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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Scientists identify potential drug target for inflammatory diseases

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) scientists have identified the enzyme, telomerase, as a cause of chronic inflammation in human cancers. Chronic inflammation is now recognized as a key underlying cause for the development of many human cancers, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and metabolic diseases such as diabetes. This enzyme, which is known to be responsible for providing cancer cells the endless ability to divide, is now found to also jumpstart and maintain chronic inflammation in cancers.In identifying this enzyme, inflammation can be prevented or reduced, and the common ailments can be alleviated. This discovery has considerable impact on healthcare because developing drugs to target telomerase can greatly reduce healthcare costs.
Currently, the annual costs and expenses associated with cancer and metabolic diseases such as diabetes amount to about $132 billion in the US alone. Although many safe and effective anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin are currently available on the market, these drugs sometimes have side effects because blocking inflammation is typically detrimental to normal physiology. Hence there exists a need for the development of cost-effective drugs that are targeted, so as to minimize side effects.
This collaborative research was conducted by scientists at A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) led by Assoc Prof Vinay Tergaonkar, A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and National University of Singapore. Other clinical collaborators include Cancer Science Institute of Singapore and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. The research findings were published in Nature Cell Biology.
The team identified that telomerase directly regulates the production of inflammatory molecules that are expressed by NF-kB, a known master regulator of chronic inflammation. These molecules are critical for inflammation and cancer progression. By inhibiting telomerase activity in primary cancer cells obtained from patient samples, the scientists found that levels of IL-6, an inflammatory molecule known to be a key driver of human cancers, was reduced in expression as well. This is an important breakthrough that shows how targeting telomerase with drugs could potentially reduce inflammation, and hence get rid of cancer cells.
Dr Tergaonkar said, “These findings provide a unifying explanation for a decade worth of observations from leading laboratories in the field which show that chronic inflammation and telomerase hyperactivity co-exist in over 90 percent of human cancers. What we show that these two activities are actually interdependent. They also may lead to potentially novel drugs that will target a range of human ailments with inflammation as an underlying cause, which range from arthritis to cancer.”
Prof Hong Wan Jin, executive director of IMCB, said, “The discovery speaks for the exceptional power of identifying novel mechanisms that have translational potential, through close collaborations among scientists in different A*STAR institutes, as well as to bring together both basic and clinical research scientists in Singapore. I am confident that we can expect more discoveries like this from Dr Tergaonkar’s team.”
A*STAR is the lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation-driven Singapore.

Asparagus: New Weapon Against Diabetes

 Asparagus: New Weapon Against DiabetesRegular intake of asparagus keeps blood sugar levels under control, states study. Asparagus boosts the body's production of insulin, the hormone that helps it to absorb glucose, the Daily Mail reported Wednesday. 
Britain's consumption of asparagus has soared in recent years to record levels of around 8,000 tonnes a year. As well as its delicate flavour, it now appears it could have a vital role to play in combating Britain's looming diabetes crisis.Type two diabetes, which accounts for 90 per cent of all diabetes cases, is emerging as a major health burden.

Scratching An Itch Is Contagious: Study

 Scratching An Itch Is Contagious: StudySeeing someone scratch an itch could make you feel itchy too, finds a study. 
Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Manchester looked at whether images such as those of others scratching or ants crawling on skin, made people scratch.They asked 30 people how they felt looking at these and "non-itch" images - and found visual cues did provoke a "scratch response". 
And, in particular, it was watching another person scratching - rather than seeing the cause of an itch - that made people feel itchy themselves. 
Experts said the work could help understand skin disorders. 
"The results suggest that, whereas the sensation of itch may be effectively transmitted by viewing others experiencing itch-related stimuli on the body, the desire to scratch is more effectively provoked by viewing others scratching," the BBC quoted Prof Francis McGlone, a cognitive neuroscientist at Liverpool John Moores University, who led the study, as saying. 
"Our findings may help to improve the efficiency of treatment programs for people suffering from chronic itch," he added. 
Another study, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used brain scans to show the same parts of the brain are activated when watching someone else scratch an itch as when someone does it themselves. 
That team, including experts from Hull University, suggested that the activation of these areas could explain itching disorders where there is no physical cause. 
"It was particularly interesting to see that contagious itch is not only elicited by observing someone scratching," said lead researcher Dr Henning Holle, of Hull University. 
"Simply seeing potentially itchy stimuli, for instance ants crawling on the ground, seems to be enough to induce feelings of itchiness in one's own body. 
"This suggests that a process of motor mimicking alone cannot explain contagious itch," Dr Holle added.

