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Friday, 23 August 2013

Test-tube babies: A simpler, cheaper technique?

Since the first test-tube baby was born more than three decades ago, in vitro fertilization has evolved into a highly sophisticated lab procedure. Now, scientists are going back to basics and testing a simpler and cheaper method.In the West, many would-be parents spend thousands of dollars for IVF, which involves pricey incubators and extensive screening. But European and American scientists say a simplified version of the entire procedure aimed at developing countries could be done for about 200 euros ($265) with generic fertility drugs and basic lab equipment that would fit inside a shoebox."IVF is made to sound complicated, but the fact is that the early embryo is not very demanding," said Jonathan Van Blerkom, a fertility expert at the University of Colorado.A human embryo doesn't need much beyond some basic solutions, a steady pH level and constant temperature, he said.The simpler approach calls for women to take cheaper fertility tablets to stimulate their ovaries to release more than one egg per month. In conventional IVF, expensive, potent drugs that are injected can produce more than 20 eggs.Van Blerkom developed the simplified technique after European colleagues asked him how IVF could be done in developing countries."My first reaction was, 'You've got to be kidding,'" he said.But with two test tubes and special solutions, "it's possible to generate the exact same conditions, or very similar, to what people are generating in a $60,000 incubator."One test tube is used to prepare a solution including carbon dioxide, which creates the ideal conditions for fertilization. That's piped into a second tube, where one egg and a few thousand sperm are added, before being placed in a heating block. After about two to three days, any resulting embryo is examined under a microscope before being transferred into the woman.Van Blerkom and colleagues estimated that about half of all people seeking infertility treatment could potentially be helped by the method. Those who have complicated infertility problems, like men with severe sperm problems or women with very few eggs left, will still need standard IVF.In an ongoing trial in Belgium, researchers are comparing the techniques. Women under 36 seeking IVF for the first time are given a mild dose of injectable fertility drugs. If at least eight eggs are retrieved, half undergo traditional IVF, and half use the simpler method.A specialist who doesn't know which technique was used picks the best-looking embryo to be transferred.For the more than 100 women treated so far, the pregnancy rate was about 34 percent for both methods. So far, 14 babies have been born using the simplified method and 13 babies from traditional IVF.The World Health Organization estimates there are between 120 and 160 million couples struggling with infertility worldwide."Nobody thinks that infertility in developing countries is a problem, but it is an even bigger problem there than in (the West)," WHO reproductive health expert Sheryl Vanderpoel said.
"Making IVF affordable is a public health priority," she said.
Dr. Hassan Sallam, director of the Alexandria Fertility and IVF Center in Egypt, said the cheaper IVF method would be welcomed. He said there is considerable social pressure on young Egyptian couples to have children — and that is compounded by the fact in rural areas, many newlyweds live with the man's family."All eyes are on the newlywed couple to see if pregnancy has happened after the first month," he said in an email.
He said couples married for two to three months occasionally come to see him "just to please their in-laws."Although the new IVF strategy is intended for use mainly in developing countries, doctors in rich countries are also interested."You should not have to be rich just to have IVF," said Dr. Geeta Nargund, medical director for Create Health Clinics, a private fertility center in London. "There are so many people who cannot afford the treatment (in the West) that there would be huge demand if there were something cheaper available."In many European countries, national health systems pay for several IVF cycles for eligible couples but it can cost more than $10,000 for those seeking it privately. For many couples, up to three cycles are necessary to create a baby.She has asked Britain's regulatory agency for fertility treatment for permission to test the simpler technique.Some said the success rates of the cheaper IVF method would likely be lower than those for regular IVF. The simplified method does not include any extensive screening of embryos or any procedures to inject sperm directly into the eggs."You aren't producing as many eggs with this (cheap) method so the numbers will not be as high," said Ian Cooke, an emeritus professor of reproductive medicine at Sheffield University. Cooke also thought training enough health professionals in developing countries might be an issue.Still, he said the method was promising. Because doctors were planning to use less potent fertility drugs, he said it was fine to cut back on the regular screening and daily tests used in normal IVF regimens."From a technical point of view, they have proven it works," he said, adding it was now necessary to test the technique in developing countries.Patient groups said doctors should offer the cheaper IVF method if it is approved."IVF is not a one-size-fits-all process," said Susan Seenan, deputy chief executive of Infertility Network UK. "Patients are being told they need all kinds of expensive procedures and this may be a good time to step back and see if that is really the case."

