World's first medical networking and resource portal

News & Highlights
Please make use of the search function to browse preferred content
Medical News & Updates
Dec 25
Excessive protein synthesis in brain linked to autistic-like behaviours
In a study of laboratory mice, a team of researchers has found that autistic-like behaviours can be partially remedied by normalizing excessive levels of protein synthesis in the brain.

The findings provide a pathway to the creation of pharmaceuticals aimed at treating autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that are associated with diminished social interaction skills, impaired communication ability, and repetitive behaviours.

"The creation of a drug to address ASD will be difficult, but these findings offer a potential route to get there," said Eric Klann, a professor at NYU's Center for Neural Science and the study's senior author.

"We have not only confirmed a common link for several such disorders, but also have raised the exciting possibility that the behavioral afflictions of those individuals with ASD can be addressed," he stated.

The study's other co-authors included researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and three French institutions: Aix-Marseille Universite'; Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (INSERM); and Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

The researchers focused on the EIF4E gene, whose mutation is associated with autism. The mutation causing autism was proposed to increase levels of the eIF4E, the protein product of EIF4E, and lead to exaggerated protein synthesis. Excessive eIF4E signaling and exaggerated protein synthesis also may play a role in a range of neurological disorders, including fragile X syndrome (FXS).

In their experiments, the researchers examined mice with increased levels of eIF4E. They found that these mice had exaggerated levels of protein synthesis in the brain and exhibited behaviors similar to those found in autistic individuals-repetitive behaviors, such as repeatedly burying marbles, diminished social interaction (the study monitored interactions with other mice), and behavioral inflexibility (the afflicted mice were unable to navigate mazes that had been slightly altered from ones they had previously solved).

The researchers also found altered communication between neurons in brain regions linked to the abnormal behaviors.

To remedy to these autistic-like behaviors, the researchers then tested a drug, 4EGI-1, which diminishes protein synthesis induced by the increased levels of eIF4E. Through this drug, they hypothesized that they could return the afflicted mice's protein production to normal levels, and, with it, reverse autistic-like behaviors.

The subsequent experiments confirmed their hypotheses. The mice were less likely to engage in repetitive behaviors, more likely to interact with other mice, and were successful in navigating mazes that differed from those they previously solved, thereby showing enhanced behavioral flexibility.
Additional investigation revealed that these changes were likely due to a reduction in protein production-the levels of newly synthesized proteins in the brains of these mice were similar to those of normal mice.

The findings appeared in the latest issue of Nature.

Dec 25
Too much 'sugary and fatty' food can weaken your bones
High-fat, high-sugar foods not only cause obesity and promote heart disease, but they can also contribute to conditions like osteoporosis by weakening bones, according to researchers.

If this trend continues, this overlooked 'silent robber' will begin to cripple large numbers of at-risk baby boomers, said researchers at the University of Michigan and the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute.

While this high-fat, high-sugar diet trend and the subsequent risk of osteoporosis are climbing frighteningly fast, there's hope, said Ron Zernicke, dean of U-M's School of Kinesiology and a professor of orthopedic surgery and biomedical engineering.

The medical community and the public can reverse this trend by confronting the problem head-on and immediately, through diet, exercise and, in some cases, medication.

Today, about a quarter of America's two-to-five-year-olds and a third of its school-age children, including adolescents, are obese or overweight.

"Boomers themselves the oldest now 66 have reached the stage in life when they're most susceptible to bone and joint disorders," Zernicke said.

Consider these sobering statistics: the U.S. surgeon general forecasts that by 2020, half of Americans over 50 will develop or be at risk for osteoporosis of the hip. This is particularly bad news for women, who develop osteoporosis at two-to-three times the rate of men.

"One in three women will break a hip due to osteoporosis by age of 85, and about 20 percent will die within a year of the fracture. Right now, roughly 12 million Americans over 50 have osteoporosis," said Cy Frank, executive director of the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute and an orthopedic surgeon practicing in Calgary.

Sugar and fat weaken the bones in two ways. First, diets high in saturated fats and sugar block calcium absorption. Instead, calcium needed for healthy bones washes through the body in our urine. Second, saturated fats tend to form insoluble 'soaps,' which coat the intestines and can block necessary calcium from bones. Again, calcium passes through the body unused.

