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Aug 30
Human trials of Ebola vaccine to start next week
The US government announced Thursday that it will start initial human trials of Ebola vaccine next week.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said in a statement that the phase one clinical trial will determine if a vaccine, co-developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), is safe and induces an adequate immune response, Xinhua reported.

Testing will take place at the NIH`s clinical center in Bethesda, Maryland state, with 20 healthy adults aged 18 to 50 years receiving an intramuscular injection of the vaccine, it said.

Parallelly, the NIH and a British consortium, including the Wellcome Trust, will test the NIAID/GSK vaccine among healthy volunteers in Britain and in the West African countries of Gambia and Mali, the agency said.

The US government is also discussing a trial of the vaccine in Nigeria, Africa`s most populous country.

"There is an urgent need for a protective Ebola vaccine, and it is important to establish that a vaccine is safe and spurs the immune system to react in a way necessary to protect against infection," NIAID director Anthony Fauci said in a press release.

GSK said in a statement that the British consortium that also involved the British government has pledged some $4.6 million for the phase one trials, which are expected to be completed by the end of 2014.According to the World Health Organisation, at least 1,552 suspected and confirmed deaths from Ebola infection have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone since the outbreak of the deadly virus was first reported in March 2014.

Aug 29
'Good' cholesterol can help treat pulmonary hypertension
For those suffering from pulmonary hypertension, a serious lung disease that narrows the small blood vessels in the lungs, here's some good news. A new study demonstrates that protein in "good" cholesterol may treat the affliction.

In lab tests on rodents, researchers showed that a part of the main protein in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) - "good" cholesterol - may help reduce the production of oxidized lipids in pulmonary hypertension. They also found that reducing the amount of oxidized lipids improved the rodents' heart and lung functions.

"HDL cholesterol can help reduce oxidised lipids that might provide a new target for treatment development," said Dr Mansoureh Eghbali, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles.

A rare progressive condition, pulmonary hypertension can affect people of all ages.

The disease makes it harder for the heart to pump blood through these vital organs which can lead to heart failure, said the study appearing online in the journal Circulation.

Aug 28
Toilets key to improving child health in India
Building toilets and reducing open defecation is the key to significant health benefits for young children in India, a promising study by an Indian-origin researcher shows.

A team of researchers led by Sumeet Patil from School of Public Health, University of California at Berkeley, and the Network for Engineering, Economics Research and Management in Mumbai conducted a randomised trial in 80 rural villages in Madhya Pradesh.

The idea was to measure the effect of India's total sanitation campaign - an initiative to increase access to improved sanitation throughout rural India - on household latrine availability, defecation behaviours and child health.

A total of 5,209 children aged under five years and 3,039 households were involved in the study.

"We found that the campaign intervention increased the percentage of households in villages with improved sanitation facilities by an average of 19 percent," Patil said.

In the intervention villages, an average of 41 percent of households had improved latrines compared to 22 percent of households in the control villages.

The intervention also decreased the proportion of adults who self-reported the practice of open defecation from 84 percent to 73 percent.

"However, the intervention did not improve child health as measured on the basis of multiple health outcomes, including growth, prevalence of gastrointestinal illnesses and anemia," Patil emphasised.

"Despite the limitations of the present study, the results underscore the challenge of achieving large levels of improvements in sanitation to deliver the expected health benefits within the rural sanitation programme," he said.

According to Clarissa Brocklehurst from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, "If generations of children are to be saved from stunted growth and ill-health that poor sanitation causes, then addressing sanitation must be one of India's highest priorities".

The study appeared in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Aug 27
WHO urges stiff regulatory curbs on e-cigarettes
The World Health Organization (WHO) called for stiff regulation of electronic cigarettes as well as bans on indoor use, advertising and sales to minors, in the latest bid to control the booming new market.

In a long-awaited report that will be debated by member states at a meeting in October in Moscow, the United Nations health agency on Tuesday also voiced concern about the concentration of the $3 billion market in the hands of big tobacco companies.