How hormones and microbes drive the gender bias in autoimmune diseases

Females can mount more powerful immune responses than males, but the flip side of this enhanced protection against infections is a greater risk for autoimmune disorders. Shedding light on the underlying causes of the gender bias in autoimmune diseases, a study published by Cell Press August 22nd in the journal Immunity reveals that certain gut microbes prevalent in males can help protect them against type 1 diabetes. The study demonstrates that these microbes cooperate with sex hormones to cause this gender bias and provides an important framework that could lead to better treatments.
"The gender bias in major autoimmune diseases is well known but not well understood," says senior study author Alexander Chervonsky of the University of Chicago. "By studying how microbes cooperate with hormones to affect the immune system, we can identify pathways that can be triggered artificially by drugs or manipulations of gut microbes to interfere with the course of autoimmunity."
Sex hormones are known to play an important role in the gender bias of autoimmune diseases. But studies have shown that environmental influences and other non-hormonal factors also make a difference. For instance, animals that lack gut microbes because they were raised in a germ-free environment do not show a pronounced gender bias in type 1 diabetes, which is generally considered to be an autoimmune disorder. Until now, it has not been clear how hormones and microbes work together to influence the gender bias in type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.
In the new study, Chervonsky and his team found that microbial communities in male and female mice became different once the mice reached puberty, whereas microbes in females and castrated males were more similar to each other. These results suggest that sex hormones contribute to gender-specific changes in microbial communities. When the researchers raised mice in a germ-free environment and then exposed them to different types of bacteria, they discovered that only certain microbes specifically protected males against type 1 diabetes.
Taken together, the findings suggest that hormones and microbes cooperate with each other to protect males against autoimmune diseases. "Our study has helped to establish the general principles of how hormones and microbes interact with the immune system, which is the first significant step to get to the stage of developing new therapies."

Better management of free time ensures happier retirement

How well retirees plan their free time is more important than the amount of free time on hand, study reveals

Retirees should be masters of their own destiny, and actively manage and plan their free time to ensure a happy and fulfilling retirement. This is the advice of Wei-Ching Wang of the I-Shou University in Taiwan, leader of a study published in Springer’s journalApplied Research in Quality of Life. The study found that the effective management of free time has a far greater impact on a retiree’s quality of life than the amount of time the person actually has available for leisure activities.11482_232x153
Wang and his team studied the responses of 454 Taiwanese retirees to understand if there is a link between their management of free time and their overall quality of life. With regard to their free time, the retirees were asked about the goals they set, their general attitude towards it and how they schedule and manage it. The Quality of Life scale of the World Health Organisation was also adapted and used for the purposes of the study.
Free time refers to those periods when people are under no obligation and can decide for themselves what to do. It is usually spent in leisure pursuits in order to relax after experiencing stress, or to improve one’s health. Several previous studies have revealed that leisure time is important for older people, and that it has a positive influence on their quality of life, happiness and sense of peace. Other studies have also shown that a lack of planning can create problems such as boredom and an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle.
Compared to studies that focus on the management of work and study time, very little has so far been done on how retirees manage their free time. The current study is therefore of importance, especially in light of an increasingly aging population worldwide due to increased longevity and declining fertility rates. The phenomena of aging, along with an increasingly aging population and longer life expectancy, implies that the overall amount of spare time available to people is increasing. In Taiwan, for instance, nearly 10 percent of its population of 2.44 million people are retired.
“Quality of life is not affected as much by the amount of free time that a retiree has, but on how effectively the person manages this time on hand,” says Wang. “Therefore it is important to educate people on how to use their free time more effectively to improve quality of life.”
Wang therefore advises that governments, community centers and service organizations should consider the introduction of guidance programs or leisure education that teach people the management techniques that they need to schedule their free time better and to make the most of their retirement life.
Wang, W-C. et al (2013). Free time management makes better retirement: a case study of retirees’ quality of life in Taiwan, Applied Research in Quality of Life. DOI 10.1007/s11482-013-9256-4

Study finds genomic differences in types of cervical cancer

 A new study has revealed marked differences in the genomic terrain of the two most common types of cervical cancer, suggesting that patients might benefit from therapies geared to each type’s molecular idiosyncrasies.The study, published August 23, 2013 in the online version of the journal Cancer by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), is the first to compare the spectrum of cancer-related gene mutations in the two main subtypes of cervical cancer – adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. In tests on 80 cervical tumor samples, the investigators found high rates of mutations in two genes: PIK3CA and KRAS. While PIK3CA mutations appeared in both subtypes, KRAS mutations were found only in adenocarcinomas.By linking their findings to data on patients’ treatment and survival, researchers found that PIK3CA mutations are associated with a shorter survival period: patients whose tumors carried these mutations lived a median of 67 months after diagnosis compared with 90 months for patients whose tumors lacked the mutations.“We have historically treated cervical cancers as one disease,” says the study’s lead author, Alexi Wright, MD, MPH, of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. “However, our findings suggest that some patients may be at higher risk of dying from their disease and might benefit from a more tailored treatment approach.”The discovery of high rates of PIK3CA mutations in the cervical tumor samples suggests that many patients could benefit from drugs known as PI3-kinase inhibitors, which target the family of proteins associated with the gene, the authors say. Patients with the adenocarcinoma subtype of cervical cancer may benefit from targeted agents known as MEK inhibitors, which have shown some success in clinical trials.Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women worldwide, responsible for 275,000 deaths annually. While Pap tests have helped decrease the incidence of squamous cell cervical cancer, adenocarcinomas now account for nearly a quarter of all cervical cancers, up from 5 percent 20 years ago.In the study, investigators probed the DNA of 80 cervical cancer tumors – 40 adenocarcinomas and 40 squamous cell carcinomas – for 1,200 mutations in hundreds of genes linked to cancer. The probe was done with OncoMap, a system developed at Dana-Farber to test large numbers of tumor samples for cancer-related genes. They found that 31 percent of the samples had PIK3CA mutations; 17.5 percent of the adenocarcinomas (and none of the squamous cell carcinomas) had KRAS mutations; and 7.5 percent of the squamous cell carcinomas (but none of the adenocarcinomas) had a rare mutation in the gene EGFR.“While current treatment strategies don’t take into account whether cervical tumors are adenocarcinomas or squamous cell carcinomas, our study suggests that identifying and targeting distinct subsets of patients may improve outcomes for women with early or late-stage disease,” Wright comments.The research was supported by grants from the American Cancer Society, the Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Team Maureen Cervical Cancer Fund, and the Friends of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.The senior authors of the study are Ursula Matulonis, MD, of Dana-Farber and Michelle Hirsch, MD, PhD, of BWH. The co-second authors are Brooke Howitt, MD, of BWH and Andrea Myers, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber. Co-authors include Emanuele Palescandolo, PhD, and Robert Jones of Dana-Farber; Suzanne Dahlberg, PhD, of Dana-Farber and the Harvard School of Public Health; Paul Van Hummelen, PhD, Laura MacConaill, PhD, Nikhil Wagle, MD, and William C. Hahn, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT; Charles Quick, MD,Anna Laury, MD, and Ingrid Katz, MD, MHS, of BWH; and Melina Shoni, MD, of Harvard Medical School.