Researchers define key events early in the process of cellular aging

For the first time, scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have defined key events that take place early in the process of cellular aging.
Together the discoveries, made through a series of experiments in yeast, bring unprecedented clarity to the complex cascade of events that comprise the aging process and pave the way to understanding how genetics and environmental factors like diet interact to influence lifespan, aging and age-related diseases such as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.
The findings, including unexpected results that link aspects of aging and lifespan to a mechanism cells use to store nutrients, are described in the Nov. 21 issue of Nature by co-authors Daniel Gottschling, Ph.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division, and Adam Hughes, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Gottschling Lab.
The researchers found the acidity of a structure in yeast cells known as the vacuole is critical to aging and the functioning of mitochondria – the power plants of the cell. They also describe a novel mechanism, which may have parallels in human cells, by which calorie restriction extends lifespan.
The work began with Hughes and Gottschling searching for the source of age-related damage in mitochondria.
"Normally, mitochondria are beautiful, long tubes, but as cells get older, the mitochondria become fragmented and chunky," said Gottschling, also an affiliate professor in the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington. "The changes in shape seen in aging yeast cells are also observed in certain human cells, such as neurons and pancreatic cells, and those changes have been associated with a number of age-related diseases in humans."
What causes mitochondria to become distorted and dysfunctional as cells age had long been a mystery, but Gottschling and Hughes have discovered that specific changes in the vacuole lead directly to its malfunctioning.
The vacuole – and its counterpart in humans and other organisms, the lysosome – has two main jobs: degrading proteins and storing molecular building blocks for the cell. To perform those jobs, the interior of the vacuole must be highly acidic.
Hughes and Gottschling found that the vacuole becomes less acidic relatively early in the yeast cell's lifespan and, critically, that the drop in acidity hinders the vacuole's ability to store certain nutrients. This, in turn, disrupts the mitochondria's energy source, causing them to break down. Conversely, when Hughes prevented the drop in vacuolar acidity, the mitochondria's function and shape were preserved and the yeast cells lived longer.
"Until now, the vacuole's role in breaking down proteins was thought to be of primary importance. We were surprised to learn it was the storage function, not protein degradation, that appears to cause mitochondrial dysfunction in aging yeast cells," Hughes said.
The unexpected discovery prompted Hughes and Gottschling to investigate the effects of calorie restriction, which is known to extend the lifespan of yeast, worms, flies and mammals, on vacuolar acidity. They found that calorie restriction – that is, limiting the raw material cells need – delays aging at least in part by boosting the acidity of the vacuole.
"Now that we have preliminary evidence in yeast of how calorie restriction extends lifespan, our hope is that it can be translated to higher organisms like humans," Hughes said. Given the similarities in the fundamental biology of yeast and human cells, the researchers' newly defined link between what cells "eat" and how they age could shed valuable light on the events that lead to age-related disorders in humans.
"There has been a lot in the scientific literature and the general media lately about how what you eat affects the aging process, but it has been incredibly confusing. Now we have a new paradigm for understanding how genetics and environment interact to influence lifespan, aging and age-related diseases. That's what I'm really excited about," Gottschling said.
Gottschling and Hughes speculate that if the vacuole's declining acidity limits its ability to store certain nutrients and metabolites, they may build up in the cell, flooding the mitochondria. Overwhelmed, the mitochondria use up all their energy – essentially burning out their motors – taking in the surplus. With no power left to import the proteins they need to maintain their elegant shape and execute their regular duties, the mitochondria literally break down. Gottschling and his colleagues are now investigating this hypothesis in detail. They are also exploring what triggers the initial drop in the vacuole's acidity.
The latter research question is of particular interest because the researchers found that even though vacuolar acidity drops as mother yeast cells age, the acidity in the vacuoles of their newborn daughter cells is normal. This corresponds to previous findings in the field that all daughter yeast cells have the same potential lifespan, regardless of the age of their mothers. The resetting of the daughter's vacuolar acidity is the earliest event yet observed in cellular rejuvenation, a phenomenon in which age-related defects are seemingly erased in an organism's offspring. This could help explain how the act of cell division itself contributes to aging.
These results are just the newest chapter in a "decade-old interest," according to Gottschling. He and his colleagues have made several landmark discoveries in the past 10 years, including finding that aging yeast cells exhibit the same genomic instability seen in human cancer cells and proving that mitochondrial dysfunction causes that instability. Gottschling's team also has developed innovative tools to leverage the power of yeast as a model organism, including a technique called the Mother Enrichment Program that makes experiments more efficient by enabling researchers to generate large populations of aging yeast cells.
"It's worth using yeast to study complex things like aging because a lot of person-years of research have gone into understanding the fundamentals. The genetic and cell-biology tools available for studying yeast are unparalleled," Gottschling said. "Having the proper tools is like having new glasses; you can see things you never could before, and once you start to see new things, you can dissect them to understand how they work."
In addition to the latest eye-popping technology, the researchers relied on sheer tenacity – with a little help from motion-sickness pills – in pursuit of their discoveries. Some of the painstaking experiments required Hughes to delicately manipulate individual yeast cells as they divided every two hours for days at a time. For another series of experiments that lasted several months, Hughes took Dramamine to ward off the queasiness that came with inspecting brightly colored yeast cells as they streaked across his microscope's field of view.
"There were definitely tough points, but it was worth it when we knew the story as a whole. Showing that the change in vacuolar acidity was real and that it mattered – that it affected lifespan – made the grueling experiments worthwhile," Hughes said. Gottschling is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Washington State Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Microbiology.
Source:Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Killer Gene That Triggers Alzheimer's Discovered

Scientists have isolated a killer gene that causes Alzheimer's disease. 
Researchers at King's College London believe that by identifying clusterin as a trigger for Alzheimer's they have taken a vital step towards developing treatments to stop the devastating disease.According to the Daily Express, experts at the university's Institute of Psychiatry believe clusterin sets off a chain of events that causes amyloid-beta, a protein, to start destroying brain cells. 
The research will be published in the medical journal Molecular Psychiatry, the report said. 
"This important study fills in critical gaps regarding the complex way Alzheimer's takes hold and could lead us towards a new way of diagnosing, targeting and treating the condition more effectively," the report quoted Professor Clive Ballard, director of research for the Alzheimer's Society, as saying. 
According to the report, some 800,000 people in the UK have dementia, including more than half with Alzheimer's. 
The number of patients is expected to reach a million by 2022, the report added.

