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Medical News & Updates
Mar 30
Suicide attempts may have a genetic link
Researchers at Johns Hopkins say they have found a genetic reason some people may attempt suicide.

The link was found in a small region on chromosome 2 that contains four genes, including the ACP1 gene. Those people with more than normal levels of ACP1 protein in the brain were more likely to attempt suicide, the researchers said.

The findings, reported in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, may lead to a new kind of treatment.
"We have long believed that genes play a role in what makes the difference between thinking about suicide and actually doing it," Virginia L. Willour, study leaders and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

She and other researchers studied the DNA of thousands of people with bipolar disorder. More extra protein meant a higher likelihood the people would attempt suicide. The protein is thought to influence the same biological pathway as lithium, which is used to reduce suicidal behavior but has side effects that mean not everyone can take it.

An estimated 1.4 percent of Americans die from suicide and about 4.6 percent of people have tried to kill themselves at least once, the researchers said. For those with bipolar disorder, the percentage who think about suicide is 47 percent, with a quarter actually trying.

Mar 30
Walnuts are the healthiest nut, say scientists
Walnuts are the healthiest of all the nuts and should be eaten more as part of a healthy diet, US scientists say.

Scientists from Pennsylvania told the American Chemical Society that walnuts contain the highest level of antioxidants compared to other nuts.

Antioxidants are known to help protect the body against disease.

The scientists said that all nuts have good nutritional qualities but walnuts are healthier than peanuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios.

Dr Joe Vinson, from the University of Scranton, analysed the antioxidant levels of nine different types of nuts and discovered that a handful of walnuts contained twice as many antioxidants as a handful of any other commonly eaten nut.

He found that these antioxidants were higher in quality and potency than in any other nut.

Antioxidants are good because they stop the chain reactions that damage cells in the body when oxidation occurs.
Roasted nuts

The antioxidants found in walnuts were also two to 15 times as powerful as vitamin E, which is known to protect the body against damaging natural chemicals involved in causing disease, the study says.

Nuts are known to be healthy and nutritious, containing high-quality protein, lots of vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fibre. They are also dairy and gluten-free.

Previous research has shown that regular consumption of small amounts of nuts can reduce the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, type two diabetes and other health problems.

Dr Vinson said there was another advantage in choosing walnuts as a source of antioxidants: "The heat from roasting nuts generally reduces the quality of the antioxidants.

"People usually eat walnuts raw or unroasted, and get the full effectiveness of those antioxidants."

Mar 28
Weight training during pregnancy safe and beneficial--study
Negating myths that pregnant women should avoid exercising, a new study has claimed that light exercise during pregnancy can work wonders in having a safe and normal delivery.

The researchers recommend supervised weight training for expectant mothers and propose that it is beneficial to prevent adverse side effects during the final days before delivery.

Patrick O'Connor, a researcher in the department of kinesiology at the University of Georgia College Of Education, and his colleagues, initiated the present study that aimed to establish the benefits of physical activity in pregnant women.

"Doctors often have been unwilling to prescribe weightlifting, in part, because there was little evidence that it is safe and effective," said O'Connor.

"I think that the appropriate conclusion of this study is that the adoption of a supervised, low-to-moderate intensity weight-lifting exercise program can be safe for women with a low-risk pregnancy," the lead investigator informed.

Study details
For the study, the researchers enrolled 32 pregnant women, who were asked to undergo 618 exercise sessions for a period of nearly 12 weeks.

The type of exercise, the weight used while exercising, fluctuations in the blood pressure, and side effects were all taken into account during the study period.

The researchers found that, none of the study participants reported musculoskeletal injuries after following the low-to-moderate exercise routine.

Amount of weight lifted was increased from time to time and women seemed to experience no negative effect from it.

"The data shows women can increase their strength even though they are pregnant and have never done weight-training before. And their body is changing over the 12-week period as the baby grows," O'Connor said.

Though weight training is beneficial and has no effect on the blood pressure, the researchers warn that during initial period of exercising, women may experience dizziness, but this decreases after sometime.

Why weight training was not recommended in past?
According to the researchers, doctors are aware of the benefits of exercising in pregnant women, but they don't recommend it as weight training leads to production of relaxin hormone which makes body the ready to give birth by making the connective tissue more lax.

"Increased laxity could be associated with orthopedic injury. The research focused on low-to-moderate exercise so as to avoid injury associated with increased relaxin in the body, said O'Connor.

The researchers aim at further studying weight training in pregnant women and find whether it can decrease back pain experienced during pregnancy, or not.

Findings of the present study have been published in the online edition of the 'Journal of Physical Activity and Health.'

