News & Current Affairs

September 29, 2008

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Pills

Statins are now very widely used by the NHS

Drugs given to heart patients to lower cholesterol may have an additional benefit – keeping their blood vessels feeling younger.

Advanced heart disease patients have arteries which have effectively aged faster than the rest of their bodies.

University of Cambridge scientists, writing in the journal Circulation Research, say statins may be able to hold back this process.

They hinted the same drugs might also prevent damage elsewhere in the body.

It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit
Professor Martin Bennett
Cambridge University

Statins are seen as a key tool in the fight against heart disease, and in low doses have been made available “over-the-counter” at pharmacies.

While it has been known for some time that they can lower cholesterol levels, this did not fully account for the benefits experienced by some patients, and evidence is growing that they can boost the function of the cells lining the heart arteries.

The Cambridge study adds to this evidence, and may shed light on how statins do this.

Cells in the body can only divide a limited number of times, and in patients with heart disease, the rate of division in these arterial cells is greatly accelerated – dividing between seven and 13 times more often than normal.

As the cells “run out of ” divisions, they can suffer DNA damage, and do not work as well.

One of the important roles of these cells is to keep the artery clear of fatty “plaques” which can expand and block them, causing angina or heart attack.

Cancer clue

The research found that statins appear to increase levels of a protein called NBS-1, which is involved in the repair of DNA within cells. This means they may be able to hold off the effects of old age in the artery wall for a little longer.

Professor Martin Bennett, who led the research, said: “It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit, slowing the ageing process of the diseased artery.

“If statins can do this to other cells, they may protect normal tissues from DNA damage that occurs as part of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer, potentially reducing the side-effects.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation’s medical director, added: “Too much cholesterol in the blood induces a repeated cycle of damage and repair in the blood vessel wall which results in a heart attack if the repair mechanism is inadequate.

“Statins protect against heart attacks by reducing cholesterol levels and subsequent damage to the vessel wall – this research has shown they may also enhance the blood vessels’ natural repair mechanisms.”

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September 18, 2008

Antibiotic ‘cerebral palsy link’

Antibiotic ‘cerebral palsy link’

cerebral palsy

Antibiotics appeared to treble the risk of cerebral palsy

A study has linked a small number of cases of cerebral palsy to antibiotics given to women in premature labor.

The UK study found 35 cases of cerebral palsy in 769 children of women without early broken waters given antibiotics.

This compared with 12 cases among 735 children of women not given the drugs. Advice is being sent to the study’s 4,148 mothers and a helpline set up.

Medical experts stressed pregnant women should not feel concerned about taking antibiotics to treat infections.

These findings do not mean that antibiotics are unsafe for use in pregnancy
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

The Oracle study was the largest trial in the world into premature labor and was set up to investigate whether giving antibiotics – which might tackle an underlying symptomless infection – to women with signs of premature labor would improve outcomes for babies.

One in eight babies in the UK is born prematurely and prematurity is the leading cause of disability and of infant death in the first month after birth.

Premature labor

In 2001, ORACLE found the antibiotic erythromycin had immediate benefits for women in premature labor (before 37 weeks gestation) whose waters had broken. It delayed onset of labor and reduced the risk of infections and breathing problems in babies.

Erythromycin and the other antibiotic studied – co-amoxiclav – showed no benefit or harm for the women whose waters were still intact, however, and doctors were advised not to routinely prescribe them in such circumstances.

To study the longer-term outcomes, the Medical Research Council-funded scientists followed up the children seven years later.

Pregnant women should not feel concerned about taking antibiotics to treat infections
Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson

Unexpectedly, both antibiotics appeared to increase the risk of functional impairment – such as difficulty walking or problems with day to day problem solving – and treble the chance of cerebral palsy in the children of the women whose waters had not broken.

Of the 769 children born to mothers without early broken waters and given both antibiotics, 35 had cerebral palsy, compared with 12 out of 735 whose mothers did not receive antibiotics in the same circumstances.

The reasons behind this link are unclear, particularly as there was no increased risk of cerebral palsy in women whose waters had broken.

Hostile environment

The researchers believe cerebral palsy is unlikely to be a direct effect of the antibiotic but rather due to factors involved in prolonging a pregnancy that might otherwise have delivered early.

Researcher Professor Peter Brocklehurst of Oxford University said: “We have a suspicion that infection is implicated in premature labour.

“Antibiotics may merely suppress levels of infection to stop preterm labour, but the baby remains in a hostile environment.”

Infections during pregnancy or infancy are known to cause cerebral palsy.

In a letter to doctors and midwives advising them about the findings, Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson says: “Pregnant women should not feel concerned about taking antibiotics to treat infections.

“It is important to note that these women had no evidence of infection and would not routinely be given antibiotics.”

Where there is obvious infection, antibiotics can be life-saving for both mother and baby, the CMO says.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “These findings do not mean that antibiotics are unsafe for use in pregnancy. Pregnant women showing signs of infection should be treated promptly with antibiotics.”

