Bob Lawrence’s journey with Metastatic Melanoma Cancer

February 18, 2012 by  
Filed under BRAIN, VIDEO

Battling And Beating Cancer – Leukemia and Leukemia Research With Dr Le Beau

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under CANCER, VIDEO

Interview with an Alzheimer’s expert, Part I: How far are we from a treatment?

September 9, 2010 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

5.3 million Americans have AD and 1 person every 70 seconds is diagnosed with the disease. There are many questions that need to be addressed regarding this disease.

We are pleased here at Battling for Health to have an exclusive interview with one of world’s foremost experts on Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Dr. Michael Rafii, MD, PhD is the  co-director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at UCSD Perlman Ambulatory Care Center in La Jolla, California and Assistant Professor of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. He is also the Associate Medical Core Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) specializing in cognitive disorders, including dementias such as AD.

We sent several questions on AD to Dr. Rafii and we are happy to share with you his responses.

QUESTION: AD has been the subject of numerous research studies but till now, no effective treatment has been found. Why is it so difficult to find a treatment for this disease? How far are we from a treatment?

 ANSWER: Current research indicates that AD may in fact be silently developing in the brain over 10-20 years, BEFORE its key symptom of short term memory loss even shows up in patients.  The idea is that a protein called beta-amyloid is slowly accumulating in the brain, first damaging brain cells, and then depositing into plaques.  Many drugs, some of which target amyloid, have been tested in the symptomatic phase, which is likely too late in the course of the disease to have a tremendous impact.  However, we now have tools such as cerebrospinal fluid analysis and neuroimaging that allow us to measure amyloid in the brain, and are helping us detect AD’s pathology before symptoms show up.

 I think a good analogy for AD is heart diease.  If a patient presents with a Heart Attack, starting them on a cholesterol lowering medication at that time will be a little too late.  Rather, if they start lowering their cholesterol years earlier, they may never have the heart attack in the first place.  Some believe that amyloid is analogous to cholesterol.  The challenge is to measure the amyloid and to get drugs that lower amyloid INSIDE the brain.  By lowering amyloid levels, we might lower the risk of having symptomatic AD, that is memory loss and dementia.

 We currently have trials in progress for medications that are being evaluated in the mildest stage of AD, when memory loss is just starting to occur.  I am optimistic that in the next few years we will have new treatments available.

Medical research such those being conducted at Dr. Rafii’s clinic will hopefully bring AD treatment closer to reality. However, in order for research studies t be conducted, research subjects and volunteers are needed. Check out how you can help at: www.adcs.org/Studies/ImagineADNI.aspx.

 Follow Alzheimer’s Research on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Alzheimers-Disease-Research/114211355284888

We have many more Q & A on AD with Dr. Rafii which we will share with you in the coming posts. Stay tuned!

Do IVF children have increased risk for cancer?

August 17, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER, INFERTILITY

The long-term effects of in vitro fertilization (IVF) on the mother and on the child have always been a topic of speculation. Louise Joy Brown, the first person born who was conceived via IVF (used to be called the “first test tube baby”) turned 32 last July and she herself is a mother to a 3-year old who was conceived naturally. Researchers could only monitor and record what they observe and know about Louise and thousands, maybe millions of IVF babies like her as they grow, reproduce and eventually die. Only time can tell whether there are long-term health effects associated with this type of assisted reproduction.

One of the first results on the ongoing observation of IVF children are out – coming from Sweden.

Swedish researchers at the University of Lund followed-up 26,692 children born after conception via IVF between 1982 and 2005. Cancer data were extracted from Swedish Cancer Register and comparison was made between cancer patients who were born after IVF and those were not. The results indicate an increased risk for cancer among those conceived by IVF.

The expected number of cancer cases in the general population is 38. Among the IVF children of the same age, 53 were diagnosed with cancer, equivalent to a 1.42 total cancer risk estimate. The most common forms of cancer diagnosed among IVF children were:

In addition, 6 cases of Langerhans histiocytosis were reported where 1 case is expected.

The researchers ruled out maternal age, number of previous babies delivered, smoking, subfertility, previous miscarriages, body weight and multiple births as the cause of the increased cancer risk. Although, it can be speculated that the mode of conception might play a role, the researchers think this may not be the case.

Instead, factors that should be considered are genetic traits from the parents, many of whom may have had health problems that manifested in the infertility that made use IVF in the first place.

Another factor is the fact that IVF resulted in many multiple births that in return led to preterm delivery. Premature babies have higher risks for health problems than babies born at full term.

In addition, the study only looked at Swedish children, and the Swedish population has relatively lower biodiversity compared to say, the UK or the US where IVF is commonly used as assisted reproduction technique. Thus, findings in these children might not be true in IVF children elsewhere.

The authors are quick to reassure parents of IVF children that although they found “a moderately increased risk for cancer in children who were conceived by IVF”, absolute risks are still very low – less than 1%.

Nutritional supplements for osteoarthritis evaluated

December 29, 2009 by  
Filed under ARTHRITIS

The 2009 Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) was held in Philadelphia in October. One of the main subjects of the research studies presented during the conference was advances in the management of osteoarthritis as featured in this Medscape report.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis characterized by the breakdown of cartilage around the joints. Some of the symptoms are pain, swelling, stiffness, and impairment of motion and function. It affects the joints of the hands, knees, hips or spine. Although the causes of osteoarthritis are poorly understood, studies have identified the risk factors as:

  • old age
  • female sex,
  • high BMI or obesity
  • previous trauma
  • malalignment
  • genetic factors and
  • biochemical changes in aging joint tissues

During the ACR meeting, several investigations of nutritional interventions for osteoarthritis were presented. Some of the nutritional therapies are summarized below.

