Health Highlights: Aug. 7, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Procedure May Reduce Reliance on Anti-Rejection Drugs

A procedure that may limit transplant patients' reliance on powerful anti-rejection drugs has been developed by German researchers. Anti-rejection drugs can cause side effects and may not prevent the slow rejection of the new organ over time.

The new procedure involves mixing a patient's infection-fighting white blood cells with cells from the organ donor, in order to create specialized transplant acceptance-inducing cells (TAICs), which are injected into the transplant patient, BBC News reported.

Tests on 17 kidney transplant patients yielded promising results. In the first stage of clinical trials, 12 patients who received kidneys from deceased donors were given TAICs in addition to traditional anti-rejection drugs. Ten of the patients were gradually taken off a mix of anti-rejection drugs, and six eventually took only a low dose of a single drug.

In the second stage, five patients who received kidneys from live donors received TAICs before their transplant. One patient went eight months without any anti-rejection drugs and three others were successfully taken down to single low-dose therapy, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Transplant International.

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Scientists Grow Rare Brain Cancer Cells

Canadian researchers who have cultivated cells from a rare and aggressive childhood brain cancer say this success may improve the chances of finding a treatment for atypical teratoid/rhaboid tumors (AT/RT). Until now, scientists hadn't been able to grow AT/RT cells in a petri dish.

"To do [drug] tests we need to have cancer cells in cultures. We take the cancer cells, add the targeted therapy [drug] agent and show whether it can kill or not kill," explained Dr. Aru Narendran, CBC News reported.

But, for an unknown reason, it had been impossible to grow AT/RT tumors outside the body. Narendran and colleagues were able to grow AT/RT cells by adding a small amount of brain fluid from an infant with the disease.

The University of Calgary researchers have already used cultivated AT/RT cells to test a drug that blocks a receptor that helps the tumor grow. The drug killed all the cancer cells, CBC News reported.

The findings were published in the Journal of Neuro-Oncology.

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Researchers Achieve Higher Cure Rate for Drug-Resistant TB

Aggressive drug treatment cured more than 60 percent of 48 patients in Peru with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) -- a success rate higher than that achieved in American and European hospitals. XDR-TB is resistant to the most effective drugs, CBC News reported.

Treatment of the patients in this study included a structured, comprehensive, community-based approach and aggressive use of TB drugs (an average of five or six medications per patient).

"It's essential that the world know that XDR-TB is not a death sentence. As or even more importantly, our study shows that effective treatment does not require hospitalization or indefinite confinement of patients," lead author Carole Mitnick, an instructor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a new release, CBC News reported.

The study appears in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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HIV Drug Abacavir Doesn't Increase Heart Attack Risk: Study

The HIV drug abacavir doesn't increase the risk of heart attack, according to an analysis of data from more than 14,600 patients in 54 clinical trials. The review was conducted by drug maker GlaxoSmithKline after a previous analysis suggested a potential association between highly active retroviral therapy (HAART) regimens containing abacavir and increased risk of heart attack.

The new analysis from GSK, the drug's manufacturer, included 9,639 patients on abacavir-containing HAART and 5,044 patients on non-abacavir HAART. Overall, there were fewer than 30 heart attacks in both groups and no increased risk of heart attack was observed in the abacavir group, according to a GSK news release.

The frequency of heart attacks was 1.1 per 1,000 people in the abacavir group and 1.4 per 1,000 in the non-abacavir group. The frequency of coronary artery disorders was 2.5 per 1,000 people in the abacavir group and 4 per 1,000 in the non-abacavir group.

The results were presented Wednesday at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.

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Enzyme Overproduction May Cause Endometriosis

Overproduction of an enzyme called telomerase may be a cause of the painful womb condition endometriosis, say researchers at the University of Liverpool in the U.K.

Telomerase plays a role in cell division. In endometriosis, patches of the womb's inner lining grow into other parts of the body. The researchers said their findings may lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the condition, BBC News reported.

Normally, cells in the inner lining of the womb begin producing telomerase at the start of a woman's menstrual cycle, with production of the enzyme slowing at the end of the cycle.

"Women who have endometriosis express this enzyme in both the early and late stages of the menstrual cycle, which means that the cells will continue to divide and lose their 'focus' in supporting the establishment of a pregnancy," said lead researcher Dr. Dharani Hapangama, BBC News reported. "As a result, the lining of the womb may be more hostile to an early pregnancy, and the cells that are shed at this late stage in the menstrual cycle may be more 'aggressive' and more able to survive and implant outside the uterus, causing pain in the pelvic or abdomen area."

The study appears in the journal Human Reproduction.

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New Parkinson's Test Shows Promise

A minimally invasive method of diagnosing Parkinson's disease shows promise, according to American and Canadian researchers. Currently, there is no definitive laboratory diagnosis for the condition.

The researchers used spectroscopy to develop a metabolic profile (chemical signatures) of biological markers for Parkinson's. They tested their method in a study that included 52 patients with mild or moderate Parkinson's and 32 age-matched volunteers in a control group, United Press International reported.

Blood samples from all participants were analyzed using near-infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy methods. The two methods yielded similar and consistent results.

In differentiating the Parkinson's patients from control group volunteers, Raman spectroscopy achieved a sensitivity of 74 percent and a specificity of 72 percent, with eight false positives and four false negatives, the study found. Near-infrared spectroscopy achieved a sensitivity of 74 percent and a specificity of 76 percent, with four false positives and five false negatives, UPI reported.

The study appears in the journal Biomarkers in Medicine.

Posted: August 2008


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