Cerebral palsy can cause physical impairments and mobility problems.

It results from the failure of a part of the brain to develop before birth or in early childhood or brain damage and affects one in 400 births.

A helpline is available for study participants on 0800 085 2411 between 0930 and 1630 BST. NHS Direct has information available for other members of the public.

A spokeswoman from the special care baby charity Bliss said: “This highlights the importance of fully understanding both the immediate and long-term impact of the care and treatment that both mother and baby receive at this crucial time.”

September 10, 2008

Antibiotic resistance rise fears

Antibiotic resistance rise fears

Antibiotic pills

The NHS is being warned about its use of antibiotics

The rise in antibiotic resistance is reaching worrying levels, experts say.

The Health Protection Agency said while the focus on infections such as MRSA had been largely successful, new trends in other bugs were now posing a threat.

For instance, 12% of bloodstream infections by E. coli in England, Wales and Northern Ireland now show some signs of not responding to drugs.

The HPA said the NHS must be careful over antibiotic use and urged industry to look into developing new drugs.

There are two main families of bacteria known as gram-positive, such as MRSA, and gram-negative, which includes E. coli and other less common bugs Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas.

There are some cracks in the system, but they are not big ones yet
Dr David Livermore, of the HPA

The HPA said there had been a drive to tackle MRSA in recent years which had helped reduce infection rates and led to a host of new antibiotics to be developed.

By comparison, the development of antibiotics targeting gram-negative bacteria such as E coli, which can cause a range of symptoms from mild diarrohea to abdominal cramps and kidney damage, was much less common.

The fight against drug resistance is an on-going battle because many bacteria constantly mutate, gaining resistance to current antibiotics in the process.

This is what has been happening in recent years to the likes of E coli.

HPA data shows that there are about 20,000 bloodstream infections of E. coli each year – although the true level of infections would be much higher if urinary tract infections were taken into account.

Of these, 12% show signs of resistance – up from about 4% at the turn of the century.

The infections are mostly not yet resistant to all forms of antibiotics, just what doctors call the first-line.

This means they are having to use back up drugs, which tend to have more side effects and raises the prospect of the widespread emergence of a new strain which is totally antibiotic resistant.

Cases

Indeed, reports have already emerged of such a scenario in Israel and the US, while four cases have been reported in the UK.

Dr David Livermore, an infections expert at the HPA, urged industry to start looking at developing new antibiotics.

But he added: “The NHS must be careful over its use of antibiotics to slow down the development of resistance.

“Hospitals must make sure they use the right dose, for the right length of time.

“GPs should not prescribe – nor patients expect – antibiotics for routine coughs and colds.

“Resistance has been accumulating. We are having to use reserve antibiotics more than previously… that is worrying.

“There are some cracks in the system, but they are not big ones yet.”

September 6, 2008

When sex becomes an addiction

When sex becomes an addiction

(Expressyoureself) — “Californication” star David Duchovny made headlines for voluntarily entering rehab last week. But it wasn’t for drugs or alcohol. It was for another dependency, one that affects millions of Americans but is seldom discussed: sex addiction.

While sex can be healthy for a relationship, some people develop an addiction to porn, affairs, and other behaviors.

While sex can be healthy for a relationship, some people develop an addiction to porn, affairs, and other behaviors.

Sex addiction, also called compulsive sexual behavior, is like a gambling compulsion or alcoholism: It’s about devoting your free time to a behavior that you cannot stop, even if you damage relationships or prompt other negative consequences. That could mean extensively using pornography, having affairs, sleeping with prostitutes, and masturbating excessively, to the point where such behaviors get out of control.

If you think it’s just about primal desire, think again. For many addicts, sex becomes a way to numb out painful feelings, kill time or stop feeling lonely, says Kelly McDaniel, licensed professional counselor in San Antonio, Texas, and author of “Ready to Heal: Women Facing Love, Sex and Relationship Addiction.”

“Most people I talk to get to the point where they don’t even like sex,” said McDaniel, who has no connection to David Duchovny and did not speculate about his specific situation.

Who are sex addicts?

Sex addiction is estimated to affect 3 to 6 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic, but the American Psychiatric Association has not classified the condition in its diagnostic handbook. Sexhelp.com, run by psychologist Patrick Carnes, provides an online test to help people determine if they have a problem.

The Internet, providing endless opportunities for porn-watching and cybersex, has fueled a surge in cases of sex addiction, experts say.

“We’re seeing it with epidemic proportions now, particularly with regards to cybersex,” said Mark Schwartz, psychologist and former director of the Masters and Johnson Institute in St. Louis, Missouri. “There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t get two calls” about sex addiction.

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  • David Duchovny in rehab for sex addiction
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Therapists have recently seen more women with the condition in connection with Internet porn, which has become a “gender-neutral” addiction, McDaniel said. Before, female sex addicts generally tended to have affairs or become sex workers, she said.