Ban Words Like 'Fat' and 'Diet,' Says Oz Dietician

 Ban Words Like 'Fat' and 'Diet,' Says Oz DieticianUsing the words "fat" and "diet" may not be appropriate in the context of childhood obesity, a leading dietician from Australia has claimed. 
Wesley Weight Management Centre dietician Nicola Moore has said that some parents are so afraid of sparking an eating disorder that they avoid talking about weight issues with their kids.
 Some parents are risking long-term psychological damage by calling their children fat and insisting that they go on a diet, she said. 

Moore says the key to beat growing waistlines is getting parents talk to their children about food choices - not their weight. 
"Fat is a negative word, a rude three-letter-word," the Courier Mail quoted Moore as saying. 
"I hate the word diet as well. It says that we are going to be doing something that is so removed from normal that when it is finished we can go back to old habits," she added. 
According to the Queensland Health Report Card released this week, one in five children are overweight, and one in 10 are obese. 
Moore also said that parents needed to exercise caution when talking to their kids about obesity. 
Any changes should apply to the entire family and the focus should be on choosing food to promote overall health. 
"Start making subtle changes, without drawing attention to it, such as replacing full cream milk with skim. And never call a kid fat," she said.

Obesity, Desk-based Jobs Trigger 'Office Knee'

Rising levels of obesity and desk jobs are to blame for the phenomenon of office knee - painful knee joints, say surgeons and physiotherapists. 
More than a quarter of UK workers are suffering from knee pain, a new survey by healthcare provider Nuffield Health revealed has revealed.t found that people over the age of 55 suffer the most, with one in ten questioned claiming they are in constant pain. 
And almost a quarter of 1,600 workers aged 16 to 65 surveyed said they have been living with pain for up to two years. 
"I have seen a huge surge in the number of people with knee pain and it is down to the sedentary lifestyle people are leading now. It is very much people with desk based jobs, and some of them have been working for ten to 20 years in these roles," the Daily Mail quoted her as saying. 
"I have been a physiotherapist for the past 25 years and in that time we have had the advent of the internet, which has been very much a factor," she stated. 
And consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ronan Banim said that surgeons are seeing knees that are 'literally being crushed' by excess weight, which could increase the long-term risk of osteoarthritis. 
He warned that if levels of obesity continue to rise the number of people needing knee replacements is likely go through the roof. 
According to him, weight control, regular, careful, exercise and healthy eating could help people in avoiding the need for future surgery.

Reset the Body Clock With This Novel Australian Invention

Professor Leon Lack, from Flinders University who is a specialist in the ‘psychology and biology of sleep’, has come up with a new invention, which can help fight jetlag, reset the body clock, and relieve some of the fatigue of shift workers. 
Re-timer, as it is called is a pair of sunglasses that uses light to reset the body clock by working on the circadian rhythms. This device promises to be a big boon in beating jet lag and helping shift workers to wake up on time and remain more alert.
The glasses are extremely user friendly and comfortable to wear. They can be worn while at work or even at home.   This product is available for purchase online and is priced at $249. 
“The light from Re-Timer stimulates the part of the brain responsible for regulating the 24-hour body clock. Body clocks or circadian rhythms influence the timing of all our sleeping and waking patterns, alertness, performance levels and metabolism,” Professor Lack said. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Caffeine-diabetes link still unresolved: study