Glucosamine for Knee Osteoarthritis

Glucosamine is a common nutritional supplement used for the management of degenerative joint disease. It is available over the counter. At the ACR meeting, the results of the Joints on Glucosamine (JOG) trial that evaluated the effect of glucosamine on knee osteoarthritis were presented, with disappointing results.

“…no differences were observed in the progression of cartilage lesions between the treatment and placebo arms over the 24-week study. Moreover, glucosamine did not reduce levels of urinary type II collagen fragments, a biomarker for cartilage turnover. Taken together, these data suggest that glucosamine does not inhibit structural progression in knee OA, although this study is limited by its relatively small sample size and short follow-up, especially in light of the fact that OA lesions develop and progress over several years. “

Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) for Hip Osteoarthritis

The nutraceutical made from Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) is a popular osteoarthritis pain remedy especially in Europe. It is made from extracts of avocado and soybeans.  Results of a 3-year trial that investigated the efficacy of ASU to prevent progression of hip osteoarthritis indicated a weak benefit that needs to be confirmed by more studies.

At 3 years, no differences were observed between the placebo and ASU-treated groups in the primary outcome, which was change in joint space width. However, a statistically significant 20% reduction in progression, defined as > 0.5 mm reduction in joint space width, was observed in the treatment arm. No effects were observed on patients’ symptoms and ASU was generally well tolerated. Interpretation of the findings from this study is limited by the high patient dropout rate from the study of 41% and a failure to observe a significant difference in the primary outcome. Additional studies are needed to conclusively determine whether ASU has structure-modifying benefits in hip OA and could delay the need for joint replacement procedures.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are very popular supplements against cardiovascular diseases. But do they have beneficial effects in inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis? Unfortunately, years of study haven’t answered this question. One study reported at ACR meeting

“Higher intake of the antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamins E and C, and selenium were not associated with a reduction in the incidence of severe OA. Surprisingly, an association between high selenium intake and knee and hip OA was observed. This intriguing observation, which could influence how one counsels patients on the use of antioxidant supplements, needs to be confirmed with additional studies.”

Healthcare updates, November 30

November 30, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

healthcareResearch in health and biomedicine is getting a boost through fundings and grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The grants will not only promote research, it will also contribute to the economic recovery by providing jobs for researchers and scientists as well as technical and support staff. Some of these grants are listed below.

HHS Announces Plans to Make $80 Million Available to Support Health IT Workforce
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) makes $80 million available to provide research grants that would develop and strengthen the health information technology workforce. The grants would include programs in community colleges, curriculum development and other programs. The funding plans are part of the ARRA. According to Dr. David Blumenthal, HHS’ National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

“Ensuring the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), information exchange among health care providers and public health authorities, and redesign of workflows within health care settings all depend on having a qualified pool of workers. The expansion of a highly skilled workforce developed through these programs will help health care providers and hospitals implement and maintain EHRs and use them to strengthen delivery of care.”

NIH Awards $20.4 Million for Biomedical Research in Rhode Island and South Carolina
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) allocates $20.4 million for biomedical research in institutes in the states of South Carolina and Rhode Island. The two new Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) awards were awarded to Rhode Island Hospital and Clemson University. The program “supports multidisciplinary centers that concentrate on one core area of research in order to strengthen biomedical faculty research capability and enhance research infrastructure.” The research will focus on regenerative medicine and stem cell biology.

NIGMS Invests in Scientific Grand Opportunities with Recovery Act Funds
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which is also a part of the NIH is also using funds as part of the ARRA to invest in research. The $42.3 million worth of research grants is part of the Grand Opportunities (GO) which, according to the Dr. NIGMS Director Dr. Jeremy M. Berg

“…fund projects that promise to have a significant impact on a field of biomedical science over two years. By closing specific knowledge gaps, creating new technologies, or building community-wide resources, these awards will dramatically propel progress in key scientific fields with a one-time investment.”

Recovery Funds Advance Alzheimer’s Disease Research
Another field of research benefiting from the ARRA is Alzheimer’s disease research. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) will be awarding grants in promising areas in the field, such as “new and ongoing studies to identify additional risk factor genes associated with Alzheimer’s, improve diagnostic tools, find biomarkers, develop therapies, conduct clinical trials and explore preventive measures.”

Depression, sleep problems in children – the latest updates

September 3, 2009 by  
Filed under DEPRESSION

baby-feet2More and more reports are coming on regarding depression among children that it just makes you as parent well – depressed. Below I summarized the latest studies on depression and sleep problems in children:

Study # 1:

15% of preschoolers have “atypically high levels of depression and anxiety“, according to Canadian and French researchers. The researchers looked at 1,758 children in Quebec  and followed them up from age 5 months to five years. The family members were also monitored and interviewed.
The researchers found that some kids are more at risk of developing depression than others and indicators are also evident as early as 5 months. The predictors are:

  • 1st : Difficult temperament as a baby
  • 2nd: Lifetime maternal depression

According to senior author Sylvana M. Côté of the Université de Montréal’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine

“Our study is the first to show that infant temperament and lifetime maternal depression can lead to a high trajectory of depressive and anxiety problems before school entry. It is critical that preventive interventions be experimented with infants who risk developing depressive and anxiety disorders.”

Study # 2:

Another indicator of depression and anxiety among young children is sleep problems. Although in many cases, poor sleep is mainly due to bad habits and poor sleep hygiene,  in some cases it is an indication of emotional disorders. Italian researchers looked at 322 children between 7 and 11 years old. 112 of the participants have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder but were not taking any medication. 200 of the children did not suffer from depression.