The result? Excessive junk food layers fat onto a weakened skeleton that struggles to support the extra weight, Zernicke said.

Osteoporosis, the so-called 'silent thief' because it shows no symptoms, robs bones of tissue and leaves thousands of tiny pores in the bones. Porous bones can break with little stress. Treating osteoporosis fractures costs approximately 18 billion dollars a year a cost experts predict will double by 2025.

Diet and exercise are primary preventions against osteoporosis, Frank said. A growing child near puberty rapidly lays down new bone. Healthy foods and physical activity optimize bone growth and accumulation, which lowers the likelihood of osteoporosis fractures later in life.

Again, healthy diet, exercise and medication to slow bone loss, if necessary, can reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis fractures. A healthy, balanced diet includes vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and limits saturated fats, salt and sugar.
But prevention goes beyond diet and exercise. It's critical to manage the environment that influences food choices. Eliminating junk food from places charged with promoting healthy lifestyles schools, recreational centers, hospitals would also help.

Dec 24
New drug aims to make several types of cancer self-destruct
Three pharmaceutical companies are poised to test whether new drugs can work against a wide range of cancers independently of where they originated - breast, prostate, liver, lung for the first time ever.

The drugs go after an aberration involving a cancer gene fundamental to tumour growth, the New York Times reported.

Many scientists see this as the beginning of a new genetic age in cancer research.

Even though great uncertainties remain, such drugs could mean new treatments for rare, neglected cancers, as well as common ones.

Merck, Roche and Sanofi are racing to develop their own versions of a drug they hope will restore a mechanism that normally makes badly damaged cells self-destruct and could potentially be used against half of all cancers.

Researchers and federal regulators say that no pharmaceutical company has ever conducted a major clinical trial of a drug in patients who have many different kinds of cancer.

Experts say that this has major implications for cancer philanthropy.

Advocacy groups should shift from fund-raising for particular cancers to pushing for research aimed at many kinds of cancer at once, Dr. Brawley said.

At the heart of this search for new cancer drugs are patients like Joe Bellino, who was a post office clerk until his cancer made him too sick to work. Seven years ago, he went into the hospital for hernia surgery, only to learn he had liposarcoma, a rare cancer of fat cells.

A large tumour was wrapped around a cord that connects the testicle to the abdomen.

Companies have long ignored liposarcoma, seeing no market for drugs to treat a cancer that strikes so few. But it is ideal for testing Sanofi's drug because the tumours nearly always have the exact genetic problem the drug was meant to attack - a fusion of two large proteins.

If the drug works, it should bring these raging cancers to a halt. Then Sanofi would test the drug on a broad range of cancers with a similar genetic alteration. But if the drug fails against liposarcoma, Sanofi will reluctantly admit defeat.

The genetic alteration the drug targets, has tantalized researchers for decades. Normal healthy cells have a mechanism that tells them to die if their DNA is too badly damaged to repair.
Cancer cells have grotesquely damaged DNA, so ordinarily they would self-destruct. A protein known as p53 that Dr. Gary Gilliland of Merck calls the cell's angel of death normally sets things in motion.

But cancer cells disable p53, either directly, with a mutation, or indirectly, by attaching the p53 protein to another cellular protein that blocks it. The dream of cancer researchers has long been to reanimate p53 in cancer cells so they will die on their own.

Dec 24
For that winter skin glow: keep it hydrated, moisturised
Fed up of dull, dry and flaky skin this winter? Give your skin that extra care by keeping it hydrated from within and moisturised from outside, suggest experts.

"The winter season can be brutal on your skin. Cold temperatures often mean low humidity, and that dries out the skin. Dry skin looks dull and lacks lustre. The mainstay of winters is to hydrate the skin and replenish the lost moisture," Mumbai-based cosmetologist Jamuna Pai told IANS.

Hydration is important as it makes for a healthy functioning of the system and gives a boost to youthful-looking skin.

"Skin can be hydrated in two ways - internally by drinking an adequate amount of water and taking oil supplements, and externally, by using products that hydrate and moisturise," added Pai.

R.S. Mishra, consultant of dermatology at capital-based Moolchand Medcity, insists people must follow the three-step skincare formula of cleansing, toning and moisturising.