Results of a large new U.S. study confirm that sugary drinks are linked to a heightened risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, but shed little light on whether caffeinehelps or hinders the process.Among more than 100,000 men and women followed for 22 years, those who drank sugar-sweetened drinks were as much as 23 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those who didn't, but the risk was about the same whether the drinks contained caffeine or not. And drinkers of both caffeinated coffee and decaf had slightly lowered diabetes risk."We found that caffeine doesn't make a difference at all," said the study's lead author Dr. Frank Hu of Harvard University. "Coffee can be beneficial and the caffeine doesn't appear to have a positive or negative effect on diabetes risk," Hu told Reuters Health.Numerous past studies have linked regular consumption of soft drinks - both sugar- and artificially-sweetened - to an increased risk of diabetes. Research over the past decade has also suggested that caffeine temporarily prevents the body from processing sugar efficiently. Those who live with diabetes deal with this problem all the time.That at least suggests that caffeine in conjunction with sweetened drinks might raise diabetes risk even further. However, other research has found a protective effect from coffee and tea, suggesting caffeine does the opposite.Hu and his coauthors wanted to know if people who regularly drink sugary and caffeinated beverages might only be exaggerating their risk of developing a disease that affects nearly 26 million adults and children, or about eight percent of the U.S. population, according to the American Diabetes Association.They examined the health habits of 75,000 women and 39,000 men involved in long-term health studies that began in the mid-1980s.Compared to people who didn't consume sugary drinks, the likelihood of developing diabetes over the years for those who did was higher by 13 percent (caffeinated) or 11 percent (decaffeinated) among women, and by 16 percent (caffeinated) or 23 percent (decaffeinated) among men.Caffeine-free artificially sweetened drinks were also linked to a slight (six percent) increase in risk among women.However, coffee drinkers showed slightly lower risk compared to non-drinkers. The chances of developing diabetes were eight percent lower among women, whether they drank decaf or regular coffee, and for men, four percent lower with caffeinated coffee and seven percent lower with decaf.Hu and his team have used this same dataset, which contains the health habits of mostly white health professionals, to suggest that regular coffee drinking in general is tied to lower diabetes risk.But past studies, like the current one, have also found that the risk falls even lower if adults drinkdecaffeinated coffee."Our understanding of the body's tolerance to caffeine is not complete," said James Lane of Duke University. Lane has done short-term studies that linked caffeine to a disruption of the body's ability to process glucose, or "blood sugar."This latest study suggests that people who currently drink sugary beverages could substitute unsweetened coffee or tea - though tea was associated with fewer benefits - instead.Such advice could be important, since the number of Americans who develop diabetes has steadily increased, according to a study released earlier this month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Diabetes can only be managed, not cured and its side effects range from high blood pressure to debilitating blindness."I'm disappointed that they are essentially repeating something they published several years ago. The bit about including sugar sweetened beverages and caffeine's possible interaction with sugar and diabetes does not add something of great value," Lane told Reuters Health.Others agree more research is necessary to untangle caffeinated coffee's complicated relationship with diabetes risk.At least one small, randomized two-month-long trial led last year by Rob Martinus van Dam of the National University of Singapore, also a co-author of the current study, found that caffeinated coffee did not seem to affect glucose levels in the blood.Van Dam told Reuters Health that the next step toward establishing a direct link between caffeinated coffee and reduced diabetes risk would require a much larger study."We still don't advise people to start drinking coffee if they do not already," van Dam said.People who want to lower their risk of developing diabetes could follow advice that has been better substantiated, such as eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly.
SOURCE: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online November 14, 2012.

Puberty at Six - Is Junk Food the Culprit?

Puberty is setting in early, especially in girls, and expert fingers are pointing at the children’s unhealthy lifestyles! 
It is saddening, shocking and a matter of great concern that the number of children attaining puberty very early in life has increased. Some girls are merely six or seven years old when they attain menarche. Coping with menstrual periods is difficult in general and it is even more stressful when very young kids start having periods.
Puberty' is a term used to refer to body changes that heralds the first signs of adolescence leading, eventually, to adulthood. These changes are facilitated by chemical messages sent from the brain to the pituitary gland, which is located at the back of the head. From the pituitary, it is conveyed to the sex glands, which are the testes in males and the ovaries in females, which in turn, produce sex hormones – testosterone and estrogens respectively. This stage lasts for about four to five years before the onset of complete adulthood. Usually, girls attain puberty earlier than boys. 
Reaching puberty while still a child below ten years of age, can pose many problems to the concerned child. First of all there are the physical changes to cope with. Growing breasts and menstrual periods (in girls), facial hair, breaking of voice (in boys) or pubic hair (both) are all normal in an adolescent but very difficult for a very young child to cope with. 
Besides, it does not help that these changes make them the butt of jokes among their contemporaries. Also, they start behaving like teenagers –moody, aggressive and with an attitude and it becomes quite a problem to deal with them as most of them lack the mental maturity to cope with their raging hormones. It is also very disturbing for parents and teachers to think that their children have to deal with adult issues while still a child! 
Statistics reveal that the onset of puberty in girls in 1860 was 16.6 years. By 1920 it was 14.6, in 1950, 13.1, in 1980, 12.5 and by 2010 it had fallen to 10.5 years. An American study has discovered that boys were attaining puberty earlier by two years on an average. For a White or a Hispanic boy it is ten years while it is nine years for Black boy. 
Marcia Herman-Giddens of the University of North Carolina where the latest research was conducted says that obesity is capable of bringing about hormonal imbalance, and this may be the reason for early puberty onset in some children. 
Most of these children, who had attained puberty early, were over weight, and many of them were big-time snackers. It is about time that we wake up to the reality of what is happening around us and deal with the issue as it should be dealt with. 
Some researchers even feel that this situation is like a time- bomb ticking in today’s society. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle is not just a requirement but is now the ‘need of the hour!’ 

Lunar Phases Have No Effect on Mental Health

No connection exists between lunar phases and the incidence of psychological problems, say researchers. Details on the study can be found on the website of the scientific journal General Hospital Psychiatry
To determine whether the widespread belief linking the moon to mental health problems was true, researchers evaluated patients who visited emergency rooms at Montreal's Sacré-Coeur Hospital and Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis between March 2005 and April 2008. They focused specifically on 771 individuals who showed up at the emergency room with chest pains for which no medical cause could be determined. Psychological evaluations revealed that a sizeable number of these patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.
 Using lunar calendars, the researchers determined the moon phase in which each of these visits occurred. The results of their analyses revealed no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases. There was one exception, however; anxiety disorders were 32% less frequent during the last lunar quarter. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," suggested Geneviève Belleville. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems." 

This study's conclusions run contrary to what many believe, including 80% of nurses and 64% of doctors who are convinced that the lunar cycle affects patients' mental health. "We hope our results will encourage health professionals to put that idea to rest," said Dr. Belleville. "Otherwise, this misperception could, on the one hand, color their judgment during the full moon phase; or, on the other hand, make them less attentive to psychological problems that surface during the remainder of the month." 


High Fever: Boon for Kids

 High Fever: Boon for KidsA high temperature could help kids battle an illness, claims an American paediatrician. 
According to Hannah Chow-Johnson, assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, the high fevers typical of many childhood illnesses can help force a child to slow down, rest and sleep more - all vital in recovering.
Chow-Johnson said she was often asked what to do about children with a high temperature. 
"My most frequent calls are from worried parents who want to know how high is too high of a fever," the Daily Mail quoted her as saying. 
"What many parents don't realise is that often, fevers are their child's friend. 
"Fevers can actually help your child recover more quickly, especially if he or she is battling a viral illness. 
"I often wish thermometers had a gauge that read either 'fever' or 'no fever'. 
"That would definitely help parents who worry if their child has a fever that's too high," she added.


New Modified Female Condom to be Launched in Zimbabwe

 New Modified Female Condom to be Launched in ZimbabweAn AIDS organization is planning to launch a new and modified female condom in Zimbabwe. 
Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN) information manager Evince Mugumbate said her organisation will launch the female condom in rural Gokwe, about 300 km west of Harare, to promote higher usage of the product in the fight against HIV.ugumbate told Xinhua that while the male condom was more popular, the female one would empower women to negotiate for safe sex. 
The group will distribute more than 2,000 female condoms, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council. 
The female condom was launched in the country in 1997 after WASN lobbied parliament for its introduction, but it has continued to play second fiddle to its male partner. 
"The first polyurethane female condom called FC1 made a lot of noise during the act, but the problem has been rectified by substituting the polyurethane with nitrile on the FC2 condom," Mugumbate was quoted as saying. 
"It was launched as a result of a research that was done in Gokwe as to whether it is good for women to use it. That's why we want to re-launch it in Gokwe so that we remind especially the women that it's still good for them to use the condom." 
"Men actually like it but it's us women who are not empowered enough to initiate the use of the female condom. That's why we are launching it so that we start rigorous campaigns towards its usage," she said. 
The condom will be launched Nov 27, four days ahead of the World Aids Day Dec 1. 
In Africa, the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV remains high with 59 percent of all people living with HIV being women.


Blind patient reads words stimulated directly onto the retina

Neuroprosthetic device uses implant to project visual braille

 VIDEO: In this video, a patient reads words with the Argus II setup using the camera and not the direct braille stimulation.
For the very first time researchers have streamed braille patterns directly into a blind patient's retina, allowing him to read four-letter words accurately and quickly with an ocular neuroprosthetic device. The device, the Argus II, has been implanted in over 50 patients, many of who can now see color, movement and objects. It uses a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses, a portable processor to translate the signal from the camera into electrical stimulation, and a microchip with electrodes implanted directly on the retina. The study was authored by researchers at Second Sight, the company who developed the device, and has been published in Frontiers in Neuroprosthetics on the 22nd of November.
"In this clinical test with a single blind patient, we bypassed the camera that is the usual input for the implant and directly stimulated the retina. Instead of feeling the braille on the tips of his fingers, the patient could see the patterns we projected and then read individual letters in less than a second with up to 89% accuracy," explains researcher Thomas Lauritzen, lead author of the paper.
Similar in concept to successful cochlear implants, the visual implant uses a grid of 60 electrodes—attached to the retina—to stimulate patterns directly onto the nerve cells. For this study, the researchers at Second Sight used a computer to stimulate six of these points on the grid to project the braille letters. A series of tests were conducted with single letters as well as words ranging in length from two letters up to four. The patient was shown each letter for half a second and had up to 80% accuracy for short words.
"There was no input except the electrode stimulation and the patient recognized the braille letters easily. This proves that the patient has good spatial resolution because he could easily distinguish between signals on different, individual electrodes." says Lauritzen.
IMAGE:shows the grid of electrons directly implanted on the retina.
According to Silvestro Micera at EPFL's Center for Neuroprosthetics and scientific reviewer for the article, "this study is a proof of concept that points to the importance of clinical experiments involving new neuroprosthetic devices to improve the technology and innovate adaptable solutions."
Primarily for sufferers of the genetic disease Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), the implant Argus II has been shown to restore limited reading capability of large conventional letters and short words when used with the camera. While reading should improve with future iterations of the Argus II, the current study shows how the Argus II could be adapted to provide an alternative and potentially faster method of text reading with the addition of letter recognition software. This ability to perform image processing in software prior to sending the signal to the implant is a unique advantage of Argus II.
Source:JOURNAL Frontiers in Neuroscience