Lifestyle Modifications can Lead to Improved Cardiovascular Health in Children

Intensive lifestyle modification program can significantly improve metabolic and cardiovascular health even with little weight loss in both healthy-weight and obese children, a new study conducted by researchers at UCLA School of Nursing found."These findings suggest that short-term lifestyle modifications through changing diet and exercise can have an immediate impact on improving risk factors such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes," said Christian Roberts, an associate research professor at the UCLA School of Nursing and the study's lead author. "This work underscores the need to focus on changing lifestyle as opposed to focusing on body weight and weight loss." 
This study is believed to be the first to compare the effects of changing diet and exercise in both normal-weight and obese children. The article is published online in the American Journal of Physiology
Both groups of children participated in a two-week, residential lifestyle program consisting of daily exercise and a high-fiber, low-fat, plant-based diet. Contrary to conventional wisdom that the change would only impact the obese children, both groups of children improved cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk factors similarly as a result of the intervention. 
In the United States, 34 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 are overweight or obese. Unhealthy lifestyle factors that begin in childhood, such as physical inactivity, lack of exercise training, and diets that are high in refined carbohydrates and fat, contribute to both the development of obesity and other chronic diseases, but it is unclear whether obesity itself or the associated lifestyle factors are underlying causes of cardiovascular and metabolic dysfunction and the related development of chronic disease. 
"Even if individuals are at normal weight, they may have metabolic abnormalities and this study demonstrates that health status can be significantly improved by changing lifestyle habits," Roberts said. 
Study co-authors from UCLA were Ali Izadpanah, Siddhartha Angadi and R. James Barnard. 
The next step for the researchers will be to perform a randomized control trial investigating the effects of lifestyle intervention in normal-weight and obese adults.

Source:  American Journal of Physiology


New Health-friendly Veggie-infused Cocktails

 New Health-friendly Veggie-infused CocktailsManhattan restaurants have come up with a healthier way of drinking alcohol by creating veggie cocktails made out of cucumber, carrots, kale and even peas.'Colonie', a seasonal restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, serves up a 12 dollar worth 'Cool Hand Cuke' cocktail that is made of fresh-squeezed cucumber juice, organic cucumber vodka, and mint syrup, the New York Daily News reported. 
Tamer Hamawi, the owner of the eatery and mixologist, said that he was "particularly interested in working with vegetables" for their cocktail menu, since unlike fruit, they were rarely used in mixed drinks. 
Hamawi asserted that it's all about making drinks somewhat nutritious. 
Other interesting concoctions are the 'Edamame and Shiso', made with vodka, edamame puree, muddled cucumber, shiso (an Asian herb) leaf, shaved ginger, and a "wasabi-pink Himalayan salt rim," and the 'Margarita 20/20' consisting of carrot juice with blanco tequila, among other things.