Mar 28
Now, a one-hour operation to change heart valve
An Indian-origin surgeon-led team in Britain has come up with a one-hour keyhole operation to replace heart valve, a breakthrough which offers hope to cardiac patients too sick to undergo an open-heart surgery.

Vinayak Bapat of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital and his team have developed the procedure, called transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), which treats heart-valve failure under local anaesthetic without the need for a bypass surgery.

"For seriously ill patients who do not have the option of heart surgery, TAVI is their one chance of life. It has the potential to save thousands of lives and is ultimately cheaper than prescribing years of medication," Dr Bapat was quoted by the 'Daily Mail' as saying.

Aortic stenosis is the most common type of valve disease which can be caused by birth defects though in older patients it is usually the result of calcium building up in heart's main valve, the aortic valve, hindering blood flow.

The best solution is valve-replacement surgery via open-heart surgery, which involves opening up the patient's chest, putting their heart on a bypass machine and replacing the aortic valve.

But, the TAVI requires only a small incision made in the thigh or chest to insert a stainless steel mesh tube with heart tissue from a cow lining the inside of it, say surgeons.

The tissue is derived from the tough sac surrounding cow's heart or pericardium. It's recovered during commercial meat processing after which the membrane is slightly stiffened with a tanning solution.

During the operation a hollow tube, or catheter, is inserted into the body. On the end of the catheter is a deflated balloon as well as the collapsible artificial valve.

When the catheter reaches the faulty valve, the balloon is inflated which, in turn, expands the mesh valve, crushing the broken human valve against the wall of the aorta, say the British surgeons.

TAVI requires just six days in hospital compared with ten for open-heart surgery, and some patients have been discharged after four days.

Former businessman John Cronin, 54, was one of the first in Europe to undergo the new surgery.

"My quality of life was really poor. I couldn't even do simple things such as walking up the stairs without getting out of breath," said John, who had the operation at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge.

"Now I can even enjoy a cycle ride. TAVI has saved my life -- it's as simple as that," he added.

Mar 26
Both real and "sham" acupuncture reduces nausea in cancer patients
Both traditional acupuncture and a sham procedure performed with blunt needles that don't penetrate the skin, are equally effective in alleviating the nausea of cancer [abnormal cells that divide without control, which can invade nearby tissues or spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body. ] patients undergoing chemotherapy, claims a new study.

This evidence suggests that it may not be the acupuncture itself, whether real or fake, but something about patients' expectations and their interactions with acupuncturists, that helps the treatment work.

Acupuncture involves stimulating specific points on the body, usually by inserting thin needles through the skin.

The procedure involves regulating the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. Studies have established that acupuncture can alleviate certain ailments more effectively than standard medical care.

Lead author of the new study, Anna Enblom, a physiotherapist and researcher at the Osher Centre for Integrative Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden stated, "The beneficial effects seem not to come from the traditional acupuncture method, but probably from the patients' positive expectations and the extra care that the treatment entails."

Traditional and fake acupuncture compared
In order to compare the impact of traditional acupuncture and a sham procedure in relieving nausea in cancer [abnormal cells that divide without control, which can invade nearby tissues or spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body. ] patients, the researchers conducted a study.

They enrolled 277 patients who were undergoing radiotherapy for abdomen [between the chest and the hips that contains the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.] and pelvic cancer at Linkoping and Lund university hospitals and Karolinska University Hospital in Solna.

The study subjects were split into three groups. For the purpose of the study, 109 patients received traditional acupuncture that involved insertion of needles into their skin to stimulate certain points.

The second group comprising 106 patients were assigned to blunt telescopic placebo needles that just pressed against the skin. The remaining patients were provided standard medications for an upset stomach.

Outcome of the study
The researchers found that the both the authentic acupuncture and sham procedures were equally effective in lessening nausea in patients compared to standard care.

The study found 37 percent of the patients receiving genuine or simulated acupuncture felt nausea after treatment and seven percent vomited, while 63 percent and 15 percent of those assigned to medicines experienced these conditions respectively.

Richard Deyo, a clinical physician and professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University stated, "I think that acupuncture and its effects may be placebo effects.

"But if this form of therapy offers patients relief--and, indeed, studies show that simulated and real acupuncture both worked better than the care patients were getting from their primary care physicians--then we shouldn't argue too much about it."

Mar 25
Don't ignore back pain, it could be spinal TB
Of the 30 million people who suffer from tuberculosis all over the world, India accounts for one third of it. Nearly 1.5 lakh people in India suffer from tuberculosis of the spine.

