3 billion (S$4.24 billion).

Infections caused by pneomococcus greatly declined after the original Prevnar was launched. At the time, the seven targeted strains accounted for 80 per cent of invasive pneumococcal infections in young children in North America. By 2007, cases had dropped 99 per cent in children younger than 5 years old, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Studies also showed disease rates fell in unvaccinated people, especially the elderly.

'Although the rates of invasive pneumococcal disease have declined dramatically, there are still children in the United States who are suffering with this serious illness,' Dr. Karen Midthun, acting head of the FDA's unit that reviewed Prevnar 13, said in a statement. The new version 'will help prevent pneumococcal disease caused by' the six additional strains, she said.

Pfizer has estimated that the added protection from Prevnar 13 could reduce deaths from pneumococcus by an extra 9,800 over 10 years. The new vaccine targets a strain called 19A that has emerged as the most common cause of pneumococcal infection in the United States. That strain is becoming harder to treat as it develops resistance to antibiotics, said Dr. Emilio Emini, Pfizer's chief scientific officer for vaccine research. -- REUTERS

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Smokers have lower IQ

NEW YORK - CIGARETTE smokers have lower IQs than non-smokers, and the more a person smokes, the lower their IQ, according to a study of over 20,000 Israeli military recruits.

Dr Mark Weiser and colleagues from Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer found that young men who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day or more had IQ scores 7.5 points lower than non-smokers. 'Adolescents with poorer IQ scores might be targeted for programmes designed to prevent smoking,' they conclude in the journal Addiction.

While there is evidence for a link between smoking and lower IQ, many studies have relied on intelligence tests given in childhood, and have also included people with mental and behavioral problems, who are both more likely to smoke and more likely to have low IQs, Dr Weiser and his team noted.

To better understand the smoking-IQ relationship, the researchers looked at 20,211 18-year-old men recruited into the Israeli military. The group did not include anyone with major mental health problems, because these individuals are disqualified from military service.

According to the researchers, 28 percent of the study participants smoked at least one cigarette a day, around 3 per cent said they were ex-smokers, and 68 percent had never smoked. The smokers had significantly lower intelligence test scores than non-smokers, and this remained true even after the researchers accounted for socioeconomic status measured by how many years of formal education a recruit's father had completed.

The average IQ for non-smokers was about 101, while it was 94 for men who had started smoking before entering the military. IQ steadily dropped as the number of cigarettes smoked increased, from 98 for people who smoked one to five cigarettes daily to 90 for those who smoked more than a pack a day. IQ scores from 84 to 116 are considered to indicate average intelligence. -- REUTERS

Thursday, February 4, 2010

40% of cancers preventable

LONDON - FORTY per cent of the 12 million people diagnosed with cancer worldwide each year could avert the killer disease by protecting themselves against infections and changing their lifestyles, experts said on Tuesday.

A report by the Geneva-based International Union Against Cancer (UICC) highlighted nine infections that can lead to cancer and urged health officials to drive home the importance of vaccines and lifestyle changes in fighting the disease.

'If there was an announcement that somebody had discovered a cure for 40 per cent of the world's cancers, there would quite justifiably be huge jubilation,' UICC president David Hill told Reuters in a telephone interview. 'But the fact is that we have, now, the knowledge to prevent 40 per cent of cancers. The tragedy is, we're not using it.'

Cervical and liver cancer, both caused by infections which can be prevented with vaccines, should be top priorities, the report said, not only in rich nations, but also in developing countries where 80 per cent of global cervical cancer occur.

The UICC said it wanted to focus policymakers' attention on cancer-preventing vaccines -- like ones made by GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co against the human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer, and others against hepatitis B, which causes liver disease and cancer.

The experts said the risk of developing cancer could potentially be reduced by up to 40 per cent if full immunisation and prevention measures were deployed and combined with simple lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, eating healthily, limiting alcohol intake and reducing sun exposure. Dr Hill said national health authorities should also work to dispel widespread myths about cancer, in particular a sense of fatalism felt by many people in the face of the disease. -- REUTERS

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Low serotonin may cause SIDS

WASHINGTON - SUDDEN infant death syndrome (SIDS) could be caused by low levels in the brainstem of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which controls functions such as heart rate and breathing, a study showed on Tuesday.

Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston measured the levels of serotonin and tryptophan hydroxylase, the enzyme that helps make the key neurotransmitter, in 36 infants who died from SIDS and two control groups - babies who died suddenly of other causes and infants who were hospitalised with chronic oxygenation problems.

What they found is that serotonin levels in the lower brainstem of the SIDS babies were 26 per cent lower and tryptophan hydroxylase levels were 22 per ent lower than in the control groups. They also found that SIDS babies had fewer serotonin receptors in the brainstem.

'The receptors are what serotonin interacts with to produce an effect,' David Paterson, one of the lead authors of the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) told AFP. 'In SIDS cases, in the brainstem, they actually have fewer of these receptors, and if there's a lower number of receptors, that's usually an indication that there's something wrong with serotonin.'

Serotonin in the brainstem controls functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and breathing. If the infant has a serotonin deficiency, and if there are other SIDS risk-factors, such as the baby sleeping on its stomach where it rebreathes its own breath, with higher carbon dioxide, the serotonin system in the brainstem could fail to detect a problem and tell the baby to take action, Paterson explained.

'If this system is not working properly, the baby might not respond to this challenge and die,' he said. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants younger than one year in the United States. -- AFP