Researcher Contact:
Thomas Lauritzen, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.
12744 San Fernando Road, Building 3
Sylmar, CA 91342
Tel: 1.818.833.4105 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Study: ADHD medicines help curb criminal behavior

Older teens and adults with attention deficit disorder are much less likely to commit a crime while on ADHD medication, a provocative study from Sweden found.
It also showed in dramatic fashion how much more prone people with ADHD are to break the law — four to seven times more likely than others.The findings suggest that Ritalin, Adderall and other drugs that curb hyperactivity and boost attention remain important beyond the school-age years and that wider use of these medications in older patients might help curb crime."There definitely is a perception that it's a disease of childhood and you outgrow your need for medicines," said Dr. William Cooper, a pediatrics and preventive medicine professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "We're beginning to understand that ADHD is a condition for many people that really lasts throughout their life."He has researched ADHD but had no role in the new study, which was led by Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The findings were published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.About 5 percent of children in the U.S. and other Western countries have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which can cause impulsive behavior and difficulty paying attention. Many youngsters are given medication to help them sit still and focus in school. Some people have symptoms into adulthood."It's well known that individuals with ADHD have much higher rates of criminality and drug abuse than people without ADHD," but the effect of treatment on this is not well known, Lichtenstein said.Using Swedish national registers, researchers studied about 16,000 men and 10,000 women ages 15 and older who had been diagnosed with ADHD. The country has national health care, so information was available on all drugs prescribed.Court and prison records were used to track convictions from 2006 through 2009 and see whether patients were taking ADHD drugs when their crimes were committed. A patient was considered to have gone off medication after six months or more with no new prescription.For comparison purposes, researchers matched each ADHD patient with 10 similar people without the disorder from the general population.
They found:
— About 37 percent of men with ADHD were convicted of at least one crime during that four-year period, compared with just 9 percent of men without ADHD. For women, the crime rates were 15 percent with ADHD and 2 percent without it.
— Use of ADHD medicines reduced the likelihood of committing a crime by 32 percent in men and 41 percent in women.
The crimes were mostly burglaries or thefts. About 4,000 of more than 23,000 crimes committed were violent. ADHD medication use reduced all types of crime, Lichtenstein said.Cooper called the results striking. "I was surprised by the magnitude of the effect of the medications and the fact that it was so consistent across all the analyses they did," such as the type of drug being used and the types of crimes committed, he said.The Swedish Research Council, the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Wellcome Trust and other agencies paid for the research.ADHD medicines may help people organize their lives better and reduce impulsive behavior. They also bring a patient into counseling and health care, said Philip Asherson, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London."It's not necessarily just the medication" that is reducing the likelihood of crime, he said.Still, Asherson said the study should lead to wider use of the drugs: "It firmly establishes the link between ADHD and criminality and establishes that medication has an impact on that criminality."
AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

Nanotech makes herbal drugs more effective: Dr Rita Banerjee

Medical research should be focused and targeted to bring about lasting benefits to patients by way of standard clinical practice, said Dr Rita Banerjee, senior scientist, Science and Engineering Research Council of the Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi.
Dr Rita was inaugurating the national seminar on “Approaches of Nanotechnology in Herbal Drug Development” at Sri Ramachandra University in the city.
Explaining the various funding assistance available from SERC, she said nanotechnology can bring immense advancement in herbal drug development.
Speaking on the occasion Dr JSN Murthy, vice chancellor of the University said nano-technology can make herbal drugs more effective, less toxic and cheaper by administering only small doses. Thirty per cent of the people worldwide depend on alternative systems of medicine which are better in certain areas where allopathic medicine is less effective, he added.
Dr S P Thyagarajan, Professor of Eminence and Dean (Research) said Sri Ramachandra University is dedicated to training talented manpower in research that is in short supply and to reduce the gap of their employability.  India has only 150 trained researchers per million as compared to 4300 in the United States and 2900 in China, he said.
Dr D Chamundeswari, principal, Faculty of Pharmacy said researchers and pharmacy students from all over India attended the national conference.

Paper Explores Frequency, Amount of Alcohol Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk Factors

