What's Hot

What's Hot

September 2000

What's Hot Archive

September 29, 2000

Breast cancer detection breakthrough

A few drops of blood can now tell if a woman has the most aggressive type of breast cancer and to what extent metastasis has occurred. In only a few hours, an automated test can tell breast cancer patients how much of a particular protein shed by cancerous cells exists in the blood, which greatly aids physicians in their treatment approach.

One third of the 900,000 breast cancer patients worldwide have aggressive, invasive breast cancer. The new test, which even detects free floating cancer cells in the body, will help to determine the extent of treatment that will be used after the primary tumor has been surgically excised. The test will also enable physicians to monitor the progress of patients' chemotherapy treatments, so that they may alter the dosage or medication if it is not providing the desired anticancer effect.

The test works through the use of cloned mouse antibodies to Her2/neu proteins, which are fragments of cancer cells. Test developer Bayer cultures the antibodies and adds iron to part of them, to the others is added a colored marker. If the patient's serum (the liquid portion of blood which is separated from red blood cells) contains Her2/neu proteins, the antibodies to these proteins will adhere to them, both color-marking them and making them magnetic by the presence of iron. The cells to which the antibodies have adhered can be separated from the serum by a magnet and the color intensity is examined which when evaluated can indicate the total amount of cancer cells in the blood.

"This blood test will help the physician to detect the breast cancer earlier, and will allow the physician to taylor the treatment for each individual woman differently and specifically, "commented Dr Walter P Carney, of Bayer.

—D Dye


September 27, 2000

Cranberries fight ulcers and more

New research from Tel Aviv University reported at the first Cranberry Health Research Roundtable, part of the International Conference and Exhibition on Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals held in Houston, that cranberries may be effective against H pylori, the bacteria implicated in stomach ulcers. In vitro research has shown that the antiadhesion property of cranberries can help combat the ulcer-causing bacteria even when they have adhered to the lining of the stomach. Research was also presented on how this mechanism may be effective against bacteria in the mouth in the prevention of periodontal disease.

Earlier research has demonstrated cranberry's ability to fight E Coli, the bacteria involved in urinary tract infections. The proanthocyanidins found in cranberry can interfere with the bacteria which cause 80 to 90 percent of urinary tract infections, possibly by preventing them from adhering to bladder cells according to research conducted by Rutgers University. In yet another study, released earlier this year at the annual Experimental Biology meeting, it was shown that cranberry had the ability to prevent the development of tumors in mice injected with human breast cancer cells. The study was conducted at the University of Western Ontario.

Matin Starr, PhD, Director of Health and Wellness of Ocean Spray, the Roundtable sponsor, stated, "To date, most research on cranberry has focused on the impact cranberry juice cocktail can have in maintaining urinary tract health. We were excited to hear that compounds in cranberries that are responsible for the antiadhesion effect may also fight the bacteria that cause some ulcers. The body of research we examined all points to how cranberry and cranberry juice cocktail may act as powerful protectors of health. This seemingly unique antiadhesion property of the cranberry may be a promising strategy to fight certain bacteria naturally."

—D Dye


September 22, 2000

Thalidomide helps treat multiple myeloma

Thalidomide is a drug that was originally developed nearly half a century ago to treat morning sickness and insomnia, but was found to cause tragic birth defects. The drug was never approved by our FDA, and is often used as an example when the organization is slow to approve other drugs. Research on the drug has continued, however, and other uses have been found for patients with life-threatening conditions.

Multple myeloma is an incurable cancer of the plasma cells that develops in the bone marrow. Patients on standard therapies survive an average of four years. In a study published in the September issue of Mayo Clinic proceedings, conducted at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Rochester, Minnesota, sixteen patients with advanced advanced multiple myeloma who had not responded to the standard treatments of chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow transplants were given 200 milligrams thalidomide daily for two weeks, followed by an increase in the dosage to a maximum of 800 milligrams. One quarter of the patients responded to the drug. Mayo Clinic hematologist S. Vincent Rajkumar MD commented, "That's encouraging information because thalidomide is the first drug in over two decades that is effective for multiple myeloma when standard medical treatments no longer work. Research needs to continue, but our study confirms a previous study done at the University of Arkansas. It's a good option for some patients with few -- if any -- options left to them."

Thalidomide appears to work against cancers by stimulating the immune system, and by its antiangiogenesis effect. According to Angela Dispenzieri, MD, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic, this effect of slowing new blood vessel growth is the cause of the birth defects associated with the drug, rather than a mutagenic effect. Mayo Clinic is currently researching the effect on the drug in patients newly diagnosed with myeloma.