"This daily skin care routine is very important. Cleanser should be chosen according to skin type. Toning with non-alcohol based toner is essential, and the moisturiser should also be chosen according to skin type. Moisturisers containing honey and cocoa butter are good for skin (in winter)," Mishra told IANS.

"If the skin is oily, lotion-based moisturisers can be used. And if the skin is dry, cream-based moisturisers should be used. It is a myth that oily skin should not be moisturised because if skin is not moisturised, oil glands start producing more oil," added Mishra.

Tanning can also be an issue during the winter season as people tend to step out to soak in the sunshine.

Keep a good sunscreen handy, advises Sangeeta Amladi, head of medical services at the Kaya Skin Clinic.

"Do not forget to apply sunscreen daily, when you are exposed to the sun. Sunglasses are also a must," said Amladi.

She has other winter skincare tips too.

"For instant brightening, one should use a Vitamin C facial, or else try an instant hydrating mask. For lips, use a balm that has moisturising features and SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15.

"Avoid antibacterial soaps, alcohol-based toners, wipes or colognes. Avoid stepping into the hot and strong sun as it evaporates the trans-epidermal water and makes skin dry. Also avoid stepping out in extremely cool and windy weather," she addd.

Pai adds consumption of right nutrients is also key for healthy skin.

"Due attention should be paid to consuming supplements of vitamins A, C and E, and minerals such as selenium and zinc. They have antioxidant properties, which repair the skin and promote skin healing.

"Essential fatty acids also have a beneficial effect on skin as they help combat moisture loss that would otherwise cause dryness, fine lines, and wrinkles," she said.

Dec 22
Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy tied to lower birth weight
Pregnant mothers with vitamin D deficiency may have babies with lower birth weight, according to a recent study.

Mothers' vitamin D levels at a gestation of 26 weeks or less were positively related to birth weight and head circumference, and, in the first trimester were negatively associated with risk of a baby being born small for gestational age, the study found.

The major source of vitamin D for children and adults is exposure to natural sunlight. Very few foods naturally contain or are fortified with vitamin D.

Thus, the major cause of vitamin D deficiency is inadequate exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency can result in abnormalities in calcium, phosphorus, and bone metabolism, and there has been recent interest in understanding the role of vitamin D in other health conditions.

Previous studies have shown inconsistent associations between maternal vitamin D status and fetal size.

"We found that a mother's vitamin D level, in the first or second trimester of pregnancy, was related to the normal growth of babies who delivered at term," said Alison Gernand, PhD, MPH, RD of the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study.

"If a mother was vitamin D deficient, the birth weight of her baby was 46 g lower after accounting for other characteristics of the mom. Also if moms were vitamin D deficient in the first trimester, they had twice the risk of delivering a baby that suffered from growth restriction during the pregnancy," she stated.
In this study, researchers examined 2146 women delivering term, live births with vitamin D levels measured at a gestation of 26 weeks or less. Birth weight was measured just after birth and infant head circumference and placental weight were measured within 24 hours of birth.

"Our study is an important contribution to the epidemiologic evidence that maternal vitamin D status, especially in early pregnancy, may contribute to both pathological and physiological fetal growth," noted Lisa Bodnar, PhD, MPH, RD, of the University of Pittsburgh and senior author of the study.

"Randomized trials that supplement pregnant women with vitamin D are needed to test this finding," she added.

The study results have been accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Dec 22
How much pain you feel depends on your genes: Study
Endurance to pain may depend on your genes as scientists have found that genetic differences influence a person`s sensitivity to pain.

People who feel pain less intensely could have a particular set of genes that work together to regulate it, claims a study published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

The study led by King`s College London adds to growing evidence that particular genes are involved in chronic pain and highlights this pathway as a potential target for more effective pain relief treatments for patients.

The study used a new method to study and compare DNA, called `exome sequencing`, to identify genetic variations relating to pain sensitivity.

"Chronic pain is a significant personal and socio-economic burden, with nearly one in five people experiencing it at some time in their lives. Current pain treatments often have either limited efficacy or side effects for many, so the possibility of a new approach to pain relief is an exciting development," lead researcher Dr Frances Williams said.