"In a nutshell, the WHO report shows that e-cigarettes and similar devices pose threats to public health," Douglas Bettcher, director of the agency`s department on non-communicable diseases, told a news briefing in Geneva.

The uptake of e-cigarettes, which use battery-powered cartridges to produce a nicotine-laced vapour, has rocketed in the past two years, but there is fierce debate about the risks.

Because they are so new, there is a lack of long-term scientific evidence to support their safety, and some fear they could lead to nicotine addiction and tobacco smoking.

"We must emphasise that the onus of responsibility for showing safety, for answering many of these questions, must be on the companies and the industries owning them," Bettcher said.

"The reports finds, at this point in time anyway, that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes help users to quit smoking or not. The jury is still out," he said.

The European Union has already agreed to requirements around advertising and packaging to ensure the safety and quality of e-cigarettes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning sales to anyone under 18 but no curbs on advertising.

Activists welcomed the WHO recommendations.

"As Big Tobacco corners the e-cigarette market, it is using e-cigarettes as a global PR scheme to gloss over its tarnished image, positioning itself as a `solution` to the problem it drives. In reality, the e-cigarette industry is taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum to employ the Big Tobacco playbook to hook a new generation on its products," said John Stewart of the U.S.-based group Corporate Accountability International.

REGULATORY OPTIONS

The WHO launched a public health campaign against tobacco a decade ago. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which entered into force in 2005, has been ratified by 179 states, although not the United States.

There are 466 brands of e-cigarettes, and the industry represents "an evolving frontier filled with promise and threat for tobacco control", the WHO said in the report.

It urged a range of regulatory options including banning vending machines in most locations and preventing e-cigarette makers from making health claims, such as that they help people quit smoking, until there is hard evidence.

Smokers should use a combination of already approved treatments for kicking the habit, it said.

While e-cigarettes are likely to be less toxic than conventional ones, the WHO dismissed the idea that e-cigarettes merely produced "water vapour", arguing they exposed bystanders and non-smokers to nicotine and other toxic substances.

Dr. Armando Peruga, of the WHO`s Tobacco Free Initiative, said the contents of e-cigarettes vary but that the aerosol expelled by their users contains nicotine, which is known to alter brain development, and other toxins.

"There are brands for example that contain formaldehyde, which is a cancer-causing element, at the same level as some cigarettes," Peruga told reporters.

"Depending on the brand, some studies have found that they contain heavy metals, for example cadmium which is completely a cancer-causing agent," Peruga said. Others have been found to contain nickel or acrolein, a respiratory irritant, he said.

Their use also posed a threat to adolescents and the foetuses of pregnant women, the WHO said.

BACON TO BUBBLE GUM

One concern is that e-cigarettes may tempt children, and the report called for a ban on flavours until there was proof they did not attract adolescents. E-cigarettes can be customised with flavours ranging from bacon to bubble gum.

Scientists are divided on the risks and potential benefits of e-cigarettes.

One group of researchers warned the WHO in May not to classify them as tobacco products, arguing that doing so would jeopardise an opportunity to slash disease and deaths caused by smoking.

Opposing experts argued a month later that the WHO should hold firm to its plan for strict regulations.

Major tobacco companies including Imperial Tobacco, Altria Group, Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are increasingly launching their own e-cigarette brands as sales of conventional products stall in Western markets.

Two major national producers, China Tobacco and Indian Tobacco Company, have recently become producers, Bettcher said.

A Wells Fargo analyst report in July projected that U.S. sales of e-cigarettes would outpace conventional ones by 2020.

A BAT spokesman said overly restrictive regulations could prevent smokers from being aware of a less risky alternative to smoking, and "this can only be bad thing for public health".

Aug 27
Yellow pigment in eye may aid vision through haze
Individuals with greater amounts of yellow pigment in the eye may be better able to see distant objects in hazy conditions, scientists have found.