—D Dye


September 20, 2000

Cruciferous vegetables prevent lung cancer better in some than others

The August 26 2000 issue of The Lancet published the results of study of 942 men who were part of a larger group of Chinese males followed from 1986 to1997, which revealed that cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, watercress, broccoli and cauliflower helped prevent lung cancer. This class of vegetables contains precursors to anticancer compounds known as isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are formed in the body when these precursors are released from the vegetables. Study participants who were deficient in the enzyme GSTM1, which rapidly eliminates these compounds, received the greatest amount of cancer protection. Subjects who had measurable isothiocyanates in their urine experienced a 40% less risk of lung cancer, while those lacking GSTM1 had a 64% decrease in risk.

"We are aware of no prior data linking a biologic marker of ITC intake to the risk of any cancer," commented co-lead author Stephanie London, of National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. "The beneficial effect of ITCs was predominantly seen among subjects who are predicted to metabolize it more slowly based on their having deletion of a gene (GSTM1) that rapidly eliminates these compounds from the body. The implication for intervention studies is important. There is a lot of animal work on ITCs which includes work to figure out which of them you would want to use in an intervention and in what form. Our study adds significant human data to this effort."

Also collaborating on the study were scientists from University of South California, Los Angeles; Shanghai Cancer Institute, China and American Health Foundation, Valhalla, New York.

—D Dye


September 18, 2000

Green light on niacin for diabetics

Niacin, or vitamin B3, has been known for decades for its cholesterol-lowering ability when taken in therapeutic doses, among its other benefits. Because, based on limited clinical data, niacin had been observed to raise blood glucose levels, diabetics have been cautioned not to use it. This has caused an important population to miss out on its cardiovascular benefit. In the September 13 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the results of a study were published that demonstrated niacin to be safe for diabetics after all.

The study, conducted at six centers between 1993 and 1995, examined 468 patients with peripheral artery disease, 125 of whom were diabetic. Study participants were randomized to receive three grams niacin or the maximum tolerated dose per day (niacin causes a flushing sensation which some people dislike), or placebo for up to sixty weeks. Niacin was found to increase HDL, the so-called "good" cholesterol, by 29% both diabetics and nondiabetics, and to decrease LDL, or "bad' cholesterol by 8% and 9%, respectively. Triglycerides were also lowered by 23% in diabetics and 28% in nondiabetics, while glucose was only modestly increased in both groups.

The study concluded with the recommendation that niacin can be safely used to modify lipids in diabetic patients, and could be used as an alternative to statin drugs or fibrates in diabetic patients for whom these drugs are ineffective or poorly tolerated. This is good news for diabetics who frequently suffer from cardiovascular disease.

—D Dye


September 15, 2000

Stem cells fight kidney cancer

The latest New England Journal of Medicine featured that reported the success of blood stem cell transplants in advanced cancer of the kidney. The disease has a poor prognosis, with 80% of patients unresponsive to treatment and succumbing to the disease within a year. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Stem Cell Transplant unit in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute transplanted blood stem cells and white blood cells from healthy siblings into nineteen patients with treatment-resistant metastatic carcinoma of the kidney. The treatment was considered successful in half of the patients, with seven showing a partial regression of the disease, and three experiencing total remission.

Kidney cancer is unusual among solid tumors in that it is known to respond to attack from the body's immune system. In this study, knowledge gained from previous laboratory research was utilized, which had demonstrated that healthy donor immune cells can stimulate antitumor effects. When the study participants' immune cells had been completely replaced by the donor's cells, and when the drug cyclosporine which the patients were given was discontinued, tumor regressions occurred.

"Considering that there are no current treatments that benefit patients who have not responded to conventional therapy, we are very encouraged by the early high response rate in our first group of patients treated, with a few patients remaining completely free of cancer more than two years from the initiation of therapy," stated Richard Childs MD, the study's lead author. He commented that complications can occur with the therapy and that it should remain investigational at the present.

"We hope to expand the number of patients who can enroll in our clinical trial. The ultimate objective is to test this therapy in a large, randomized controlled trial to determine the true efficacy of this treatment," stated W. Marston Linehan, M.D., of the National Cancer Institute.

—D Dye


September 13, 2000

Interferon beta-1a helps MS patients

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, inflammatory, disabling disease of the central nervous system. Multiple sclerosis is characterized by the destruction of the myelin sheath, which is the fatty coating that protects the nerves, causing faulty nervous conduction. Symptoms include difficulty in walking, numbness, paralysis, vision loss, pain, headache. Most MS patients experience disease symptoms followed by periods of remission. Primary progressive multiple sclerosis or PPMS is a particularly agrressive degenerative form of the disease that progresses from onset without remission. About ten percent of MS patients are of the PPMS variety, and it is more frequently found in older patients. This form of the disease is considered untreatable.