Although the disease mostly affects the lungs, tuberculosis of the spine is equally a cause for concern, having disastrous and often irreversible complications, said experts at a press meet on Thursday, organised by the Association of Spine Surgeons of India (ASSI). Tuberculosis of the spine is referred to as Pott's disease, or tuberculosis spondylitis.

"The symptoms are back pain, low fever, a hump in the back and, in worst cases, paralysis of the limbs. The tuberculosis bacteria invade the vertebrae and induce destruction of the bones of the spine, resulting in pus formation and instability of the spine and appearance of a deformity of the back," said Dr Mahesh Bijjawara, consultant spine surgeon, Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain Hospital.

Tuberculosis spondylitis often causes damage to the spine. It can result in the collapse of vertebrae and fracturing of the bones.

Abscesses and tissue formation can narrow the spinal canal, leading to neurological damage. In advanced untreated cases, this can lead to compression of the spinal cord resulting in complete paralysis of both legs and rarely, upper limbs.

"Once the patient reaches the stage of paralysis, even with good surgical treatment, the recovery from paralysis may not always be possible," added Dr Bijjawara.

Diagnosis can be done with a series of neurological tests. Blood tests and X-rays can be used to confirm tuberculosis.

Sometimes, magnetic resonance images (MRIs) and bone scans are also necessary. "Patients who have developed a deformity or weakness will need surgical treatment for correction of the deformity. Surgery for tuberculosis of spine is complex and carries the risk of complications," said Dr Bijjawara.

"Now, we have very effective drugs against tuberculosis and the disease can be completely cured with early detection and prompt appropriate treatment," he added.

Mar 24
World Tuberculosis Day 2011
World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, which falls on March 24 every year, aims to raise public awareness about tuberculosis, a preventable disease. Tuberculosis is still an epidemic in many regions of the world, annihilating the lives of many millions of people each year. Each year, over nine million people around the world get infected with TB and almost two million TB related deaths are recorded worldwide. The actual figures must be far larger than this.

For World TB Day 2011, we enter the second year of a two-year campaign - "On the move against tuberculosis". The campaign aims to inspire innovation in TB research and care. The 2011 World TB Day campaign is focused on individuals around the world who have found new ways to stop TB and can serve as an inspiration to others. The basic idea is to recognise people who have introduced a variety of innovations in a variety of settings. The objectives of TB day are listed below:-

* Research aimed at developing new diagnostics, drugs or vaccines
* Operational research, aimed at making TB care more effective and efficient
* New approaches to helping people gain access to TB diagnosis and treatment
* Novel partnerships between actors in the fight against TB
* Advances in integrating TB care into health systems
* New approaches to providing support from members of the community to people affected by TB
* Innovative ways of raising awareness about TB.


According to World Health Organization (WHO), here are some interesting facts about tuberculosis.

Fact 1 - Tuberculosis is contagious and spreads through air. If not treated, each person with active TB can infect on average 10 to 15 people a year.

Fact 2 - More than two billion people, equal to one third of the world's total population, are infected with TB bacilli, the microbes that cause TB. One in every 10 of those people will become sick with active TB in his or her lifetime. People living with HIV are at a much higher risk.

Fact 3 - A total of 1.7 million people died from TB in 2009 (including 3, 80,000 people with HIV), equal to about 4,700 deaths a day. TB is a disease of poverty, affecting mostly young adults in their most productive years. The vast majority of TB deaths are in the developing world, with more than half occurring in Asia.

Fact 4 - TB is a leading killer among people living with HIV, who have weakened immune systems.

Fact 5 - There were 9.4 million new TB cases in 2009, of which 80% were in just 22 countries. Per capita, the global TB incidence rate is falling, but the rate of decline is very slow - less than 1%.

Fact 6 - TB is a worldwide pandemic. Among the 15 countries with the highest estimated TB incidence rates, 13 are in Africa, while a third of all new cases are in India and China.

Fact 7 - Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a form of TB that does not respond to the standard treatments using first-line drugs. MDR-TB is present in virtually all countries surveyed by WHO and its partners.

Fact 8 - There were an estimated 4, 40,000 new MDR-TB cases in 2008 with three countries accounting for over 50% of all cases globally - China, India and the Russian Federation. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) occurs when resistance to second-line drugs develops. It is extremely difficult to treat and cases have been confirmed in more than 58 countries.

Fact 9 - The world is on track to achieve two TB targets set for 2015:

* Millennium Development Goal, which aims to halt and reverse global incidence (in comparison with 1990); and
* Stop TB Partnership target of halving deaths from TB (also in comparison with 1990).


Fact 10 - Forty one million TB patients have been successfully treated in DOTS programmes and up to 6 million lives saved since 1995, 5 million more lives could be saved between now and 2015 by fully funding and implementing The Global Plan to Stop TB 2011-2015.