2 alternative treatments may help relieve postoperative nausea

Aromatherapy and IV dextrose show encouraging results, studies report

Two simple, non-drug treatments—aromatherapy and intravenous administration of a simple sugar solution—may offer effective new approaches to relieving nausea and vomiting after surgery, report a pair of studies in the September issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS).
"Aromatherapy is promising as an inexpensive, noninvasive treatment for postoperative nausea that can be administered and controlled by patients as needed," according to a research report by Dr Ronald Hunt of Carolinas Medical Center University, Charlotte, NC, and colleagues. The second study suggests that intravenous dextrose solution is also useful in managing the common problem of postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV).
Aromatherapy Reduces Nausea after Surgery
In the aromatherapy study, 301 patients reporting nausea after surgery were randomly assigned to receive one of four types of aromatherapy. Two groups received true aromatherapy, with essential oil of ginger or a blend of aromatherapy oils (ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and cardamom) placed on a gauze pad.
The other two groups received gauze pads with non-aromatherapy solutions: either rubbing alcohol or, as an odorless placebo, saline solution. Rates of subsequent nausea and vomiting and need for anti-nausea (antiemetic) medications were compared between groups.
Patients receiving the two aromatherapy treatments had lower nausea scores, compared to those receiving the placebo saline solution. In contrast, rubbing alcohol had no significant effect on nausea, compared to saline solution. Patients receiving aromatherapy were also less likely to require antiemetic drugs.
The aromatherapy blend was somewhat more effective than ginger only. About 80 percent of patients receiving the blend had improvement in nausea, compared to about 70 percent with ginger only (versus 40 to 50 percent with saline solution or rubbing alcohol).
Promising Results with IV Dextrose Solution
In the second study, Dr Susan Dabu-Bondoc and colleagues of Yale School of Medicine evaluated intravenous administration of a five percent solution of dextrose—a simple sugar—for prevention or treatment of PONV. Immediately after surgery, 62 patients were randomly assigned to receive the dextrose solution or standard IV fluid.
Postoperative nausea scores were not significantly different between groups. However, patients receiving intravenous dextrose needed less antiemetic medications than those receiving standard IV fluids. Patients in the IV dextrose group were also ready for discharge from the recovery room a little earlier.
Postoperative nausea and vomiting is a common complication, occurring in up to one-third of untreated surgical patients. It's a problem that's not only unpleasant for patients and associated with increased costs for antiemetic medications, but is also linked to prolonged hospitalization and an increased risk of readmission. Effective, non-drug approaches to preventing and managing PONV are needed.
The new results suggest that aromatherapy is a simple and effective treatment for patients developing nausea after surgery. "[A]romatherapy as a fast-acting agent either alone or combined with antiemetic medications merits additional research in the treatment of nausea," Dr Hunt and coauthors conclude.
Given immediately after surgery, IV dextrose doesn't reduce postoperative nausea scores. However, it may be effective in reducing the need for antiemetic drugs and shortening time in the recovery room. Dr Dabu-Bondoc and colleagues write, "This form of PONV therapy has a low side effect profile, is easily accessible, and is inexpensive."
Source:Anesthesia & Analgesia

HIV/AIDS Burden Shifts to Changing Group of Regions

Showing that greater attention and financial investment may be needed in places where the disease has not reached epidemic levels, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is changing in unexpected ways in countries around the world.
This is according to a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. 
HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of disease burden in 21 countries concentrated in four regions: Eastern and Southern Africa, Central Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. In another seven countries, it's the second leading cause of disease burden. Despite widespread declines in HIV/AIDS mortality, between 2006 and 2010 HIV/AIDS deaths increased in 98 countries. 
In 2005, 68.7% of global HIV/AIDS burden was in countries where HIV/AIDS is the leading or second leading cause of the burden of disease. In 2010, 59.4% of the burden was in countries where HIV/AIDS ranked first or second, meaning countries where the disease ranked lower represented a larger share of the burden. 
In 2010, for example, 20% of health loss due to HIV/AID was in countries where HIV/AIDS was not in the top 10 causes of disease burden compared to only 15.5% in 2005. 
The findings were published August 21st in the study "The Burden of HIV: Insights from the GBD 2010" in the peer-reviewed journal AIDS
IHME researchers also underscore the achievements that have been made against HIV—in terms of raising public awareness and increasing access to antiretroviral treatment—as well as the unrelenting challenges that AIDS poses to health around the world. 
Millions of people, including many in low- and middle-income countries, now receive antiretroviral treatments (ARTs). There has been significant progress made against HIV/AIDS since global mortality due to the disease peaked in 2006; it has been steadily declining at an average annual rate of 4.2% since then. 
The epidemic has peaked at different times in different countries, showing different rates of progress. In Botswana deaths are down 74%; in Mexico deaths are down 69.2%; and in Kazakhstan deaths are down 66.6%. 
Yet HIV/AIDS remains a global issue; in 2012, 186 countries reported HIV cases or deaths. The disease is among the top five causes - but not the leading cause - of burden in 26 countries ranging from the Ukraine to Myanmar to Guyana. 
"We cannot afford to become complacent when HIV/AIDS remains a tremendous threat," said researcher and lead study author Katrina F. Ortblad of IHME. "Countries that bear significant burden must scale up effective interventions and treatments. In countries where the impact of HIV/AIDS is relatively small but burden is increasing, prevention can help change the course of future epidemics." 
IHME's study examines health loss from HIV/AIDS as measured in DALYs, or disability-adjusted life years. DALYs combine years of life lost to premature death with years lived with disability and allow comparisons among different populations and health conditions. 
While the global health landscape is increasingly dominated by the rise of non-communicable diseases, injuries, and disabling conditions, HIV takes a particular toll on young people around the world. It is the number one cause of disease burden for men aged 30 to 44 and women aged 25 to 44. 
Globally, there are 78 countries where HIV/AIDS accounts for more than 10% of deaths in people aged 30 to 34. 
In South Africa, for example, the picture is even more striking. In 2010, HIV/AIDS caused 75% of deaths among people aged 30 to 34; the figure rose to 84% for women in that age group. 
Even in wealthier countries, challenges in addressing HIV/AIDS remain. In the United States, where deaths due to the disease are down 75.6% since its peak, HIV/AIDS still contributes to 0.7% of American health loss, far more than in other high-income countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and France, and even more than in many developing countries such as Congo, Mongolia and Sri Lanka. 
Success in these countries and many others has been largely due to substantial global action, policy changes and funding. Between 2002 and 2010, development assistance for health targeting HIV/AIDS increased from US$1.4 billion to US$6.8 billion - an increase of 385.7% that does not include funds spent by low- and middle-income countries themselves. 
Increased access to antiretrovirals has accompanied declines in incidence, and more interventions to prevent mother-to-child transmission. 
"The success we have made in combatting HIV/AIDS illustrates what can happen when funders, advocates, governments and health experts commit to a common goal, and dedicate resources to back up the commitment," said Dr. Christopher Murray, IHME director and one of the study's authors. "By gathering the best evidence on the spread of HIV/AIDS we can ensure continued progress." 
The study also notes the challenges in collecting country-level estimates from different sources and calls for improvements in vital registration data that records a population's births and deaths. 
In sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 70.9% of the global health loss attributable to HIV/AIDS, progress against the disease is mixed. In Rwanda, Botswana and Zimbabwe, for example, mortality due to HIV/AIDS decreased dramatically from epidemic peak to 2010; 83.1%, 74% and 47.5% respectively. In other sub-Saharan African countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and the Central African Republic, progress has been nearly nonexistent. 
"AIDS is not just a problem in Africa," explained Dr. Rafael Lozano, IHME's Director of Latin American and Caribbean Initiatives and one of the paper's authors. "We see significant mortality numbers from AIDS in countries as varied as Venezuela, Thailand and Jamaica."
Source:Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation,Washington