The annual European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis congress in France was the site of an announcement by investigators from the National Hospital of Neurology in London that interferon beta-1a, sold under the name Avonex by Biogen Corporation, is helpful against PPMS. Fifty participants between the ages of 29 and 59 who had PPMS for two to 21 years were randomized to receive one of two intramuscular doses of interferon beta-1a or placebo weekly for two years. Patients received MRI exams of the brain to evaluate damage caused by the disease. The best results were seen in the group who receiving the standard 30 mcg dose of Avonex, who showed a significant reduction in the size of brain lesions. This was the first controlled clinical study to show disease modification in this subgroup of MS patients.

"We are pleased to learn about the potential of Avonex in treating this patient population, which has a particularly devastating form of MS," said Biogen Vice President of Medical Research Burt A Adelman, MD. "In all clinical trials to date, Avonex has demonstrated proven results and excellent efficacy in the treatment of relapsing forms of MS. These results follow those of the pivotal CHAMPS trial, which showed a significant positive impact of Avonex on patients at high risk of developing clinically definite MS.

—D Dye


September 11, 2000

New drug for COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD affects approximately 600 million people worldwide, and leads to the death of three million yearly. Fifteen million of those diagnosed are American. Found in emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and common among smokers, it is caused by a narrowing of the airways and is progressive and irreversible. Researchers at the World congress on Lung Health held this month reported that the drug Spiriva, or tiotropium, can improve the well being of COPD sufferers although it cannot stop the deterioration caused by the disease. Related to the commonly prescribed Atrovent, Spiriva works by inhalation, and it relaxes the muscles that constrict the lungs' airways, but does so longer and more effectively than Atrovent, and only needs to be used daily, as compared with four times per day with the current drug. Studies conducted on five hundred people who had been diagnosed for ten years or more showed it to be better than Atrovent in improving the ability to breathe and in reducing infections and visits to the hospital. It also provided more longterm benefits, with patients showing little deterioration a year later, whereas deterioration can be seen three months following the current treatment.

One of the researchers, Dr Romain Pauwels, Professor of Medicine at the University of Ghent, Belgium commented, " The overall effect is something that almost has never been seen. Compared to what we have now, this is far better, no matter what parameter you're measuring."

The drug improved breathlessness experienced by these patients which interferes with such simple daily activities as walking, dressing or bending over. Twenty percent of the patients in the study were housebound due to the condition.

Spiriva could be available in two years or more.

—D Dye


September 8, 2000

Inosine treats stroke

Inosine, which has long been touted as a sports and endurance supplement, has been found in new research conducted at Cerebrotec research laboratory to produce over 90% recovery of limb function in rats who had been experimentally given strokes. The rats were given inosine directly into their cerebral spinal fluid two days following the stroke. Rats in the study's control group control group reamined paralyzed.

Inosine works as a nerve growth factor. In a previous study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, inosine was able to heal spinal cord injuries in rats. Inosine stimulated cross-over sprouting of motor axons, re-innervating the injured cord.

Research sponsor, Boston Life Sciences' Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Mark Lanser commented, "Inosine appears to be effective even when given after the damage has been done and the stroke is complete. This is in sharp contrast to other potential agents for stroke therapy now in development which must be given almost immediately after the stroke. Because these therapies rely on cytoprotection or antithrombotic agents to minimize ischemic damage rather than produce actual regrowth, it is difficult to see how these other approaches can be expected to actually restore lost function after stroke. Inosine, however, by virtue of its well-documented potent axon-regenerating ability, appears to show exciting evidence of its ability to actually restore limb and other motor function after the stroke has occurred. Such regenerative therapy has been long sought by the medical community. We plan to follow up these results with the preclinical studies required for the filing of an Investigational New Drug (IND) application. We believe, based on these striking experimental results, that inosine has the potential to be the first truly functional regenerative therapy for stroke victims."

The Company's President and CEO, David Hillson, commented, "Our CNS regeneration program has achieved a number of very important milestones over the last two years. We have progressed from experimental in vivo axonal regeneration demonstrated in spinal transections to a demonstration of regeneration of the optic nerve in animals, and now we have these extremely promising results in stroke. The consistency of the results that we see is especially gratifying. We expect to have further experimental results soon that will, hopefully, confirm the extraordinary promise of our CNS program."

BLSI is developing novel diagnostics and therapeutics for Parkinson's Disease (PD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as treatments for cancer, autoimmune disease, and central nervous system disorders. BLSI's products in development include: Altropane, a radioimaging agent for the diagnosis of PD and ADHD; Troponin I, a naturally-occurring anti-angiogenesis factor for the treatment of solid tumors; AF-1 and Inosine, nerve growth factors for the treatment of acute and chronic CNS disorders; novel therapies for the treatment of PD and ADHD; and transcription factors that may control the expression of molecules associated with autoimmune disease and allergies.