It is known that people who are most sensitive to pain encountered in everyday life are more likely to go on to develop chronic pain. To identify sensitivity levels, researchers tested 2,500 volunteers using a heating probe on the arm.

Volunteers were asked to press a button when the heat became painful for them, which allowed the scientists to determine individuals` pain thresholds. Exome sequencing was then used to analyse the DNA of 200 of the most pain sensitive and 200 of the least pain sensitive people.

"The next generation of sequencing will make it possible to explore these rare variants and will lead to a wave of new discoveries in biomedical research." Xin Jin, project manager from BGI, said.

The results showed different patterns of genetic variants in each group ? the pain sensitive people had less variation in their DNA than those who were pain insensitive.
"This study demonstrates the value of collaborative efforts between academia and industry. The genetic influence on normal pain processing in human volunteer populations will add to other approaches and help us prioritise potential new mechanisms for treating pain," Ruth McKernan, Chief Scientific Officer of Pfizer`s Research Unit in Cambridge said.

Dec 21
Synthetic drug reverses serious liver damage
Scientists have developed a synthetic drug that can reverse fatty liver disease, a serious metabolic condition involving an abnormal build-up of fat in the liver, which damages the organ.

Fatty liver, which often accompanies obesity and type-2 diabetes, frequently leads to more serious conditions including cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to a 2003 study reported in GUT, the journal of gastroenterology and hepatology.

The compound known as SR9238 is the first to effectively suppress lipid or fat production in the liver, eliminating inflammation and reversing fat accumulation in animal models of fatty liver disease, the journal Chemical Biology reports.

Researchers from the Florida campus of the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) found the new compound also significantly lowered total cholesterol levels.

"We`ve been working on a pair of natural proteins called LXR alpha and LXR beta that stimulate fat production in the liver, and we thought our compound might be able to successfully suppress this process," said Thomas Burris, professor at TSRI, who led the study, according to a Scripps statement.

"Once the animals were put on the drug, we were able to reverse the disease after a single month with no adverse side effects while they ate a high-fat diet," added Burris.

Burris and his colleagues designed SR9238 so that it would be quickly metabolised in the liver to minimise migration of the drug into the bloodstream, which could lead to side effects.

In the study, mice were fed a high-fat diet for 14 weeks prior to treatment with SR9238. After one month of treatment, the scientists found that the liver`s fat-producing genes were repressed and fat expression in the liver was reduced up to 90 percent.

In addition, the scientists observed an 80 percent reduction of the enzyme responsible for producing cholesterol - the same enzyme targeted by medicines.
Markers for liver damage were down as well, which suggests the compound may also have the potential to treat alcohol-related fatty liver damage.

Dec 21
Small changes in diet help shed extra pounds: Study
Making small changes in our diet over a stretch of 25 days or more every month, goes a long way in helping shed the extra pounds, says a new study.

Led by Brian Wansink, professor at the Cornell University`s Food and Brand Lab, researchers launched the National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC), an online healthy eating and weight loss programme that focused on simple eating behaviour changes, instead of dieting.

NMEC participants, after answering questions about their eating goals, background and well-being, were sent three customized tips to follow for a month. All tips were founded on research and based on Wansink`s book "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think" (Bantam, 2006).

Participants could download a checklist to track their adherence to tips and receive email reminders to keep them on track. At the end of each month, they were expected to send in a follow-up survey, the Journal of Medical Internet Research reports.

Of the 504 participants who completed at least one follow-up survey, more than two-thirds either lost weight (42 percent) or maintained their weight (27 percent). Weight loss was highest among people who made changes consistently, according to a Cornell statement.

Those whose adherence was 25 or more days per month reported an average monthly weight loss of two pounds or roughly one kg, and those who stayed in the programme at least three months and completed at least two follow-up surveys lost on average one percent of their initial weight.
Common barriers that prevented people from making changes included personally unsuitable tips, forgetting, being too busy, unusual circumstances such as vacations and emotional eating, according to the study.

"These results confirm that small, consistent changes in our daily eating behaviour can result in gradual weight loss and in developing healthier eating habits," said Wansink, marketing professor at Cornell`s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Dec 20
Why you might have tummy troubles
The number of people suffering from stomach problems, be it tummy ache, bloating, wind or cramps, is on the rise, it has been revealed.

Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist at London's University College Hospital, blames "excess hygiene in childhood lowering gut immunity, stressful modern lifestyles, erratic eating patterns and our greater intake of processed food".

Better diagnostic methods and awareness of gut issues also mean more people are seeing their doctors to be diagnosed.

Many people with tummy troubles are careful with what they eat, yet find that the symptoms remain.

"I often see patients who are unwittingly making their tummy symptoms worse," Dr Emmanuel said.

Leading digestive experts have revealed how we could be unintentionally upsetting our gut.

Bran: Doctors often advise adding a handful of bran to cereals to help with constipation because bran is an insoluble fibre, meaning it fills the stomach up and stimulates the bowel. But bran can actually exacerbate some forms of constipation.

Potato: Jacket potatoes are often seen as a healthy option as they are low fat and a good source of vitamins B, B6 and C and fibre, while helping to fill us up, but often we add fillings like butter and mayonnaise, which is where trouble starts.

The same problem can happen with seemingly innocuous salads and sandwiches - fat in mayonnaise and salad cream can mean trouble for your tummy.

Honey: Just because it's natural, honey isn't always good for us.

"Honey can cause digestive issues," Dr Read said.

"It contains lots of fructose and this is not well absorbed in the gut, so can be fermented to gas and cause bloating. If you add honey to a bran cereal, you might be heading for stomach trouble," Read said.

Another sweetener that can cause bloating and IBS problems is sorbitol. This is a sugar substitute in many cough syrups, sugar-free mints, chewing gums, ice creams, diet foods and drinks.

Mild curries - many people will choose a korma or pasanda over a spicy curry in the belief that chilli irritates the gut - but the high fat content in the cream and ghee (an Indian butter) in mild curries is often what' causing the problem.

Onions "Onions contain poorly absorbed fermentable sugars, known as FODMAPs," Dr Read says.

"These are sugars that are incompletely absorbed in the small intestine but travel down to the large intestine or colon where they are fermented - releasing gas. For many people this will cause bloating," Read says.

If you think onions might affect you in this way, make sure they are thoroughly cooked - this makes them more digestible.

Seven a day we're all meant to be eating seven fruit and vegetables a day but this can affect many people with sensitive stomachs.

Coffee and chocolate a coffee and some chocolate is just the sort of end to a meal that can lead to stomach cramps, heartburn and bloating.

Coffee acts like a laxative, by increasing contraction in the small and large intestinal muscles. This can cause pre-digested food to move into the intestine, triggering stomach cramps.

It can also increase heartburn by relaxing the valve between the oesophagus and stomach. This can occur even with decaffeinated coffee.

Dec 20
Limit car use to cut down calories during X-mas
Curbing car travel could be one way of cutting down calories and maintaining a healthy weight during holiday fests, says a study.

The study, led by Sheldon H. Jacobson, computer science and mathematics professor at the University of Ilinois, suggests that both daily automobile travel and calories consumed are related to body weight.

Lowering either one, even by a fraction, reduces body mass index (BMI), a height to weight ratio.

"We`re saying that making small changes in travel or diet choices may lead to comparable obesity reduction, which implies that travel-based interventions may be as effective as dietary interventions," said graduate student and study co-author Banafsheh Behzad, the journal Preventive Medicine reports.

Obesity is a multi-dimensional problem with many social and medical factors, but maintaining body weight essentially is a result of energy consumed and energy expended, according to an Illinois statement.

"An easy way to be more physically active is to spend less time in an automobile. Any time a person sits behind the wheel of a car, it`s one of the most docile activities they can do in a day," Jacobson said.

"The automobile is the quickest mode of transportation we have. But a consequence of this need for speed in getting things done may be the obesity epidemic," added Jacobson.

Researchers found that if all adults in the US drove a mile less per day, the model predicted a decrease in the national average BMI after six years.

"One mile is really not much," Behzad said. "If they would just consider even taking the bus, walking the distance to the bus stop could have an impact like eating 100 calories less per day.

"The main thing is paying attention to caloric intake and moving more, together, can help reduce BMI."

Browse Archive