The results of the study showed that 82% of children with depression have sleep problems. Only 5% of children in the control group have similar problems. Specific problems reported were:

  • Insomnia
  • Bedtime difficulties
  • Sleep anxiety
  • Fragmented sleep
  • Tendency to co-sleep with parents

According to author Dr. Flavia Giannotti of Center of Pediatric Sleep Disorders at the University of Rome

“Sleep problems are very common in typically developing children. Even though they are more frequent in toddlers and preschoolers, they affect also school-aged children. What was most interesting about this study was the finding that certain types of comorbid conditions might be especially disruptive on sleep. Therefore, in childhood, considerable attention needs to be paid to the interrelation between sleep patterns and emotional disorders. To ensure the most effective care, parents of sleep-disturbed children are advised to first consult with the child’s pediatrician, who may issue a referral to a sleep specialist for comprehensive testing and treatment.”

Study # 3:

British researchers report that early treatment of sleep disorders in children can actually prevent depression. Results from the twin study suggest that sleep problems are mainly due to genetic factors. In the case of depression however, the role of genetic factors diminishes as the child grows older but the environmental factors take a more important role.

According to author Alice Gregory of the department of psychology at Goldsmiths College in London

“We reported in a study previously, that genes were the most important factor in explaining the association between sleep problems and depression in eight year olds. However, when we examined this issue at age 10, we found that genes were less important in explaining the association and that environmental influences had become more important. This could be because environmental experiences are becoming more relevant as children grow older and could therefore play a role in both sleep problems and depression.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Fundraising for dementia research: a million for a million

July 2, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

plane-1When you think about companies giving to charity, you wouldn’t think of a budget airline company as being among the generous, right? Wrong! easyJet, one of Europe’s budget carrier has just announced its pledge of raising one million pounds for charity. The beneficiary of this corporate generosity is no other than the Alzheimer’s Society of the UK. The fund raising drive is called “a million for a million”, a million pounds for a million people who will suffer from some form of dementia in the next ten years.

According to Andy Harrison, CEO of easyJet

‘I was shocked to learn that one million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years. That’s why we have committed to raising a million for a million – one million pounds to help the million people who will be facing dementia.

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing but it is often still viewed in these terms, meaning it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The government only invests 2% of its medical research budget on dementia. We call on the government to boost research funding and make this condition a priority.’

Hre’s how the fundraising will work: Passengers on board all easyJet flights will be asked to donate their spare or excess foreign currency to dementia research. A collection bag will probably be given out to each passenger and collected just before landing. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Society will receive a percentage of the sales of scratch cards sold on easyJet flights. Collection starts this summer.

I think this is a splendid idea to raise money for charity. Those of you who are travelling international would know the hassle of different currencies and all those small change that clutters your purse. This is a great way of getting rid of them. And if you have more to spare, you can give more, too.

Neil Hunt, CEO of Azheimer’s Society UK says

‘easyJet has set a fantastic example by boosting funding for dementia. Charities, companies and the government can all work towards the goal of defeating dementia. We look forward to the forthcoming Dementia Research Summit and hope to see the development of an ambitious plan that drives real change.’

Thank you and happy landings.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Mobile phone and cancer Part II: Those who say “Yes”

June 22, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

no-cell-phoneLast week, I presented one side of the phone-cancer issue, basically the side that says “No, mobile phone use does not cause cancer.” This week, I am presenting the other side of the coin. But remember, this is not about taking sides. It’s about presenting the whole picture.

Because of the involvement of industry groups in funding the INTERPHONE studies, it is not surprising that many are sceptical of the results that those studies reported. Some independent research studies have also been conducted to investigate the link between RF radiaton – cancer which reported otherwise.

What the research studies say

  • The BioInitiative Working Group is an international working group consisting of scientists and health experts who looked at the published and unpublished evidence on the health effects of ELF. The group came up with the BioInitiative Report that “raises serious concerns about the safety of existing public limits that regulate how much EMF is allowable from power lines, cell phones, and many other sources of EMF exposure in daily life.” The group reported that there is enough evidence showing that ELF can increase the risk for breast cancer, childhood leukaemia, and possibly other cancers. However, the group’s study looked mainly at ELF, the radiation emitted by power lines, but not specifically on RF radiation emitted by mobile phones.
  • A group of Swedish researchers led by Lennart Hardell of the Örebro University looked at the INTERPHONE data and came up with a different conclusion compared to their colleagues. They found an increased risk for brain tumors among 2,162 users of cordless handsets and cellular phones.
  • cell-phone-kidAnother group of Swedish researchers found an association between acoustic neuroma and long-term mobile phone use (10 years or more) but not on the short-term (less than 10 years).
  • In 2008, Israeli researchers found a “positive dose-response trend” between cell phone use and tumors in the parotid gland in a study of 1,266 participants.
  • A 2008 study by Finnish researchers was the first to report that RF radiation can cause changes at the molecular level by altering protein expression in human skin cells.

What some health experts say

Coming up next in this series:

  • Why is a clear cut answer to the mobile phone – cancer question hard to find?
  • What are the other health effects of mobile telephony?
  • How to use your phone properly to minimize radiation exposure

 

Photo credit: stock.xchng

What about cancer resistance?

February 23, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

Two people. One smokes, the other a lifetime non-smoker. So why is it that the non-smoker develops lung cancer and the smoker doesn’t? Is it pure luck? Is it simply one of life’s ironies? Or is there a scientific explanation behind it?

The majority of research studies in oncology investigate what makes people susceptible to cancer. Most researchers look at susceptibility genes and risk factors. This is understandable because millions of people worldwide have cancer. Cancer is a major cause of mortality and the rates are rising: cancer is predicted to be the number one killer globally in the coming decade.

But what about the millions who do not get cancer? For every cancer victim, there are two people who escape the disease. Even some of the heaviest smokers don’t get lung cancer while the most health-conscious people do fall prey to this cruel disease. What do these cancer-free people have that the others don’t? Is this a matter of chance, or are there cancer-resistant genotypes?