Increased macular pigment (MP) may help in filtering out 'blue haze', thus making distant objects more visible, according to a study by Laura M Fletcher and colleagues at University of Georgia, Athens.

The researchers tested the effects of MP on the ability to see distant objects through "atmospheric scattering," or haze.

"All human eyes, and many animal eyes, contain an inert yellow pigment that is reported to be both protective and also slightly enhance vision, particularly in short wavelength (blue light) settings," said Anthony Adams, Editor-in-Chief of Optometry and Vision Science, the journal in which the study was published.

The researchers designed an experiment to simulate hazy conditions to see if individuals with higher levels of MP can better see distant targets.

Laboratory studies were performed using xenon light, paired with a specialised glass filter, to closely approximate the effects of atmospheric haze. The subjects varied widely in the density of MP present in the eye.

At increasing levels of simulated blue haze background, the visibility of distant objects decreased significantly.

However, individuals with higher levels of MP required more stimulated haze before they could no longer see the distant target.

For subjects with the highest versus lowest levels of MP, there was about a twofold difference in the amount of haze required to lose sight of the distant object.

"An individual with high MP optical density would be able to detect a target at a much greater distance (ie, more atmospheric haze between them and the target) than an individual with lower MP optical density," researchers said.

The presence of yellow pigment in the macula represents accumulations of the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin. By filtering out short-wave light, MP may protect long-term damage to the eye.

The new findings support the "visibility hypothesis" of MP accumulation: by absorbing atmospheric haze, which is predominantly short-wavelength light, the presence of MP may extend visual range outdoors, researchers said.

Aug 26
Scientists get closer to create painkillers from yeast instead of poppies
Scientists have come closer in creating palliative medicines using yeast cells instead of poppy plants.

For centuries, poppy plants had been grown to provide opium, the compound from which morphine and other important medicines such as oxycodone are derived, but now bioengineers at Stanford have hacked the DNA of yeast, reprograming these simple cells to make opioid-based medicines via a sophisticated extension of the basic brewing process that makes beer.

The Stanford team had spent a decade genetically engineering yeast cells to reproduce the biochemistry of poppies, and in the new report, they detail how added five genes from two different organisms to yeast cells. Three of these genes came from the poppy itself, and the others from a bacterium that lives on poppy plant stalks.

Morphine is one of three principal pain killers derived from opium. As a class they are called opiates. The other two important opiates are codeine, which has been used as a cough remedy, and thebaine, which is further refined by chemical processes to create higher-value therapeutics such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, better known by brand names such as OxyContin and Vicodin, respectively.

Led by Christina Smolke, the team carefully reprogrammed the yeast genome; the master instruction set that tells every organism how to live, to behave like a poppy when it comes to making opiates.

The process involved more than simply adding new genes into yeast. Opioid molecules are complex three-dimensional objects. In nature they are made in specific regions inside the poppy.

Since yeast cells do not have these complex structures and tissues, the Stanford team had to recreate the equivalent of poppy-like 'chemical neighborhoods' inside their bioengineered yeast cells.It took about 17 separate chemical steps to make the opioid compounds used in pills. Some of these steps occurred naturally in poppies and the remaining via synthetic chemical processes in factories.

The study is published in Nature Chemical Biology.

Aug 26
Brain area that can be 'trained' to improve multitasking skills identified
Researchers have identified the area of brain that is involved in multitasking and how people can train it to be better at the skill.

The findings by the IUGM Institut universitaire de geriatrie de Montreal and the University of Montreal are important because they might help scientists develop better targeted cognitive stimulation programs or improve existing training programs.

Sylvie Belleville said that the work showed that there was also an association between the type of cognitive training performed and the resulting effect. This would be true for healthy seniors who want to improve their attention or memory and is particularly important for patients who suffer from damage in specific areas of the brain.