Improved Response to Cancer Treatment Possible Through Restricted Calorie Intake

Lead study author Jean-Ehrland Ricci, PhD, of the French Institute for Health and Medical Research in Nice, France, said that it is known that consuming excess calories is associated with increased cancer risk, far less clarity exists in the scientific literature about how calorie restriction and the body's metabolism can potentially affect the body's response to cancer treatment. Ricci and a team of researchers began by separating the mice into two categories: those who would receive a regular diet and those who would receive a reduced-calorie diet (75 percent of normal intake) for the duration of the experiment. 
After the mice consumed either a regular or a reduced-calorie diet for one week, researchers then further divided the mice into four groups according to the treatment they would receive for the following 10 days. 
Of the two groups of mice that received a normal diet, one (the control group) did not receive treatment and the other received treatment with an experimental targeted therapy, ABT-737, designed to induce cancer cell death. Of the two groups of mice who received a reduced-calorie diet, one did not receive treatment and the other received ABT-737. On day 17 of the experiment, both treatment and calorie restriction ended, and mice had access to as much food as they desired. 
Following this exercise, investigators observed that neither treatment with ABT-737 nor calorie restriction alone increased the survival of mice over that of the other mice; however, the combination of ABT-737 and calorie restriction did. Median survival was 30 days in the control group that received a regular diet and no treatment, 33 days in mice that received a regular diet and treatment with ABT-737, 30 days in mice that received a reduced-calorie diet without treatment, and 41 days in mice that received a reduced-calorie diet and treatment with ABT-737. 
Shortly after this experimental period, investigators also observed that the combination of calorie restriction and ABT-737 reduced the number of circulating lymphoma cells in the mice, suggesting that the combination sensitized the lymphoma cells to treatment. 
Study results have bee published online in Blood, the Journal of the American Society of Hematology (ASH).

Regular Exercise Prevents Western Diet-associated Erectile Dysfunction, Heart Disease

Regular Exercise Prevents Western Diet-associated Erectile Dysfunction, Heart DiseaseResearchers put rats on a 'junk food' diet to test the effects of aerobic exercise and found exercise effectively improved erectile dysfunction and the function of vessels supplying blood to the heart.
Obesity continues to plague the U.S. and now extends to much of the rest of the world. One probable reason for this growing health problem is more people worldwide eating the so-called Western diet, which contains high levels of saturated fat, omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (the type of fat found in vegetable oil), and added sugar. Researchers have long known that this pattern of consumption, as well as the weight gain it often causes, contributes to a wide range of other health problems including erectile dysfunction and heart disease. Other than changing eating patterns, researchers haven't discovered an effective way to avoid these problems. 

Searching for a solution, Christopher Wingard and his colleagues at East Carolina University used rats put on a "junk food" diet to test the effects of aerobic exercise. They found that exercise effectively improved both erectile dysfunction and the function of vessels that supply blood to the heart. 
The article is entitled "Exercise Prevents Western-Diet Associated Erectile Dysfunction and Coronary Artery Endothelial Dysfunction: Response to Acute Apocynin and Sepiapterin Treatment." It appears in the online edition of the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology, published by the American Physiological Society. The article is online at 

For 12 weeks, the researchers fed a group of rats chow that reflected the Western diet, high in sugar and with nearly half its calories from fat. Another group of rats ate a healthy standard rat chow instead. Half of the animals in each group exercised five days a week, running intervals on a treadmill. 
At the end of the 12 weeks, anesthetized animals' erectile function was assessed by electrically stimulating the cavernosal nerve, which causes an increase in penile blood flow and produces an erection. The researchers also examined the rats' coronary arteries to see how they too responded to agents that would relax them and maintain blood flow to the heart, an indicator of heart health. 

The findings showed that rats who ate the Western diet but stayed sedentary developed erectile dysfunction and poorly relaxing coronary arteries. However, those who ate the diet but exercised were able to stave off these problems. 
Animals who ate the healthy chow were largely able to avoid both erectile dysfunction and coronary artery dysfunction. 

Importance of the Findings 
These findings may suggest that exercise could be a potent tool for fighting the adverse effects of the Western diet as long as the subjects remained very active over the course of consuming this type of diet, the authors say. Whether exercise would still be effective in reversing any vascular problems after a lifetime of consuming a Western diet is still unknown. 
"The finding that exercise prevents Western diet-associated erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease progression translates to an intensively active lifestyle throughout the duration of the 'junk food' diet," the authors say. "It remains to be seen if a moderately active lifestyle, or an active lifestyle initiated after a prolonged duration of a sedentary lifestyle combined with a 'junk food' diet is effective at reversing functional impairment." 
Source:American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology


Monday, 19 August 2013

Way to Boost the Body's Cancer-Fighting Immune Activity Highlighted in New Research

A completely new type of cancer immunotherapy that harnesses the body's immune system to attack tumors may have been developed by scientists by carefully adjusting the function of crucial immune cells.To accomplish this, they had to thread a needle in immune function, shrinking tumors without triggering unwanted autoimmune responses. 
The new research, performed in animals, is not ready for clinical use in humans. However, the approach, making use of a key protein to control immune function, lends itself to further study using candidate drugs that employ the same mechanisms. 
"This preclinical study demonstrates proof of principle that using a drug to regulate the function of a special, immunosuppressive subset of so-called T-regulatory (Treg) cells safely controls tumor growth," said study leader Wayne W. Hancock, M.D., Ph.D., of the Division of Transplant Immunology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). "It really moves the field along towards a potentially major, new cancer immunotherapy." 
Hancock and colleagues published the study today in Nature Medicine
"There's a basic paradox in immunology: why doesn't the immune system prevent cancer in the first place?" said Hancock. The answer is complicated, he adds, but much of it involves a delicate balancing act among elements of the immune system: while immunity protects us against disease, an overly aggressive immune response may trigger dangerous, even life-threatening, autoimmune reactions in which the body attacks itself. 
In the current study, Hancock focused on a subtype of immune cells called Foxp3+ Tregs, for short. Tregs were already known to limit autoimmunity, but often at the cost of curtailing immune responses against tumors. "We needed to find a way to reduce Treg function in a way that permits antitumor activity without allowing autoimmune reactions," he said. 
Hancock's group showed that inhibiting the enzyme p300 can affect the functions of another protein, Foxp3, which plays a key role in controlling the biology of Tregs. By deleting the gene that expresses p300, the researchers safely reduced Treg function and limited tumor growth in mice. Notably, they also achieved the same effects on p300 and Tregs in mice by using a drug that inhibits p300 in normal mice. 
Hancock will pursue further investigations into targeting p300 in immunotherapy. The preclinical findings offer encouraging potential for being translated into the clinic, said Hancock, who added that pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest in researching this approach as a possible cancer therapy. 
The antitumor study, down-regulating Treg function, is the flip side of another part of Hancock's Treg research. In a 2007 animal study, also in Nature Medicine, he increased Treg function with the goal of suppressing the immune response to allow the body to better tolerate organ transplants. In the current study, decreasing Treg activity permitted the immune system to attack an unwelcome visitor—a tumor. In both cases, he relied on epigenetic processes—using groups of chemicals called acetyl groups to modify key proteins—but in opposite directions. "This is the yin and yang of immune function," he added. 
Source:Nature Medicine


Women Prefers Multitasking Men

 Women Prefers Multitasking MenA new study has revealed that like humans, female frogs also prefer males who have the ability to multitask effectively.In a research of gray tree frogs, a team of University of Minnesota scientists discovered in this species (Hyla chrysoscelis) males produce "trilled" mating calls that consist of a string of pulses. 
Typical calls can range in duration from 20-40 pulses per call and occur between 5-15 calls per minute. Males face a trade-off between call duration and call rate, but females preferred calls that are longer and more frequent, which is no simple task. 
The study's lead author, Jessica Ward, said that it's kind of like singing and dancing at the same time. 
By listening to recordings of 1,000 calls, Ward and colleagues learned that males are indeed forced to trade off call duration and call rate. That is, males that produce relatively longer calls only do so at relatively slower rates. 
The study is published in August issue of Animal Behavior.

Health professionals concerned over govt's apathy on PM's promise of free medicines to all

A large number of public health professionals, on behalf of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, an NGO working in the health sector, have expressed concern over the central government's indifferent attitude towards implementing the free medicines programme announced by prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his Independence Day speech in 2012.
The scheme, if implemented, would have significantly changed the healthcare scene in India, the health professionals in an open letter to prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh said and regretted that 'one year after this announcement, there are enough indications that the programme of free medicines distributing through government hospitals and health centres will be silently shelved'.
The availability of medicines will contribute to the image of public healthcare institutions and will renew interest among public in these institutions. Experiences within our own country that such a scheme can make a huge difference to health outcomes. Significant progress has been achieved in states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and more recently in Rajasthan, where free medicines schemes have been implemented. The experiences of these states show that medicines procured in bulk by their generic names cost 40-4000 per cent less to that of the market rates. Reports from Rajasthan suggest that the scheme has led to considerable increase in the number of people accessing public health centres in the state, the health professionals said.
The open letter further says that following the prime minister's announcement in September 2012, the health minister had promised to provideRs.1,300 crore to states for the purchase of medicines and setting up of a Central Procurement Agency for bulk procurement of drugs. Unfortunately, these promises have not been realised. Instead, the budgetary allotment for the current year on the medicines scheme was a mere sum of Rs.100 crore, though a realistic estimate would show an actual requirement of at least Rs.6,000 crore.
“While your announcement was widely appreciated and highlighted in the national and international media, we in the public health community had specific reasons to welcome the announcement as a promising initiative. Various surveys have reported that households in India spend significant amounts on medicines, and expenditure on medicines account for 70 per cent of out of pocket expenses incurred by families on medical care. Expenditure on buying medicines, thus, is a major portion of private expenditure on health care.
“The Planning Commission estimates that out of pocket expenditure, which accounts for 70 per cent of all health care expenditure in India, is responsible for pushing over five crore people below the poverty line every year. Even though India is the world’s third largest producer of medicines and exports medicines to over 200 countries, an estimated 65 per cent of its population is not able to access all the medicines they need. Medicine prices have shot up phenomenally in India over the past decade and this has been one of the main drivers of the multiplying cost of medical care,” the open letter which was sent to the PM on the eve of his Independence Day speech said.
The health professionals urged the PM to redeem his promise of making available free medicines in all public facilities and take immediate steps to implement such a scheme across the country. This has a potential not only of ensuring people’s right over access to essential medicines, but also in strengthening the public healthcare system as well as in tackling poverty, they said.