A recent paper explores how the frequency and the amount of alcohol consumption lead to cardiovascular risk factors. 
The purpose of this paper was to examine whether drinkers who consume lower-risk amounts on more frequent occasions have favourable risk factor profiles compared with those who drink more per occasion but less frequently. The authors also discuss implications for the larger debate about the limitations of non-randomized studies about 'moderate' drinking and the development of low-risk drinking guidelines. As stated by the authors, "many observational studies suggest that increased drinking frequency is associated with reduced mortality among those with low-dose alcohol consumption." Indeed, previous epidemiologic research has clearly shown that the healthiest outcomes occur among regular, moderate drinkers who do not binge drink. Further, almost all studies have adjusted for a large number of socio-economic factors that are known to be potentially confounding factors for evaluating the association of alcohol consumption with health outcomes.
As expected, the present study shows that regular drinkers tend to consume less alcohol per occasion, and are less likely to binge drink. Further, such individuals tend to have better socio-economic status and lower levels of most cardiovascular risk factors. Most previous researchers have interpreted the better educational status and economic levels of moderate drinkers to be important causes of their more moderate lifestyle factors (including avoiding abusive drinking). Further, most previous research, including many basic science interventions and limited trials in humans, have shown that the administration (intake) of moderate amounts of an alcoholic beverage leads to more favourable cardiovascular risk factors, and numerous mechanisms have been identified (higher HDL-cholesterol, improved vascular reactivity, improved platelet and other coagulation factors, etc.). 
The authors of this paper take an unusual turn when it comes to discussing the implications of their results. They tend to down-play any potential health benefits that may be caused by alcohol or the pattern of drinking and infer instead that the favourable risk factors themselves may lead to the drinking pattern. Forum members disagreed with the implications of the authors on a number of factors: (1) the lack of randomized trials of low-dose alcohol consumption; (2) levels of evidence; (3) drinking frequency and alcohol intake; (4) clustering of lifestyle behaviours; (5) alcohol consumption and CVD-related biomarkers; (6) alcohol intake, cancer and total mortality. Further, Forum reviewers cite a large body of scientific research that refutes some of the conclusions of the authors, which imply that regular moderate alcohol intake does not relate to improved cardiovascular risk factors. 
Forum reviewers agree with a concluding statement of the authors about using caution before recommending drinking to the general public. However, they believe that the arguments presented in this paper are not based on a balanced appraisal of available scientific data, and should not be used to support changes in guidelines for the public. 


Regular Exercise Makes You Live Longer Even If You're Overweight

A new study reveals regular moderate exercise can increase life span even among people who are overweight. The analysis, published in PLOS Medicine, pooled self-reported data on physical activities and body mass indexes (BMIs) -- a ratio of weight to height -- from some 650,000 people aged 40 and older enrolled in one Swedish and five US studies."This result may help convince currently inactive people that a modest physical activity program may have health benefits, even if it does not result in weight loss," said a summary of the analysis headed by Steven Moore of the US National Cancer Institute. 
The researchers used the studies to calculate the boost to life expectancy linked to specific levels of physical activity and found that brisk walking for up to 75 minutes per week was associated with a gain of 1.8 years in life expectancy. 
"Being active -- having a physical activity level at or above the World Health Organization-recommended minimum of 150 minutes of brisk walking per week -- was associated with an overall gain of life expectancy of 3.4 to 4.5 years," the summary said. 
Overall, the researchers concluded that less physical activity was linked with a shorter life expectancy no matter a person's body mass index. 
"More leisure time physical activity was associated with longer life expectancy across a range of activity levels and BMI groups," the abstract of the analysis concluded. 
However, being active and having a normal body mass index (of 18.5 to 24.9) was associated with a gain of 7.2 years of life compared to people who are inactive and obese with a body mass index of 35 or above. 
On the other hand, being inactive and normal weight was linked to 3.1 fewer years of life compared to those who are active but class I obese and have a BMI of 30-34.9. 
"These findings suggest that participation in leisure time physical activity, even below the recommended level, is associated with a reduced risk of mortality compared to participation in no leisure time physical activity," the summary said. 
"The findings also suggest that physical activity at recommended levels or higher may increase longevity further, and that a lack of leisure time physical activity may markedly reduce life expectancy when combined with obesity."


Tofu (bean curd) Boosts Sex Life

People who consume tofu ( A food made by coagulating soy juice and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.) have better sex life than those who eat meat, claims study. 
The study found that certain plant products can influence hormone levels and heighten sexual activity, Discovery News reported.The research is the first to observe the connection between plant-based estrogenic compounds, or phytoestrogens, and behavior in wild primates. In this case, it was a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda. 
As primates, we humans would likely experience similar effects from the compounds. "It's one of the first studies done in a natural setting providing evidence that plant chemicals can directly affect a wild primate's physiology and behavior by acting on the endocrine system," study lead author Michael Wasserman said. 
He conducted the research as a graduate student at UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. 
"By altering hormone levels and social behaviors important to reproduction and health, plants may have played a large role in the evolution of primate-including human-biology in ways that have been under appreciated," he added. 
For 11 months, Wasserman and his team followed a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda's Kibale National Park and recorded what the primates ate. 
For behavioral observations, the researchers focused on aggression, as marked by the number of chases and fights, the frequency of mating and time spent grooming. 
The scientists also collected fecal samples to assess changes in hormone levels. 
The researchers found that the more male red colobus monkeys dined on the leaves of Millettia dura, a tropical tree containing estrogen-like compounds, the higher their levels of estradiol and cortisol. 
They also found that with the altered hormone levels came more acts of aggression and sex, and less time spent grooming-an important behavior for social bonding in primates. 
The tropical tree is a close relative of soy, which is also considered to be high in phytoestrogens. 
Women going through menopause often take soy-based products to relieve some symptoms. 
The study is published in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

Younger Sibling can Increase Your Blood Pressure

We are all aware of sibling rivalry; a study now indicates that a younger sibling can cause an increase in blood pressure in the older child. This study was published in the journal, Economics and Human BiologyThe study, conducted in nearly 200 families from the Amazonian villages of Bolivia, found that a younger brother can increase blood pressure by 3 to 5.9 per cent while with a younger sister, the blood pressure increases by 3.8 per cent.What could be the possible reason for this increase in blood pressure?  According to the authors, the arrival of a new child is stressful for the older child.  The older child not only has to compete for attention from parents, he/she may also have to share the responsibility of taking care of the younger child.  
The rise in blood pressure may also depend upon the number of younger brothers, with a directly proportional relationship. 
The significance of this rise in blood pressure has yet to be determined with further studies.  Moreover, this effect on blood pressure seems to gradually fade away as a person grows older.  Thus, it may not have any long-term consequences on the person.  However, it does call for extra parental attention towards the older child on the arrival of the younger one. 