Swedish professor George Klein is busy with a field of research in oncology that is neglected, almost overlooked – cancer resistance. He recently published a paper called “Toward a genetics of cancer resistance” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the course of his research, Klein has hypothesized five protective mechanisms that may protect people from cancer, namely:

  • Immunological mechanisms. Individuals may differ in terms of immune system efficiency.
  • Genetic mechanisms. Some people have more effective DNA repairing system than others. Those with specific DNA repair deficiency can develop certain types of cancer.
  • Epigenetic mechanisms. Genetics involve the DNA itself while epigenetics involve gene expression. Different gene expressions can have different results.
  • Intracellular mechanisms. This involves apoptosis or cell death, a defense mechanism within the cell itself. Apoptosis is triggered in some people but not in others.
  • Intercellular mechanisms. The researchers believe there is a defense mechanism that makes cells watch their neighbors and sound the alarm when precancerous conditions are detected.

Klein is urging researchers to look into cancer resistance as well and not only into cancer susceptibility.

Evolution seems to have favored some relatively common resistance genes that protect the majority of humans against cancer development. One day, finding out how nature keeps most of us cancer-free could help identify and repair specific genetic mechanisms in the large minority of individuals who do suffer from cancer. However, …[according to the author] it’s premature to speculate exactly how understanding genetic resistance could help people who are susceptible to cancer.

 

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Antioxidant supplements: do they work?

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under HEART AND STROKE

Resource post for December

In an era when people are becoming more and more health-conscious, vitamin pills are becoming more and more popular. Millions of people are swallowing vitamin supplement pills everyday, believing that these medications are beneficial to their health, especially their hearts. These supplements range from vitamin cocktails to omega-3’s to antioxidants. These “power pills” or “health supplements” are supposed to keep our body strong and healthy and prevent a wide range of diseases, from heart disease to high blood pressure, from aging to cancer.

In this resource post, I am reviewing the recent updates on vitamin and antioxidant supplementation and answer the question: Do we really need them?

Vitamin supplements

A 2007 meta-analysis by Bjelakovic and colleagues on vitamin supplements came up with surprising results: not only are the benefits of antioxidants suspect, they can actually increase overall mortality. A group of researchers analysed data from clinical trials which used supplementation of the antioxidants vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C and selenium used as stand-alone supplements or in combination in people with a variety of health conditions. The results showed that most of these vitamins actually do not have a discernable health benefits to those who took them. Furthermore, vitamins A and E and beta-carotene (but not Vitamin C) and selenium can actually result in increased mortality.

Based on their results, Bjelakovic and colleagues discourages the use of synthetic vitamin supplements. Instead, we should go for the natural sources of these vitamins – fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Antioxidant supplements

In a more recent review paper, the same researchers evaluated several clinical trials involving over 200,000 people which compared the efficacy of antioxidant supplements versus placebo in the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular gastrointestinal, neurological, ocular, dermatological, rheumatoid, renal, and endocrinological disorders

The authors reported that:

We found no evidence to support antioxidant supplements for primary or secondary prevention. Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E may increase mortality. Future randomised trials could evaluate the potential effects of vitamin C and selenium for primary and secondary prevention. Such trials should be closely monitored for potential harmful effects. Antioxidant supplements need to be considered medicinal products and should undergo sufficient evaluation before marketing.

Folic acid and vitamin B

It has always been a popular belief that folic acid and vitamin B can protect us from the monsters which are heart disease and stroke by reducing the levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is believed to be a biomarker for cardiovascular diseases. Unfortunately, the results of this long-term trial seem to cast doubts on the homocysteine theory.

The trial included more than 5,400 U.S. women who were health professionals. Some had a history of cardiovascular disease, and others had three or more coronary risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes. Half of the women took a daily combination pill containing 2.5 milligrams of folic acid, 50 milligrams of vitamin B6, and 1 milligram of vitamin B12, while the other half took a placebo.”

These women were “blinded” – that means they didn´t know whether they were taking vitamins or placebo – and followed-up for more than 7 years. The results of the trial were a bit disappointing. 14.9% of those who took the vitamin pills had at least 1 cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. 14.3% of those who were given placebo also had at least 1 cardiovascular event within the same period of time. The difference between the 2 groups was not significant.

The study results had important implications, namely:

  • The homocysteine – cardiovascular link needs to be re-examined; homocysteine may not be an appropriate biomarker for cardiovascular disease.
  • Taking folic acid does not prevent cardiovascular disease.
  • Flour in the US and some other countries is fortified with folic acid. Additional supplementation is not necessary except for pregnant women.

Pregnant women are routinely advised to take folic acid supplement to prevent birth defects that can affect the baby´s nervous system, leading to the condition of spina bifida. Natural sources of folic acid are green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.

Vitamin D and calcium

This trial evaluated the effects of vitamin D and calcium supplements on blood pressure and hypertension risk of healthy women. The study involved 36,252 postmenopausal women who were followed up for about 7 years. The results show that

“the precision of this study excludes a BP-lowering effect of calcium supplementation of clinical or public health importance…[the analysis] “is strongly suggestive of an absent relationship between vitamin D intake and hypertension”

Selenium and Vitamin E

A more recent development comes from the large-scale study called SELECT (Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial) which assessed whether selenium and vitamin E supplements can prevent prostate cancer as suggested by earlier studies. Recently, about 5 years into the study, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) decided to stop the study due to lack of preventive effects as well as”concerning” findings that showed a slight increase risk of developing prostate cancer among those who took vitamin E and diabetes among those who took selenium. Even though the “slight increased risks” observed in this study of 35,000 healthy men were not statistically significant, they are risks that couldn’t be ignored.

What the experts have to say

The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association (AHA) do not recommend the use of antioxidant supplements as specified in 2002 Guideline Update in for the management of chronic angina. In 2005, the AHA science advisory board issued that statement that “scientific data do not justify the use of antioxidant vitamin supplements” in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

“… in agreement with many in the field, we conclude that the existing scientific database does not justify routine use of antioxidant supplements for the prevention and treatment of CVD.25-28,29 This conclusion is consistent with theAmerican College of Cardiology/American Heart Association 2002 Guideline Update for the management of patients with chronic stable angina, which states that there is no basis for recommending that patients take vitamin C or E supplements or other antioxidants for the express purpose of preventing or treating coronary artery disease…”

Conclusion

Vitamins and minerals are essential for our health. But we have to be careful about our sources of essential nutrients. In spite of all the claims of these supplements, they are no substitute to the natural fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts as well as a healthy lifestyle.

 

Photo credit: stock.xchng

News from the cancer side December 5, 2008

December 5, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

Your cancer news for this weekend is here. happy reading!

News from the technology side

Caltech scientists develop ‘barcode chip’ for cheap, fast blood tests
This device promises to revolutionize diagnostic medical testing. In just 10 minutes, the chip can read froma drop of blood the presence and concentrations of proteins which are used as biomarkers pf certain diseases – including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The Integrated Blood-Barcode Chip (IBBC) has been developed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Traditional lab tests are time consuming, require large volumes of blood, and are costly. This chip definitely is a speedier and cheaper alternative. “We wanted to dramatically lower the cost of such measurements, by orders of magnitude,” according to lead researcher James Heath. “We measure many proteins for the cost of one. Furthermore, if you reduce the time it takes for the test, the test is cheaper, since time is money. With our barcode chip, we can go from pinprick to results in less than 10 minutes.” Good new for the health care industry, good news for the patients.

News from the funding agencies

UK charity’s £1.5 billion strategy includes plans for 20 new research centres.
A boost for cancer research in the UK! The country’s leading not-for-profit charity group Cancer Research UK has some big plans. It announced that it will fund more research on pancreatic, lung and oesophageal cancers and open several new research centers. The plans include spending £1.5 billion (US$2.3 billion) on cancer research over the next five years. In addition to pure basic research, it plans to step up work on radiotherapy and surgery.

The charity is also setting 20 new research centers to step up on early detection of cancer, an area considered to be weak in the UK.

News from the health care side

“Stem Cell Tourists” go abroad for unproven treatments
The latest trend in medical tourism is attracting people with uncurable diseases with promises of stem cell cures in other countries. Unfortunately, the so-called “stem cell tourists” usually end up disappointed, even worse, in danger. This trend is causing concerns and has led International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) to issue guidelines on the use of stem cell therapy. “U.S. experts fear that some foreign doctors are rashly treating patients without waiting for clinical trials to validate the safety of their procedures“, National geographic reports.

News from the clinical trials side

Fox Chase Cancer Center physician leads new international treatment study for ovarian cancer
This new, large scale study will “compare the overall effectiveness of the standard treatment (a combination of paclitaxel and carboplatin) for ovarian cancer with recently developed chemotherapy combinations incorporating newer drugs.” It is now open in the US and is planned to include participants in other countries including Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The drugs to be studies are topotecan, gemcitabine, and liposomal doxorubicin.

 Photo credit: Stock.xchng

Knowing your heart and stroke drugs: statins

November 17, 2008 by  
Filed under HEART AND STROKE

Resource post for November

Background

Statin drugs or HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors play a very important role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. They are the first line treatment against high cholesterol levels. Statins have anti-inflammatory properties and interfere with the production of cholesterol thus slowing down the formation of plaques on the arterial walls.

According to the US FDA, statin medications

Statins are also said to be the bestselling drugs of all times, raking in billions of dollar in sales every year. Currently available statin drugs are:

  • Lovastatin (Mevacor, Altoprev)
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)

Research studies

Recent studies indicate that statins may play a major role in therapeutic areas outside cardiovascular medicine, thus may earn the title of “the aspirin of the 21st century“. Some of these studies are summarized below.

Statins associated with lower risk of death from pneumonia

Pneumonia is a major cause of mortality worldwide, even in developed countries. It has been reported that the incidence of pneumonia is increasing and hospitalization rates in the US and Europe have increased by 20 to 50% during the last 10 years. About 10 to 15% of pneumonia cases result in death.

Does statin use lower mortality rates due to pneumonia? Danish researchers report in the October 27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine that “individuals who take cholesterol-lowering statins before being hospitalized with pneumonia appear less likely to die within 90 days afterward.

The researchers studied data from 29,900 patients hospitalized with pneumonia between 1997 and 2004. 4.6% of these patients (1,371) were taking statins before and during hospitalization as anticholesterol treatment.

Death rates within 30 days among statin users were much lower (10.3%) were much lower than non-statin users (15.7%). The same trend was observed after 90 days, with 16.8% mortality rates among statin users compared to 22.4% among non-users.

The mechanism behind this effect of statins is not clear but the authors theorize that

“Statins change the immune response, beneficially affect processes associated with blood clotting and inflammation and inhibit dysfunction in blood vessels. These effects may especially benefit patients with sepsis and bacteremia, which are associated with early death from pneumonia.”

Statins block 1 cause of pregnancy loss in mice

What does statin have to do with pregnancy? Researchers at Cornell University observed that statins can actually prevent antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), an inflammatory condition that causes serious complications in pregnancy ranging from spontaneous abortion, fetal growth problems and even fetal death. The researchers demonstrated this beneficial effect of statins in laboratory mice.