Mar 23
Diabetes alert, a decade before symptoms appear
A blood test developed by a scientist reveals whether you are at risk of diabetes 10 years before symptoms show up.

By measuring levels of five markers in the blood, doctors are able to predict the onset of type 2 diabetes, which already affects more than 220 million people worldwide.

The test could act as an early warning for those most at risk - giving them time to improve their diet or change their lifestyles, the journal Nature Medicine reports.

Thomas Wang, who developed the test at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the US, said: `These findings could provide insight into metabolic pathways that are altered very early in the process leading to diabetes,` the Daily Mail said.

All you need to know about Type 1 diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin - the hormone that controls blood sugar - or when its insulin does not work properly.

Wang and colleagues looked at blood samples from 189 diabetics before they developed symptoms of the disease and compared them to blood from 189 healthy people.

After measuring levels of 61 metabolites, by-products of metabolism, they discovered five amino acids that were higher in the people who developed diabetes.

Mar 22
Counting cancer cells to improve treatment
Counting the number of cancer cells circulating in a patient's blood could help determine how aggressive a cancer is and predict the best treatment to use, say British scientists.

Researchers working with the charity Cancer Research UK report their latest findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can slow the growth and spread of lung tumours, but in most patients the cancer returns and is also generally more resistant to treatment.

Dr Fiona Blackhall, of The Christie cancer hospital in Manchester, and colleagues note there are no tests available that provide early warning about resistance, but they hope their findings might change that.

The team looked at the number of circulating tumour cells, or CTCs, in blood samples of 101 patients with a type of the disease called non small-cell lung cancer before and after they had undergone one cycle of chemotherapy.

They found lung cancer patients with five or more CTCs per 7.5 millilitres of blood had significantly worse survival rates - on average they survived 4.3 months compared to 8.1 months in the case of patients with a lower level of the CTCs.

The findings suggest that counting CTCs could be a simple way to monitor how well a patient is responding to treatment within a few weeks of starting it, say the researchers.

And being able to detect when CTC numbers are rising could give doctors the option to move patients on to new potentially more effective treatments more promptly.

"We now need to test our findings in more patients but, if our results are confirmed, there is now the potential to tailor treatments to individual patients and find new ways to treat the disease," says Dr Fiona Blackhall, a doctor from The Christie cancer hospital in Manchester who worked on the study.
Broader relevance

An Australian expert in cancer control and prevention, Professor Rodney Scott, welcomes the study.

"It's certainly a step in the right direction," says Scott, Head of Medical Genetics at the University of Newcastle.

He says apart from non small-cell lung cancer, which is one of the more common forms of lung cancer, the findings have relevance to other cancers, including breast, bowel and prostate cancers, which represent the majority of diagnosed malignancies.

Scott says researchers commonly believe that the failure of cancer drugs, and the development of metastatic disease, is caused by CTCs, specifically, circulating stem cell tumour cells.

He says that Blackhall and colleagues measured CTCs in general as a surrogate for circulating stem cell tumour cells.

"These are the ones that you really want to get rid of because these are the ones that can lodge in sites and start propagating in those distant sites," says Scott.

Researchers also hope to use gene sequencing tools to study CTCs before and after treatment to learn more about the process that leads to drug resistance, and ultimately to develop new drugs.

Scott says ideally it would be possible to analyse CTCs before the first line of treatment is even given.

"Because you want to give [the patients] the right treatment first time and not put them through something that is going to be less than optimal," he says. "So that's the holy grail."

Lung cancer kills 1.2 million people a year around the world and is one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer because over two-thirds of patients are diagnosed at a late stage when curative treatment is not possible.

More than 80 per cent of lung cancers are caused by smoking, and less than 15 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease survive longer than five years, according to the World Health Organization.

Mar 21
LED Therapy to Treat Brain Injury
The lives of patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who require assisted living can be improved with the help of self-administered light therapy. This study was carried out by Dr. Margaret Naeser from Boston University School of Medicine and colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.


With daily use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) on the scalp and forehead, improvement was noticed in the cognitive functioning and it also showed reduction in the post-traumatic stress disorder among patients with brain injury. The phototherapy technique delivers red and near-infrared light energy to improve cellular metabolism which offers physiological benefits.

Scientists studied two individuals with TBI. After light therapy, patients showed improved focus, attention, memory and inhibition. One of the participants even returned back to work. This research is significant, taking into consideration the increasing number of non-fatal traumatic wounds and the rise in the prevalence of dementia and other degenerative disorders among the older population.

This research has been published in the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery.