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Brief View of the Latest Healthcare Industry_Issue4

Sep - Nov, 2014


Serotonin deficiency as cause of depression – is it a myth?

A new study in mice suggests that serotonin deficiency may not play as influential a role in depression as has previously been thought. Approach to treating depression is typified by the antidepressant Prozac ever since it was developed. Recent studies show that 60~70% of depressed patients do not respond to Prozac or similar drugs. The researchers developed mice that lacked the ability to produce serotonin and used a variety of test to investigate whether the mice displayed symptoms of depression. The researchers found that the mice showed heightened compulsivity and aggression, but they did not display symptoms of depression. The researchers conclude that serotonin may not be a dominant factor in depression, with risk for the condition being comprised instead of a range of difference factors.


Are females more susceptible to effects of marijuana?

In the first study to assess sex differences in sensitivities to THC, the key ingredient in cannabis, researchers have found that smoking the concentrated marijuana of today may be riskier for women – thanks to the hormone estrogen. Previous studies have shown that women are more prone to cannabis abuse and dependence than men. In women, cannabis withdrawal symptoms or irritability, sleep disruption and decreased food intake was shown to be more severe, and women also have a higher likelihood of relapsing when quitting the drug. In their study, females developed significantly more tolerance to THC and males were found to be more susceptible to the “munchies effect.” Because states like Washington and Colorado have recently legalized recreational marijuana use, the researchers say there is a greater responsibility to understand the differences in cannabis effects on males and females.


FDA approve ‘game-changing’ drug for advanced melanoma

FDA has granted fast-track approval for a drug called Keytruda (pembrolizumab). This drug was developed by pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. to treat patients with advanced melanoma who are no longer responding to alternative treatment. Clinical trials were tested on more than 600 patients with advanced melanoma who had not responded to previous therapies. In one study, the team treated 173 patients with either 2 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of Keytruda or 10 mg/kg of the drug. The team found that 24% of patients who received the 2 mg/kg dosage of Keytruda experienced tumor shrinkage of more than 30%, while a smaller percentage of patients given the 10 mg/kg dose had tumor shrinkage. The tumors did not regrow in these patients, and the drug’s effects remained for at least 1.4-8.5 months, with some patients seeing effects for even longer. The most common side effects were fatigue, cough, nausea, rash, itchy skin, reduced appetite, constipation, diarrhea and joint pain.


Hourly 5 minute walks ‘reverse arterial damage caused by sitting’.

The harm to leg arteries caused by sitting for hours can be easily reversed with hourly 5 minute walks. Sitting for prolonged periods is associated with risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic disease, such as higher cholesterol levels and greater waist circumference. Because muscles are slackened when sitting, they do not contribute to pumping blood to the heart. This causes blood to pool in the legs, damaging the endothelial function of arteries and impairing blood vessels’ ability to expand. The researchers found that, while sitting, the dilation and expansion of the participants’ arteries were impaired by up to 50% after just the first hour. Other studies in 2014 have suggested that meetings indirectly benefits work performance in organizations where knowledge-based working is important, and that walking boosts creative thinking.


Memory loss more common in people with blood type AB

Several research studies have pinpointed lifestyle changes individuals can make to prevent memory loss, such as keeping stress and blood sugars low, and not smoking. But new study pinpoints a potential risk factor for memory loss that we can do nothing about: our blood type. According to the authors of this latest study, led by Dr. Mary Cushman of the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, the blood type AB is only found in about 4% of the US population, yet people with this blood type were 82% more likely than other types to develop the thinking and memory problems that can lead to dementia. The results show that those with blood type AB made up 6% of the group that developed cognitive impairment, compared with only 4% found in the population.


Could bee bacteria provide alternatives to antibiotics?

Without pollinators like honeybees, we would have no crop foods. Now, it seems these humble insects may offer another valuable service. As alternative tools against infection in a world that is running out of antibiotics to fight emerging drug-resistant pathogens. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered that a group of lactic acid bacteria found in the honey stomachs of honeybees has antimicrobial properties - including the ability to fight MRSA and other human bacteria in the lab - and should be investigated as an alternative to antibiotics. They found the lactic acid bacteria were effective against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and other pathogens that cause serious infections in hospital patients and people with weakened immune systems.


Increased Alzheimer’s risk linked to long-term benzodiazepine use

Long-term users of benzodiazepines, drugs used to treat anxiety and insomnia, may be at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the BMJ. Previous research has identified an increased risk of dementia among benzodiazepine users, but the mechanism behind the association - as well as the dosage linked to the risk - has not been clear. The study found that benzodiazepine use for 3 months or more was associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease of up to 51%. Longer the exposure to benzodiazepines, the greater the risk of Alzheimer’s. Long-acting benzodiazepines were also found to increase risk more than short-acting benzodiazepines. “It is now crucial to encourage physicians to carefully balance the benefits and risks when initiating or renewing a treatment with benzodiazepines and related products in elderly patients,” they add.


Plant-derived compound ‘may effectively treat lupus with fewer side effects’

There is no cure for lupus, but there are medications that can help manage its symptoms. However, some of these drugs cause side effects and increase the risk of other health problems. Now, researchers from the University of Houston, TX, say they have discovered a more natural treatment for the disease that uses a plant extract. So far, it has proved effective and has produced no significant side effects in mice. The researchers found that the compound successfully halted each phase of lupus nephritis development in the mice. “The development of lupus is a two-step reaction,” Mohan explains. “First, the immune system develops antibodies that attack the body’s own DNA, then that activated immune system attacks the kidneys. We found that CDDO may block both of these steps.” If the latter is true, then they say CDDO could pose the same problems as corticosteroids in that it will increase infection risk. However, they note that even if the compound does turn out to be immunosuppressive, it is still likely to produce fewer side effects.


1 in 10 antibiotics prescriptions fail, according to new study

The results of a 20 year study published in the BMJ finds that 1 in 10 of all antibiotic prescriptions fail to treat the infection. This marks an increase in the number of antibiotic failures, which is continuing to rise. Over the past 20 years, there has been such a sharp increase in strains of microbes that are resistant to antibiotics that the World Health Organization has declared the issue a global public health crisis. Although many previous studies have assessed antibiotic resistance in hospitals, according to the Cardiff team, experts know “virtually nothing” about the frequency and pattern of antibiotic resistance in primary care. The failure rate of antibiotics that are not normally prescribed as first-line treatments had risen alarmingly. One example of this rise can be observed in the failure rates of trimethoprim, normally used to treat upper respiratory tract infections, which had risen 40% across the treatment period.


‘Increased risk of venous thromboembolism among NSAID users’

Users of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are at increased risk of venous thromboembolism, according to a new study published in the journal Rheumatology. Some previous studies have linked increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) - a condition that includes both deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism - with NSAID use, but the evidence has been limited. The researchers compared one cohort study and five case-control observational studies, which included a total of 21,401 VTE events. They found that NSAID users had an overall 1.8-fold increased risk of VTE compared with study participants who did not use NSAIDs.



An ingestible pill with needles could be the new form of injection

Imagine swallowing a pill with tiny needles instead of getting an injection. Then again, imagine swallowing a pill with tiny needles. It may sound painful, but according to the researchers who developed the novel capsule, which could replace painful injections, there are no harmful side effects. “The large size of these biologic drugs makes them nonabsorbable,” explains lead author MIT graduate student Carl Schoellhammer. “And before they even would be absorbed, they’re degraded in your GI tract by acids and enzymes that just eat up the molecules and make them inactive.” The capsules took more than a week to move through the whole digestive tract, and there were no traces of tissue damage, the researchers say. Additionally, the microneedles effectively injected insulin into the lining of the pigs’ stomachs, small intestines and colons, which resulted in their blood glucose levels dropping.


Scientists uncover structure, mechanisms of BRCA2 protein

For the first time, researchers from the UK have created pictures of the BRCA2 protein. Mutations in the gene that encodes this protein are well known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Uncovering the structure and mechanisms of the protein may pave the way for treatments targeting BRCA2 gene mutations, according to the investigators. Around 45% of women who have a BRCA2 gene mutation will develop breast cancer by the time they are 70 years old, compared with 12% of women in the general population. While 1.4% of women in the general population will develop ovarian cancer at some point in their lives, this will happen for 11-17% of women with a BRCA2 gene mutation. RAD51 molecules convene on strands of broken DNA with the help of the BRCA2 proteins. The RAD51 molecules then form filaments that look for matching DNA strands that will repair the broken DNA.


Type 1 diabetes breakthrough as stem cells make billions of human insulin cells

The study is a breakthrough for patients with type 1 diabetes and some with type 2 diabetes, who require daily injections of insulin because they cannot make their own. A new study reveals how scientists successfully created billions of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells from embryonic stem cells. For their new technique to work in people with type 1 diabetes, the researchers need to add another component that stops a recipient’s immune system from attacking the 150 million or so beta cells they would receive. “Furthermore,” they note, “these cells secrete human insulin into the serum of mice shortly after transplantation in a glucose-regulated manner, and transplantation of these cells ameliorates hyperglycemia in diabetic mice.”


Could a chemical in broccoli, sprouts help treat autism?

A chemical found in broccoli and other vegetables, sulforaphane, has shown promise for improving some behavioral symptoms of autism. This is according to the results of a small clinical trial led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. Sulforaphane is a chemical found in a number of vegetables, including broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. The chemical is most commonly associated with its cancer-fighting properties. The researchers later discovered that sulforaphane can enhance the heat-shock response in the body. This is a series of events that protects cells from damage caused by high temperatures, such as when a person has a fever. For their study, the team enrolled 40 adolescents and young men aged 13-27 who had moderate to severe autism. By 18 weeks, participants who received sulforaphane saw their scores on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist reduce by 34%, while scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale reduced by 17%.


3D printing may make individualized medicine more affordable

The latest innovation in medical 3D printing is a 3D printer that could one day make customized medicines on demand. The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) team says that the machine - which is awaiting a patent application - can “print” a tablet with a precise quantity of medicine that can be taken by a patient. The new technology was made possible by a drug-polymer filament system developed by Dr. Alhnan’s team that can replace the original filaments in a 3D printer. This new system allowed the printer to replicate a complex tablet design, matching dose and weight with a high level of accuracy.


Ibuprofen ‘preferable to morphine’ for child fractures

The results of a randomized trial published in the CMAJ suggest that ibuprofen is preferable to morphine as a pain reliever for children with broken limbs. Although both drugs provide effective pain relief, ibuprofen is associated with less severe side effects than morphine among this group. The researchers - from London Health Sciences Centre and Western University in Ontario, Canada - compared the outcomes of 66 children whose pain was treated using morphine with the outcomes of 68 children who were administered ibuprofen for fracture pain. All participants were aged 5-17 years. The results demonstrate that, although both of the medications were effective for relieving pain, there were more adverse events - such as drowsiness, nausea and vomiting - associated with morphine. The researchers behind this study found that, after 60 minutes, the ibuprofen group reported the largest decrease in pain intensity. Acetaminophen and codeine did not differ significantly in their ability to reduce pain.


Stem cells that release cancer-killing toxins offer new brain tumor treatment

Led by Dr. Khalid Shah, a neuroscientist at Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard University, in Cambridge, MA, and also of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, MA, the scientists found the toxinreleasing stem cells eliminated cancer cells left behind in mouse brains following tumor removal. After doing all of the molecular analysis and imaging to track the inhibition of protein synthesis within brain tumors,” says Dr. Shah, “we do see the toxins kill the cancer cells and eventually prolonging the survival in animal models of resected brain tumors.” The team now plans to bring together the results of experiments with toxin-releasing stem cells, and the different types of therapeutic stem cells they have developed, to refine their method in mice with glioblastoma, the most common brain tumor in human adults.


FDA approve first US vaccine for meningococcal disease serogroup B

Neisseria meningitidis can be transmitted from person to person by coughing, kissing or sharing eating utensils. The bacteria infect the bloodstream and the lining surrounding the brain and the spinal cord, causing meningococcal disease. Risk of death or serious long-term problems can be reduced in infected people by treating them with antibiotics, but vaccination is vital for preventing meningococcal disease. The effectiveness of Trumenba was trialled in three randomized studies involving about 2,800 adolescents. After receiving three doses of Trumenba, 82% of the participants had antibodies in their blood that killed four different N. meningitidis serogroup B strains, whereas before vaccination, less than 1% of the participants had these antibodies. Trumenba was also granted “breakthrough therapy” status, which expedites the development and review of medical products to combat life-threatening conditions. Consequently, the FDA was able to evaluate and approve the vaccine’s effectiveness in less than 6 months.



A fifth of schizophrenia cases ‘may be attributable to T. gondii infection’

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that around 60 million people in the US may be infected with T. gondii. Infection most commonly occurs through eating undercooked, contaminated meat, drinking contaminated water and coming into contact with cat feces that contain T. gondii. More recently, studies have linked T. gondii infection to schizophrenia, and some have found that antipsychotic medication may even stop the parasite from replicating. But such research has been met with much criticism. In this latest study, Gary Smith, of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to gain a better understanding of the link between T. gondii infection and schizophrenia. .


NSAIDs induce ‘suicide’ in potentially cancerous intestinal cells

Previous animal studies and clinical trials have shown that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, lower the risk of developing intestinal polyps. These polyps can develop into cancer. However, researchers have not previously been able to pinpoint the mechanism by which NSAIDs reduce this cancer risk. The APC mutation makes these genes dysfunctional. Cells affected by the mutation can potentially develop into precancerous polyps and tumors. Although cells that have a mutation in the APC gene are targeted by NSAIDs, healthy cells with the non-mutated gene are unaffected.


Chagas disease-a new public health threat for Americans?

Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, presented the results of their work on 4th November at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) in New Orleans, LA. They say a large area of the southern US faces a tangible but mostly unrecognized risk of contracting Chagas disease.


Laundry detergent pods ‘pose serious poisoning risk to young children’

Senior author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the hospital, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Pediatrics. Since their introduction into supermarkets in the US in 2010, laundry detergent pods have grown in popularity. Convenience is the main appeal of these products; instead of having to measure out laundry powder, a user can simply pop a pre-measured detergent pod straight into the washing machine. But although laundry detergent pods have their benefits, co-author Dr. Marcel J. Casavant, chief of toxicology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, points out that the products may be appealing to young children.


CDC: improper contact lens care can lead to blindness

Contact lenses - worn by around 38 million Americans - are a popular alternative to wearing glasses. But improper care of contact lenses can cause eye infections like keratitis, which can lead to blindness. Dr. Jennifer R. Cope, a medical epidemiologist of the National Center for Emerging, Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and co-author of a new CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on keratitis in the US, says: “Contact lenses offer wearers good sight without the hassle of glasses, but they can also make wearers more prone to infection if they’re not careful. Users should follow good hygiene and care steps every time they wear, clean and store their contacts to help keep their eyes healthy.”


Habitual running ‘may protect against knee osteoarthritis, not cause it’

The research team, co-led by Dr. Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, recently presented their findings at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in Boston, MA. Osteoarthritis is a joint disease characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments and bone. It most commonly affects the knees, hips, hands and spine. Around 26.9 million adults in the US are estimated to have some form of osteoarthritis, with middle-aged and elderly individuals being most affected..


Just one 10 – second kiss transfers 80 million bacteria

Before germaphobes swear off kissing forever, it should be noted that over 100 trillion microorganisms naturally live in our bodies. Called the microbiome, they are vital for digesting food, synthesizing nutrients and preventing disease. The researchers - led by Remco Kort, of TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) and adviser to the Micropia museum of microbes in the Netherlands says that as far as he and his colleagues know, “the exact effects of intimate kissing on the oral microbiota have never been studied. We wanted to find out the extent to which partners share their oral microbiota, and it turns out, the more a couple kiss, the more similar they are.”


Cheap anti-malaria drug shows promise against colorectal cancer

The researchers behind the study - from St George’s, University of London in the UK - write about their findings in the journal EBioMedicine. They describe how the drug artesunate - a common anti-malaria medicine - showed a promising effect in slowing tumor cell proliferation in a small group of colorectal cancer patients before they had their tumors surgically removed.


FDA approve new opioid with abuse-deterrent properties

The new opioid, approved yesterday, is called Hysingla ER (hydrocodone bitartrate), which is an extendedrelease (ER) opioid analgesic designed to treat pain severe enough to require around-the-clock, long-term treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day in the US, 114 people die from a drug overdose. Meanwhile, another 6,748 are treated in emergency rooms for the abuse or misuse of drugs. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deemed it important to protect the public from this growing threat.


Could yogurt lower the risk of type 2 diabetes?

“We found that higher intake of yogurt is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas other dairy foods and consumption of total dairy did not show this association,” says senior researcher Dr. Frank Hu. “The consistent findings for yogurt suggest that it can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern.” Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar levels. Around 90% of diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes, whereby the body either does not produce enough insulin or suffers from insulin resistance, meaning that the insulin produced is unable to process glucose properly.


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