Statins may protect against memory loss

Statins seem to also have protective properties against dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. This is according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The researchers observed that “if a person takes statins over a course of about 5-7 years, it reduces the risk of dementia by half.” The study studied tracked 1674 older Mexican-Americans did not have dementia for 5 years. Within the follow up period, 130 study participants developed some form of dementia or cognitive impairment. The incidence of dementia was lower among the 452 participants who took statins at some point in the study. This is an interesting development in view of stories about the popular statin drug Lipitor causing memory losses.

Statins lower blood marker for prostate cancer

Men who are taking statins to lower their cholesterol levels have lower prostate-specific antigen (PSA). PSA is a known biomarker for cancer risk. The PSA reduction seems to be related to statin use in a dose-dependent manner. The study followed up 1214 men who were on statins between 1990 and 2006 and monitored their PSA levels. Whether the effect of statins on the PSA levels translates into anticancer properties is not yet clear.

Are statins beneficial or harmful in multiple sclerosis?

A previous study in animals has shown that some statins may be beneficial against multiple sclerosis when combined with other drugs. This was demonstrated by University of California researchers in mice. In another study, Phoenix researchers showed that simvastatin may have some anti-inflammatory effect that counteracts inflammatory components of multiple sclerosis. However, another study indicates that certain doses of stains combined with beta interferon may actually increase the clinical disease activity in patients with multiple sclerosis. “Caution is [therefore] suggested in administering this combination.” The latter study was based on data of 26 study participants.

Statins lower risk of clots in cancer patients

Researchers at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia observed that cancer patients taking statins have lower incidence of blood clots than non-users. Thus, statins “may have a future in preventing blood clots in patients with breast, lung, colon and other solid-organ cancers.”

Caveat

The abovementioned studies show that there are other potential uses of statins aside from lowering cholesterol levels. However, all these results are preliminary. Further and larger studies are needed to further explore these beneficial effects as well as the risks that may be involved. Many people will claim that most of the positive reports about statins are propaganda from the pharmaceutical companies. Conspiracy theories abound. However, if statins can provide health benefits beyond cardiovascular medicine, who are we to say no?

We also have to be aware that like all drugs, statins come with side effects. Most side effects are mild but some can be serious. Myopathy is a potential fatal denegerative disease of the muscles possibly linked to statin use.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Cancer is the most studied disease

November 5, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

It is good news for oncology, bad news for other therapeutic areas – cancer is currently the most studied disease. This is based on the number of studies registered at ClinicalTrials.gov during the last two years, according to heartwire.

The review entitled “Trends in disease focus of drug development” and published in the August issue of Nature, examined

trends in industry-sponsored phase 2-4 interventional studies registered with the US-based clinical-trials registry between October 2005 and September 2007.” The results show that oncology ranked first in terms of the number of registered clinical trials.

Breast cancer and lung cancer were especially popular topics of study, probably because they are the most prevalent of all types of cancer. However, colorectal and prostate cancer studies were also many.

This is a blow to the field of cardiology which only ranked 3rd (after neurodegenerative disoders), used to be favorite study subject. In fact, many pharmaceutical companies are shifting their attention to oncology, leaving behind cardiovascular medicine as a low priority therapeutic area, inspite of the anti-cholesterol blockbuster drugs that brought in billions of dollars of revenues. One example is the case of Pfizer, which, in an internal memo somehow obtained by Forbes, expressed more enthusiasm for oncology than cardiology research. According to the memo, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, pain remedies, and mental health are the high priority areas.

According to the Nature review

anticancer drugs are the second largest therapy market, with US$ 34.6 billion in global pharmaceutical sales in 2006.” In that year, the top sellers were the lipid regulators which raked in sales of US$ 35.2 billion. However, this leading edge of anti-cholesterol drugs was considered “marginal” and is not expected to be sustainable. Most of the bestsellers (e.g. Lipitor (atorvastatin), Norvasc (amlodipine), Risperdal, Seroquel, Lamictal, and Avandia) or the previous years, many of which are cardiovascular drugs have either gone off patent or are schedule to go off-patent in the near future. Generic versions have flooded or will be flooding the market.

Anti-cancer drugs on the other hand, particularly chemotherapy drugs, are very expensive and are very unlikely to have generic versions anytime soon.

Avastin (bevacizumab), for example, a chemotherapy agent against colorectal cancer, can cost up to US$ 100,000 a year. For a life extension of 4.2 months, a patient has to pay $42,800 to $55,000.

In addition, drug regulators tend to pave the way towards fast approval of oncology drugs, in consideration of those people who are terminally ill and desperately hoping for a cure.

We can only hope that the current focus in oncology research will bring better (and hopefully cheaper) drugs to the market.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Diabetes Clinical Trial Update

October 2, 2008 by  
Filed under DIABETES

Before we review what’s going on in diabetes clinical trials let’s review the basics of clinical trials for our new readers.

What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is scientific research involving people that studies the effects of a new medication, therapy or device to determine if it is safe and effective.

In the United States, clinical trials are monitored by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Phases of a Clinical Trial:

Phase I evaluates dosage parameters.

Phase II continues to evaluate safety and begins to study efficacy.

Phase III compares the new drug with standards of care or if there are none, a placebo.

Phase IV is used if the drug normally used as a standard is to be used for another condition or if the formulation is changed. This phase may also be used for extended studies on drug side effects.

Diabetes clinical trials may involve studies of prevention of diabetes or the treatment of diabetes.

Types of Diabetes Clinical Trials

  • Action studies (doing something) – These focus on finding out whether actions people take, such as exercising more or quitting smoking, can prevent diabetes or their impact on current diabetics.
  • Agent studies (taking something) – These studies examine whether taking certain medicines, vitamins or food supplements (or a combination) have an affect on preventing or treating diabetes.

Why Participate in a Clinical Trial?

People participate in clinical trials for many reasons including the opportunity to try new cutting edge therapies under the care of leading researchers and health care providers, and for the opportunity to contribute to research to help themselves and others.

Clinical trials do have side effects including the possible negative effect of the therapies and/or no effects at all and they can be more time consuming than originally anticipated.

If you are considering participating in a clinical trial not only is it important to explore all facets of the trials through informed consent, but it is important to determine the cost and funding of a clinical trial and how your insurance coverage or Medicare comes into play. While often the medication being tested is free, there may be additional costs such as lab tests and hospitalization which are not.

Get answers ahead of time.

In depth resources on clinical trials and registries for clinical trials:

ClinicalTrials.gov not only lists registries of current clinical trials in the U.S and other countries but breaks them down according to condition, drug, sponsor and location.

World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform. “The mission of the WHO Registry Platform is to ensure that a complete view of research is accessible to all those involved in health care decision making.”

CRISP, Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects. “A biomedical database system containing information on research projects and programs supported by the Dept. of Health and Human Services.”

Center Watch: Clinical Trials Listing Service. This site provides a notification services for new clinical trials.

American Diabetes Association provides basic information on clinical trials.

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International lists current JDRF funded clinical studies and provides information on what phase those studies are currently in.

The Children With Diabetes site lists current clinical trials.

Read more

Diabetes Clinical Trial Update

August 12, 2008 by  
Filed under DIABETES

Diabetic clinical trials are an important element of battling diabetes.

What are clinical trials?

Basically a clinical trial is a scientific research involving people, that studies the effects of a new medication, therapy or device to determine if it is safe and effective.

In the United States, clinical trials are monitored by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Phases of a Clinical Trial:

Phase I evaluates dosage parameters.

Phase II continues to evaluate safety and begins to study efficacy.

Phase III compares the new drug with standards of care or if there are none, a placebo.

Phase IV is used if the drug normally used as a standard is to be used for another condition or if the formulation is changed. This phase may also be used for extended studies on drug side effects.

Diabetes clinical trials may involve studies of prevention of diabetes or the treatment of types of diabetes.

Read more

Cancer Clinical Trial Update

August 11, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

Time for a clinical trial update.

What are clinical trials?

Basically a clinical trial is a scientific research involving people, that studies the effects of a new medication, therapy or device to determine if it is safe and effective.

In the United States, clinical trials are monitored by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Phases of a Clinical Trial:

Phase I evaluates dosage parameters.

Phase II continues to evaluate safety and begins to study efficacy.

Phase III compares the new drug with standards of care or if there are none, a placebo.

Phase IV is used if the drug normally used as a standard is to be used for another condition or if the formulation is changed. This phase may also be used for extended studies on drug side effects.

Cancer clinical trials may involve studies of prevention of cancer or the treatment of cancer.

For more information see the Battling Cancer archives on the topic.

Enlight:

Participants needed for the Enlight Clinical Research Study. Researchers and doctors at medical facilities in the United States and Canada are studying two procedures in treating prostate cancer. If you are male, aged 60 or older, and have a diagnosis of low-risk, localized prostate cancer, you may qualify for this study.

The purpose of the study is to compare the safety and effectiveness of a high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) procedure to cryotherapy (freeze therapy), a standard-of-care, minimally invasive treatment for prostate cancer.

More information and an online pre screening are available now.

Read more

Cancer Clinical Trial Update

July 10, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

What’s going on in cancer clinical trials?

For a refresher on what clinical trials are see the Battling Cancer archives on the topic.

The SUN Program: Studies to Understand Sunititrib Malate. While the there are numerous Sun Trials including five enrolling for breast cancer, this one is of particular interest. Check out the site for a video of the study on Sutent.

SUTENT is indicated for the treatment of

  • Advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC)
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) after disease progression on or intolerance to imatinib mesylate

Read more

Diabetes Clinical Trials

June 9, 2008 by  
Filed under DIABETES

j0409545.jpgWhat is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is scientific research involving people that studies the effects of a new medication, therapy or device to determine if it is safe and effective.

In the United States, clinical trials are monitored by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Phases of a Clinical Trial:

Phase I evaluates dosage parameters.

Phase II continues to evaluate safety and begins to study efficacy.

Phase III compares the new drug with standards of care or if there are none, a placebo.

Phase IV is used if the drug normally used as a standard is to be used for another condition or if the formulation is changed. This phase may also be used for extended studies on drug side effects.

Diabetes clinical trials may involve studies of prevention of diabetes or the treatment of diabetes.

Types of Diabetes Clinical Trials

  • Action studies (doing something) – These focus on finding out whether actions people take, such as exercising more or quitting smoking, can prevent diabetes or their impact on current diabetics.
  • Agent studies (taking something) – These studies examine whether taking certain medicines, vitamins or food supplements (or a combination) have an affect on preventing or treating diabetes.

Why Participate in a Clinical Trial?

People participate in clinical trials for many reasons including the opportunity to try new cutting edge therapies under the care of leading researchers and health care providers, and for the opportunity to contribute to research to help themselves and others.

Clinical trials do have side effects including the possible negative effect of the therapies and/or no effects at all and they can be more time consuming than originally anticipated.

If you are considering participating in a clinical trial not only is it important to explore all facets of the trials through informed consent, but it is important to determine the cost and funding of a clinical trial and how your insurance coverage or Medicare comes into play. While often the medication being tested is free, there may be additional costs such as lab tests and hospitalization which are not.

Get answers ahead of time.

In depth resources on clinical trials and registries for clinical trials:

ClinicalTrials.gov not only lists registries of current clinical trials in the U.S and other countries but breaks them down according to condition, drug, sponsor and location.

World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform. “The mission of the WHO Registry Platform is to ensure that a complete view of research is accessible to all those involved in health care decision making.”

CRISP, Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects. “A biomedical database system containing information on research projects and programs supported by the Dept. of Health and Human Services.”

Center Watch: Clinical Trials Listing Service. This site provides a notification services for new clinical trials.

American Diabetes Association provides basic information on clinical trials.

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International lists current JDRF funded clinical studies and provides information on what phase those studies are currently in.

The Children With Diabetes site lists current clinical trials.

Diabetic Clinical Trials in the News:

  • The TODAY Study. (Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Adolescents and Youth) “The purpose of this trial is to examine the safety and effectiveness of three different treatments for type 2 diabetes in the pediatric population. The TODAY trial is being conducted at 12 medical centers around the United States. ” The is an open trial that is actively recruiting participants.
  • TrialNet. “TrialNet is a network of 18 Clinical Centers working in cooperation with screening sites throughout the United States, Canada, Finland, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. This network is dedicated to the study, prevention, and early treatment of type 1 diabetes. ” TrialNet has many clinical trials going on in various stages. The newest studies, which are recruiting participants, are the Diabetes Interventions Study and the Natural History Study, and The Oral Insulin Study.
  • Closing The Loop in Type 1 Diabetes. Currently recruiting for this study at Mass. General Hospital. ” Researchers at the MGH Diabetes Research Center are recruiting subjects to test an Automated Closed-Loop Glucose Control System for Type I Diabetics.”

Battling Books:

Applying The Evidence: Clinical Trials in Diabetes by Anthony Barnett. (2005)
forefront.jpgForefront, the American Diabetes Association’s research magazine featuring profiles of cutting-edge ADA-funded research currently taking place throughout the nation.”

Alzheimer’s Disease in the Blogosphere, 2/18/08

February 18, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

We don’t call Alzheimer’s disease “the Monster” for nothing. As recent blog posts suggest, Alzheimer’s terrifies many people. For some, any possible advance in research and treatment is grasped like a straw, or a lifeline. For others, Alzheimer’s disease is a daily, grinding burden as they care for a loved one, or sometimes, face it themselves. For still others, dementia causes them to look at life and their own health in a new way.

We think of Alzheimer’s disease as something that causes people to forget, but for the Memory Bridge project, it’s a call to remember and to bring generations closer. They’ve developed interview questions that are used for the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project, a school curriculum, and a highly-recommended documentary.

Robert DeMarco at I Am an Alzheimer’s Caregiver regards the value of exercise so highly in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, he’s signed up his 91-year-old mother to join Gold’s Gym. Doesn’t it pump you up just to hear that?

Jeannot at Life lessons coping with Alzheimer says her son has installed door alarms, but her husband took one off and said “the people” did it. Well, if he can’t remember doing something, obviously somebody else did it. You’ve got to make sense of your life somehow.

Filmmaker Gene Burns in Austin is looking for a film crew (including a director) for his short Alzheimer’s disease film called Ruth’s Locket. Having a storyboard would help him get funding for it. Liz at Alzheimer’s Notes mentioned the film on her blog. Production is scheduled for Summer 2008.

David Perlmutter, the Renegade Neurologist, reports that other doctors have treated several women whose inability to concentrate and to find the right words disappeared when they stopped taking the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor. The maker of the drug insists that it’s tested and safe, while the University of California at San Diego is conducted a large study on the effects of statin drugs. After all, one of the building blocks of the brain is cholesterol…

Mike at Fading from Memory has two parents with Alzheimer’s disease. His mother recently entered a nursing home, while his father has left dozens of phone messages asking about her. His family is considering placing his father in the same home. If they do, they’ll have a few weeks to pay a lump sum of $250,000 for his care. But that’s Australian dollars. It would only be $227,000 US or Canadian dollars, according to XE.com. Well, that’s better, isn’t it?

Most people agree that diet can help prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it’s fish oil or mangosteen, we’re always enthusiastic to try something new (though maybe we have less enthusiasm for the fish oil). According to About Alzheimer’s, researchers at Cornell University have discovered some new foods that may lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. And those foods are… apples, oranges, and bananas. Are you eating 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day, like you’re supposed to? Well then, don’t complain if your memory starts to fail.

Deb at The Yellow Wallpaper talks about how her relationship with her mother has changed since she put her into a nursing home. For many of us, we don’t have deep relationships with our parents anymore, which makes a decision like that much harder – or easier. Deb loves her mother, but her mother is mad at her for putting her there. She says that with her mother, she has “to learn her new language, a language that has no past tenses… Her truth is in the present and has to do with what she is losing right now.”

Experts say that when people are first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, their loved ones recall that their memories were never very good. The Nun Study at the University of Kentucky has also identified factors that can help predict Alzheimer’s disease, such as whether the person could juggle multiple ideas at once when they were young. OurAlzheimer’s.com quotes the Archives of Neurology as reporting that some people with primary progressive aphasia, a rare language disability, report that they have always had trouble with spelling or foreign languages.

Trisha at Every Patient’s Advocate describes the nocebo effect. The placebo effect causes people to feel better because they’re taking prescriptions, even if they are sugar pills. The nocebo effect causes people to feel worse because the doctor told them they would. Trisha says she never believed them when they told her she had cancer, and it turned out she didn’t. The nocebo effect is described in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

If medical costs have to rise, then why does Dr. Benjamin Brewer say that he can provide primary health care for $20 per month per patient? (Actually, he’s doing it for $2 a month, but that’s under a government “health home” program.) He says, “Primary care is cheap.” What makes health insurance so expensive is its coverage of catastrophic events such as hospitalization. My guess is that fewer people would be in the hospital if they had better preventative care.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.