She further added that they have a long road ahead and they don't know for sure if that would indeed be a desirable outcome, however, the findings could be used right away to improve the daily lives of aging adults as well as people who suffer from brain damage.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate the impact of this training on various types of attention tasks and on brain function. The team showed that training on plasticity and attention control helped the participants develop their ability to multitask. However, performing two tasks simultaneously was not what improved this skill.

The researchers used this data to create a predictive model of the effects of cognitive training on the brain based on the subjects' characteristics.

Two papers are published in AGE and PLOS ONE.

Aug 25
'Halo-like- device' could soon effectively treat strokes
Scientists have developed a new device that fits on the head like a halo and delivers therapy to quickly bust clots that cause stroke.

According to researchers at University of Arkansas, The ClotBust ER, which is developed by William Culp and Doug Wilson, could soon be available to treat stroke more effectively.

The device has 16 transducers scattered around the inside - designed to line up with the thin points in the skull: the temples and the foramen magnum in the base of the skull, which allows the ultrasound waves to move through the brain without interruption. After the patient is administered an IV containing t-PA, the circular device is placed onto the patient's head like a sports visor or halo.

Culp said that the idea is to deliver ultrasound wherever the clot is and where the IV t-PA is working, and it makes t-PA work better - improving the clot-busting drug by 40 or 50 percent. It's like taking a cooking pot and stirring it. The ultrasound stirs the drug around, making it work better.

Now in a Phase Three human trial, the ClotBust ER has been tested in more than 300 patients. None of the results have come back with significant adverse effects. Since the trial periods began, 66 other university sites have signed up to be included in the testing. The device will also soon be available at some sites of the statewide stroke network called AR SAVES while it is in trial.

Aug 25
Genes may influence hangover chances
Know why you get a hangover after a night of drinking while some of your friends do not? Blame it on your genes.

According to new research from University of Missouri-Columbia, genetic factors accounted for 45 percent of the difference in hangover frequency in women and 40 percent in men.

People who are less susceptible to having a hangover might have a greater risk for alcohol addiction, the study noted.

To reach this conclusion, the team looked for links between the participants' genetic makeup and the number of hangovers the individuals reported experiencing in the past year.

Nearly 4,000 middle-aged people from the Australian Twin Registry participated in a telephonic survey, reporting their experiences with hangovers and alcohol consumption.

The findings suggest that people who frequently consume alcohol should observe the way their bodies react to it.

"There is a strong correlation between identical twins in reports of hangover frequency as well as hangover resistance, meaning that the genetic similarities of some twins played a part in their hangover susceptibility," researchers noted.

Aug 23
Lasers may soon make painful pin pricks history for diabetics
Researchers have a developed a new laser device that could allow diabetic patients to check their blood sugar level without pricking themselves to draw blood.

The researchers from Princeton University described that they measured blood sugar by directing their specialized laser at a person's palm. The laser passes through the skin cells, without causing damage, and was partially absorbed by the sugar molecules in the patient's body. The researchers use the amount of absorption to measure the level of blood sugar.

Sabbir Liakat, said that the glucose monitors are required to produce a blood-sugar reading within 20 percent of the patient's actual level and even an early version of the system met that standard because the current version was 84 percent accurate.

The key to the system was the infrared laser's frequency. What our eyes perceive as color was created by light's frequency. Red would be the lowest frequency of light that humans normally can see, and infrared's frequency was below that level. Current medical devices often use the "near-infrared". This frequency was not blocked by water, so it can be used in the body. But it does interact with many acids and chemicals in the skin, so it makes it impractical to use for detecting blood sugar.

Mid-infrared light, however, was not as much affected by these other chemicals, so it works well for blood sugar. But mid-infrared light was difficult to harness with standard lasers. It also required relatively high power and stability to penetrate the skin and scatter off bodily fluid.

The researchers said their results indicated that the laser measurements readings produced average errors somewhat larger than the standard blood sugar monitors, but remained within the clinical requirement for accuracy.

The study is published in the journal Biomedical Optics Express.