—D Dye


September 7, 2000

Parkinson's involves more than brain

The September 5 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine reported a study conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke which demonstrated that Parkinson's disease affects sympathetic nerve endings in the heart. Recent imaging studies have suggested that these epinephrine-producing nerves are lost in Parkinson's disease but researchers were unclear as to whether this was caused by the drug L-dopa, the drug given to Parkinson's patients which acts a precursor to dopamine. Dopamine is the nerve-signalling chemical produced by neurons in the brain that are lost in Parkinson's disease, and a lack of it causes the disease's symptoms of slow body movements, tremor and rigid limbs. Of a total of twenty-nine Parkinson's patients studied, PET scans of the heart revealed almost all had a decrease in the amount of sympathetic nerve endings that produce norepinephrine. The sympathetic nervous system controls pulse, blood pressure, and other stress responses. The finding explains why Parkinson's patients frequently experience orthostatic hypotension, which is a drop in blood pressure that occurs when a person moves to a standing position, that causes lightheadness, dizziness or fainting in some individuals. This loss of sympathetic nerve terminals was not determined to be caused by L-dopa, the drug that converts to dopamine which used to treat Parkinson's, nor is it related to its severity or the length of time diagnosed with the disease.

In addition to the patients with Parkinson disease studied, were twenty-four patients with multiple-system atrophy, which resembles Parkinson's and affects sympathetic nerve function. In this group of patients, PET scans revealed no loss of sympathetic nerve terminals. This difference will help enable physicians to better differentiate the two diseases, which is important when treating them.

Because norepinephrine and dopamine are both catecholamines, researchers believe that the cause of the loss of nerve terminals that produce dopamine in the brain is the same cause of the loss of terminals in the heart, and that Parkinson's disease could be caused by an abnormality affecting the peripheral nervous system as well as the brain.

—D Dye


September 5, 2000

Insulin may protect against heart disease

The July 2000 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism featured a study which researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo investigated the effects of insulin on human aorta endothelial tissue in culture. The aorta is the large artery that leads from the heart. When added to the cells, insulin, a hormone naturally produced in the body that regulates blood sugar, caused a decrease in intracellular adhesion molecule-1, or ICAM-1, a substance that causes arterial inflammation and atherosclerosis. This decrease was determined to be due to a rise in nitric oxide produced by the insulin. When aortic endothelial cells were treated with a nitric oxide inhibitor, insulin's ability to decrease ICAM-1 levels was impaired, proving that nitric oxide was responsible for the inhibition of ICAM-1 found in the study. Nitric oxide also helps to relax the blood vessels, and is important in preventing hypertension.

Because of the high levels of heart disease observed in people with diabetes type 2, it had been believed that the excess insulin these patients have, which the body does not respond to, contributes to their heart disease. The findings of the authors of this study can be seen as a major reversal of theory on the subject.

Study author Paresh Dandona stated,``The implications are that insulin, which until now was thought to be a factor that promotes atherosclerosis, in fact may be actively anti-inflammatory.''

The research team is now investigating whether insulin can help to protect against heart disease in humans.

—D Dye


September 1, 2000

Telomerase vaccine fights cancer

The latest issue of the journal Nature Medicine published an article in which researchers proved that telomerase can be used in a vaccine to stimulate an immune response against cancerous tumors. The researchers introduced the RNA that encodes the catalytic reverse transcriptase protein of telomerase (TERT RNA) into dendritic cells in tissue culture which, when injected into mice and into human tissue in vitro (outside of the body), stimulated the immune system to kill telomerase-positive cancer cells. The vaccine works by educating the cytotoxic T lymphocytes to recognize and destroy cancer cells that contain telomerase, which are the majority of all cancer cells. Geron Corporation, whose scientists collaborated on this effort and Merix Bioscience announced that they will be developing the vaccine for commercial and clinical uses.

The process was originally developed by Eli Gilboa PhD and colleagues at Duke University. Mice who received the antigen experienced a response that inhibited the growth of melanoma, breast and bladder cancer. When tested on samples taken from patients with human prostate and kidney cancer, the human vaccine killed the tumor cells in culture. Dr Gilboa commented, "We are very pleased with the study results. The next steps are to conduct thorough preclinical safety studies and assess the clinical potential of this method."

Geron president Tom Okarma, PhD, MD, stated "The experimental results are important. Telomerase is universally present in cancer cells. Therefore, development of hTERT RNA as an antigen to elicit an immune response against a broad range of tumor types, either alone or in combination with other antigens, would represent a significant advance in cancer therapy."

—D Dye

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