Coffee and tea may contribute to a healthy liver

Surprise! Your morning cup of tea or coffee may be doing more than just perking you up before work.
An international team of researchers led by Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the Duke University School of Medicine suggest that increased caffeine intake may reduce fatty liver in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Worldwide, 70 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes and obesity have NAFLD, the major cause of fatty liver not due to excessive alcohol consumption. It is estimated that 30 percent of adults in the United States have this condition, and its prevalence is rising in Singapore. There are no effective treatments for NAFLD except diet and exercise.
Using cell culture and mouse models, the study authors - led by Paul Yen, M.D., associate professor and research fellow, and Rohit Sinha, Ph.D of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School's Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders Program in Singapore - observed that caffeine stimulates the metabolization of lipids stored in liver cells and decreased the fatty liver of mice that were fed a high-fat diet. These findings suggest that consuming the equivalent caffeine intake of four cups of coffee or tea a day may be beneficial in preventing and protecting against the progression of NAFLD in humans.
The findings will be published in the September issue of the journalHepatology.
"This is the first detailed study of the mechanism for caffeine action on lipids in liver and the results are very interesting," Yen said. "Coffee and tea are so commonly consumed and the notion that they may be therapeutic, especially since they have a reputation for being "bad" for health, is especially enlightening."
The team said this research could lead to the development of caffeine-like drugs that do not have the usual side effects related to caffeine, but retain its therapeutic effects on the liver. It could serve as a starting point for studies on the full benefits of caffeine and related therapeutics in humans.
Source:Duke University Medical Center 

Novel Chinese herbal medicine JSK improves spinal cord injury outcomes in rats

Findings published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience

 A new study published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience demonstrates that Chinese herbal medicine Ji-Sui-Kang (JSK), given systemically for three weeks after injury in rats, improved locomotor function, reduced tissue damage, and preserved the structure of neural cells compared to control rats. The report also includes data showing that JSK may first act to reduce inflammation and cell apoptosis and death, and boost local oxygen supply while, later on, it appears to restore function and promote tissue regeneration.
Although Chinese herbal medicines have traditionally been used for a variety of ailments, the rationale for their use relies more on anecdotal evidence than the results of modern-day controlled experiments.
"A number of anecdotal reports from Chinese medicine practitioners indicate that treatment with a novel herbal formulation, JSK, for periods of one week or three months improved functional recovery," explains co-lead investigator Shucui Jiang, MD, PhD, head of the Hamilton NeuroRestorative Group at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. "Our present study provides an important and necessary foundation for further studies of JSK."
In this study rats began JSK treatment immediately after undergoing spinal cord injury. Within 7 days, hindlimb locomotor function was significantly better in JSK-treated rats compared to those receiving only saline. JSK-treated rats continued to have better motor function than controls throughout the 21-day test period and treated animals appeared to support their weight better and have more coordinated movements.
When the investigators looked at histological samples of the spinal cord, they found that the architecture of the spinal cord was better preserved in JSK-treated animals and the size of the injured area was significantly smaller 7 days after injury. JSK-treated animals also showed more intact axons and myelin in the injured areas compared to controls. Other encouraging signs were less deposition of fibrinogen in the injured areas of JSK-treated animals, a decrease in pro-inflammatory COX-2 expression, and fewer cell deaths at the lesion site (as measured by caspase-3 staining).
JSK also increased the expression of growth associated protein 43 (GAP43), a marker of neuronal development and axonal regeneration, and neuroglobulin, a protein found in cerebral neurons that is thought to help neurons survive and recover after trauma. "Our data suggest that JSK may enhance tissue recovery by reducing cell growth inhibitors and by promoting the proliferation of cells within the injured spinal cord," says co-lead investigator Michel P. Rathbone, MD, CHB, PhD, Professor, Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Other findings suggest JSK might help protect against injury caused by damage to spinal cord blood vessels. For instance, JSK increased vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein involved in the formation and growth of blood vessels, down-regulated clotting-associated genes, and promoted factors that contribute to vasodilation.
The authors say that JSK targets multiple biochemical and cellular pathways that may help protect against the primary traumatic injury as well as subsequent secondary injuries that evolve over time.

