Monday, September 20, 2010

New clues to womens' cancer

PARIS - GENE detectives said on Sunday they had netted a clutch of tipoffs to help identify women with a higher inherited risk of ovarian and breast cancer, dubbed 'silent killers' for the stealthy way they claim lives.

The work gathered experts from the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia, who trawled through the genetic code of tens of thousands of women, looking for single-letter changes found among women with cancer but absent among women who were otherwise healthy. Their work was published online in the journal Nature Genetics.

One study found telltale DNA on chromosomes 2, 3, 8, 17 and 19 that strongly indicated risk from serious ovarian cancer, the term for the commonest and most aggressive form of this disease.

Another paper found that a variation of DNA on Chromosome 19 amplified the risk of breast cancer associated with a well-known culprit, a faulty copy of the BRCA1 gene, which is located on Chromosome 17.

What role these variants perform in the biology of cancer is unclear, and finding out will probably take many more years of investigation. Even so, the researchers believe that the clues add powerfully to the basket of genetic telltales for cancer, which thus opens the way to diagnostic tools for women at risk.

'These latest findings raise the possibility that in the future, women in the general population who are at the greatest risk of developing ovarian cancer because they carry these newly discovered DNA variants can be identified and given closer surveillance,' said Andrew Berchuck, a professor at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, who headed one of the investigations. -- AFP

New treatment for asthma

LOS ANGELES - RESEARCHERS say they've found a possible new treatment for adults with hard-to-control asthma. Their discovery, however, came at a price.

Scientists of a US government-funded asthma study had to spend nearly US$1 million (S$1.33 million) of taxpayers' money after British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC declined to donate its asthma drug and look-alike dummy medicine for the study, which compared two other treatments.

Editors of the New England Journal of Medicine, which published the study, chastised Glaxo, saying its actions made the research harder and more expensive to do. Drug companies aren't required to supply their medicines for study, but they often do.

'In the end, the study results provided the truth' - the drug, Spiriva, was as good as Glaxo's Serevent, they wrote. The study was published online on Sunday to coincide with a presentation at a medical meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

About 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. In the US, 22 million Americans have asthma, which kills about 4,000 a year. For people who can't control their asthma with inhaled steroid medicine, current guidelines call for doubling the dose or adding a different drug that relaxes the muscles to help patients breathe.

Researchers tested three inhaled treatments: doubling the steroid dose, adding Glaxo's Serevent or adding Boehringer Ingelheim's Spiriva, which is approved for emphysema and other chronic lung conditions, but not asthma. -- AP

Vagina gel fails to block HIV

PARIS - A VAGINAL gel failed to protect women against the Aids virus, doctors said on Monday, reporting on a major clinical trial that enrolled more than 9,000 women.

The formula, known as PRO 2000, was tested in a Phase III trial, the widest and most exhaustive stage of the process to assess a new drug for safety and effectiveness.

Aids campaigners have staked huge faith in the search for a vaginally-used gel to thwart the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It would revolutionise the fight on Aids by empowering women, especially in African countries where coercive sex is a problem.

The first breakthrough in this quest was announced in July at the 18th International Aids Conference in Vienna. Scientists reported that a cream tested in a Phase IIb trial in South Africa called Caprisa 004 cut the risk of HIV infection by 39 per cent overall, and by 54 per cent among those women who used it most consistently.

This level of protection may not be enough to make the Caprisa gel get approval, however. The cream incorporates tenofovir, a drug commonly used in tablet form to quell HIV by disrupting its reproduction in immune cells.

The PRO 2000 formula is different, being a so-called large charged polymer, which is intended to disrupt HIV's interaction with targeted cells. It was tested at two levels of concentration, of two per cent and 0.5 per cent, in 13 clinics in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia in a trial that was closely monitored for ethical standards. -- AFP