A step forward in regenerating and repairing damaged nerve cells

IRCM researchers discover a nerve cell’s internal clock
A team of IRCM researchers, led by Dr. Frédéric Charron, recently uncovered a nerve cell’s internal clock, used during embryonic development. The discovery was made in collaboration with Dr. Alyson Fournier’s laboratory at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Published today in the prestigious scientific journalNeuron, this breakthrough could lead to the development of new tools to repair and regenerate nerve cells following injuries to the central nervous system.
 Researchers in Dr. Charron’s laboratory study neurons, which are the nerve cells that make up the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). They want to better understand how neurons navigate through the developing embryo to arrive at their correct destination.
 “To properly form neural circuits, developing axons (long extensions of neurons that form nerves) follow external signals to reach the right targets,” says Dr. Frédéric Charron, Director of the Molecular Biology of Neural Development research unit at the IRCM. “We discovered that nerve cells also have an internal clock, which changes their response to external signals as they develop over time.”
 For this research project, IRCM scientists focused on the Sonic Hedgehog (Shh)protein, which gives cells important information for the embryo to develop properly and plays a critical role in the development of the central nervous system.
 “It is known that axons follow the Shh signal during their development,” explainsDr. Patricia Yam, research associate in Dr. Charron’s laboratory and first author of the study. “However, axons change their behaviour once they reach this protein, and this has been a mystery for the scientific community. We found that a nerve cell’s internal clock switches its response to external signals when it reaches the Shh protein, at which time it becomes repelled by the Shh signal rather than following it.”
 “Our findings therefore showed that more than one system is involved in directing axon pathfinding during development,” adds Dr. Yam. “Not only do nerve cells respond to external signals, but they also have an internal control system. This discovery is important because it offers new possibilities for developing techniques to regenerate and repair damaged nerve cells. Along with trying to modify external factors, we can now also consider modifying elements inside a cell in order to change its behaviour.”
 Injuries to the central nervous system affect thousands of Canadians every year, and can lead to lifelong disabilities. Most often caused by an accident, stroke or disease, these injuries are very difficult to repair. New tools are therefore required to repair damage to the central nervous system, including techniques that could potentially regenerate nerve cells.
 "The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is delighted to support research aimed at improving the lives of individuals with damage to the brain or spinal cord," says Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction. ''Nerve cell repair and regeneration remains an important health challenge, and we believe that Dr. Charron's research findings will contribute to the solution."

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Himalaya wins 15-year trademark battle for Liv.52 with Delhi-based SBL Ltd

The Himalaya Drug Company, one of India’s leading herbal health care companies, has won its long drawn trademark fight with homoeopathic firm, SBL Limited for its flagship brand, Liv.52. The Delhi High Court’s Division Bench verdict has ruled that SBL Ltd has infringed Himalaya’s trademark by using the name Liv-T for one of its pharma products. The original suit was filed in 1996.
“The brand Liv.52 is Himalaya’s flagship brand. It is the leading brand in the hepato-protective segment with 47 per cent of the market share. We have invested heavily in building credibility for the brand. The safety and efficacy of Liv.52 is validated by over 260 clinical trials. Taking advantage of the credibility and trust in Liv.52 by using a similar sounding name, thus leading to confusion in the minds of the doctor, is unfair and deceptive. While it has been a long and hard battle, we are extremely pleased with the verdict. The Court ruling has ensured that doctors will be able to distinguish between Liv.52 and other players in the market,” said Philipe Haydon, CEO, The Himalaya Drug Company.
“By ruling in favour of Liv.52, the High Court has set a crucial precedence. Hopefully, it will deter other companies from deriving credibility for their products by simply using another popular brand name,” he added.
Launched in 1955, Liv.52 is the market leader in the hepatoprotective medicine category. It is the only herbal medicine with a meta-analysis study. Over the years, Liv.52 has garnered considerable international acclaim. It is administered to counter the hepatotoxic effects of anti-tuberculosis medication in Russia. It is also registered as a speciality medicine in Switzerland.
Recently, Liv.52 was recognised by the Limca Book of Records as the highest selling herbal medicine in India.
The mark Liv.52 was coined and adopted by The Himalaya Drug Company in 1955  after an extensive research for a hepatoprotective pharmaceutical preparation for Liver Disorder. The company further secured registration for “Liv.52 in the year 1957. The Court was able to appreciate the fact that the mark Liv.52 is distinctive and customers purchase the product by asking for “Liv.52 which is being used for the last more than 57 years.


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