The authors do not disclose the complete herbal composition of JSK for proprietary reasons. Some of its ingredients include Ginseng, Rhizoma (chuan xiong), Glycyrrhizae Radix (gan cao), Paeoniae Alba Radix (bai shao) and Cinnamomi Cortex (rou gui).
Source:Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience

Paracetamol may Increase Heart Failure Risk in Arthritis Sufferers

Paracetamol may raise the risk of heart failure and stroke in arthritis sufferers, warn doctors.The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said that they are 'seriously concerned' and are proposing new guidelines to curb the paracetamol's use, the Daily Express reported. 
Earlier, doctors routinely used to prescribe paracetamol as a cheap and effective way to treat the painful condition. 
A Nice spokesman said that the drug was seen as an effective, safe and low-cost treatment for osteoarthritis, so health professionals offered it to patients routinely but evidence now suggests that it is less effective, and less safe, than believed earlier.


Myth of "Right-Brained" and "Left-Brained" Personality Traits Debunked By Research

 Myth of You've probably heard the label of being a "right-brained" or "left-brained" thinker. Left-brained behavior is identified with logic, detail-orientation and analytical thinking. Creative, thoughtful and subjective? Your brain's right side functions stronger -or so long-held assumptions suggest. But newly released research findings from University of Utah neuroscientists assert that there is no evidence within brain imaging that indicates some people are right-brained or left-brained.For years in popular culture, the terms left-brained and right-brained have come to refer to personality types, with an assumption that some people use the right side of their brain more, while some use the left side more. 
Following a two-year study, University of Utah researchers have debunked that myth through identifying specific networks in the left and right brain that process lateralized functions. 
Lateralization of brain function means that there are certain mental processes that are mainly specialized to one of the brain's left or right hemispheres. During the course of the study, researchers analyzed resting brain scans of 1,011 people between the ages of seven and 29. In each person, they studied functional lateralization of the brain measured for thousands of brain regions -finding no relationship that individuals preferentially use their left -brain network or right- brain network more often. 
"It's absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don't tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection, " said Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study, which is formally titled "An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging." It is published in the journal PLOS ONE this month. 
Researchers obtained brain scans for the population they studied from a database called INDI, the International Neuroimaging Data-Sharing Initiative. The participants'' scans were taken during a functional connectivity MRI analysis, meaning a participant laid in a scanner for 5 to 10 minutes while their resting brain activity was analyzed. 
By viewing brain activity, scientists can correlate brain activity in one region of the brain compared to another. In the study, researchers broke up the brain into 7,000 regions and examined which regions of the brain were more lateralized. They looked for connections - or all of the possible combinations of brain regions - and added up the number of connections for each brain region that was left- lateralized or right-lateralized. They discovered patterns in brain imaging for why a brain connection might be strongly left- or right-lateralized, said Jared Nielsen, a graduate student in neuroscience who carried out the study as part of his coursework. 
"If you have a connection that is strongly left- lateralized, it relates to other strongly lateralized connection only if both sets of connections have a brain region in common," said Nielsen. 
Results of the study are groundbreaking, as they may change the way people think about the old right-brain versus left-brain theory, he said. 
""Everyone should understand the personality types associated with the terminology ‘left-brained' and ‘right-brained' and how they relate to him or her personally; however, we just don't see patterns where the whole left-brain network is more connected or the whole right-brain network is more connected in some people. It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected," said Nielsen.


Researchers Explain Why We Suffer from Chronic Mountain Sickness

 Researchers Explain Why We Suffer from Chronic Mountain SicknessThe genetic basis of chronic mountain sickness (CMS) or Monge's disease were decoded by researchers. 
Their study provides important information that validates the genetic basis of adaptation to high altitudes, and provides potential targets for CMS treatment.More than 140 million people have permanently settled on high-altitude regions, on continents ranging from African and Asia to South America. The low-oxygen conditions at such high altitudes present a challenge for survival, and these geographically distinct populations have adapted to cope with hypoxia, or low levels of oxygen in the blood. 
Interestingly, many humans living at high elevations, particularly in the Andes mountain region of South America, are maladapted and suffer CMS. The disease is characterized by an array of neurologic symptoms, including headache, fatigue, sleepiness and depression. 
Often, people with CMS suffer from strokes or heart attacks in early adulthood because of increased blood viscosity (resistance to blood flow that can result in decreased oxygen delivery to organs and tissues). 
Past studies of various populations show that CMS is common in Andeans, occasionally found in Tibetans and absent from Ethiopians living on the East African high-altitude plateau. 
Therefore, the researchers dissected the genetic mechanisms underlying high-altitude adaptation by comparing genetic variation between Peruvian individuals from the Andes region with CMS and adapted subjects without CMS, using whole genome sequencing. 
They identified two genes, ANP32D and SENP1, with significantly increased expression in the CMS individuals when compared to the non-CMS individuals, and hypothesized that down-regulating these genes could be beneficial in coping with hypoxia. 
Principal investigator Gabriel G. Haddad, Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and Physician-in-Chief and Chief Scientific Officer at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, a research affiliate of UC San Diego, said that while a number of published articles have described an association between certain genes and the ability for humans to withstand low oxygen at high levels, it was very hard to be sure if the association was causal. 
The researchers therefore looked at genetic orthologs - corresponding gene sequences from another species, in this case the fruit fly - to assess the impact of observed genetic changes on function under conditions of hypoxia. 
The study is set to be published online in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

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