Experts acknowledge that people who have affairs or use pornography are not necessarily sex addicts. Such pastimes form an addiction when they generate negative consequences for a person’s relationships, take over free time and become impossible to quit.

Where does it come from?

About 80 percent of sex addiction cases have sexual abuse or emotional trauma in their backgrounds, said Doug Weiss, therapist and executive director of the Heart to Heart Counseling Center. Schwartz also noted that huge numbers of people coming forward as sex addicts have been abused, assaulted or raped.

“When you have abuse in your background, you’re less likely to trust people, [and] you’re more likely to turn to something like sex addiction as a manifestation,” Schwartz said.

Feelings of neglect as a child — whether from divorced parents or parents who both worked and didn’t spend a lot of time with their kids — may also lead to sex addiction, Schwartz said.

Research into the neuroscience of sex addiction has not been conclusive, the Mayo Clinic said. Naturally occurring chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin do contribute to sexual functioning, but it’s not clear how they are related to sex addiction. McDaniel said these two chemicals are lower in the brains of children who have suffered abuse, which may explain why some of them use their own bodies — or, in other cases, food — to increase dopamine and serotonin levels.

A lot of teenagers develop their sexuality with pornography, and then find that relational sex isn’t as satisfying, Weiss said. Porn gives them a “very strong chemical hit,” and alters ways of thinking about sex, somewhat like the classic “ring the bell, feed the dog” stimulus-response mechanism. Addicts thus learn to become sexually attached to objects, and have trouble getting the same kind of satisfaction from sex in a relationship, he said.

For many people, especially women, sex addiction occurs in tandem with another problem such as an eating disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, McDaniel said.

How does treatment work?

A good treatment center will review the reasons why the addiction has come about, along with the brain chemistry of it, McDaniel said. A premier rehabilitation facility would have a combination of individual and group therapy, 12-step support, and possibly psychiatric medications such as antidepressant medications if necessary.

Health Library

  • MayoClinic.com: Compulsive sexual behavior

The 12-step programs, which have components that parallel Alcoholics Anonymous, are the most widely used form of treatment, said Sam Alibrando, therapist and consultant in Pasadena, California. They involve having a sponsor and being available for others in the group at any time. Anecdotally, however, they work less well than AA because sex is harder to give up, said Alibrando, author of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst.”

“Treatment is long-term, and it’s not easy,” McDaniel said. “I really recommend that a woman or a man find someone who’s trained and understands that sex addiction is a brain disease and does not further the shame that comes with this disease.”

Unlike drugs or alcohol, the goal of sex addiction therapy is usually not abstinence, but rather learning to have sex in a relationship, experts say. Similarly, someone who recovers from an overeating disorder does not stop eating entirely but learns how to manage diet. Marriage counseling often becomes part of the treatment, Weiss says.

The goals of recovery vary for different people, says Alibrando. He’s currently treating a couple in which the wife cannot tolerate her husband even looking at other women. On the other end of the spectrum, he has treated couples in which a woman will buy her boyfriend pornography.

“The spectrum is so wide in terms of where people draw the line,” says Alibrando.

Some recovering addicts join support groups requiring that members only have sex with their partners, even prohibiting masturbation.

What’s after recovery?

Weiss considers himself a former sex addict, having recognized his problem in his early 20s. Women weren’t making him happy; he was using pornography and felt “in conflict” about it.

Now, he runs a resource Web site for recovery at sexaddict.com, along with three-day intensive workshops to jump-start recovery for sex addicts.

Weiss said he’s proud of Duchovny for voluntarily seeking help, apparently without prodding from press reports or lawsuits.

“This kind of person who decides to get recovery for themselves without getting exposed” is “likely to get better,” he said. “People who voluntarily get better have a much better chance of staying well.”

August 8, 2008

Australian police bust drugs ring

Australian police bust drugs ring

A customs agent unpacks tins disguised as canned tomatoes holding thousands of ecstasy tablets in Melbourne, Australia

The ecstasy was hidden in some 3,000 tins disguised as canned tomatoes

Australian police say they have busted an international drugs ring and seized what they describe as the largest single haul of the drug ecstasy.

Sixteen people were arrested across Australia, with further raids expected in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.

It follows a year-long investigation after 15 million ecstasy pills were found hidden in a shipping container that arrived in Melbourne from Italy.

The tablets had an estimated street value of about A$450m (US$400m; £200m).

The ecstasy – a banned amphetamine with mild hallucinogenic properties – was found by Australian customs officers hidden in tins of tomatoes in a shipping container in June 2007.

The pills were replaced with a harmless substitute and the delivery was tracked, police say.

‘No soft target’

The breakthrough came when another shipment of 150kg of cocaine arrived in Australia last month, which led to the raids across several countries.

In Canberra, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said Australia had shown it was not a soft target for drug smugglers – that view, he insisted, has been “well and truly” smashed.

The syndicate was believed to be responsible for 60% of illegal drug imports in to southern Australia.

Local newspaper reports have suggested that among those targeted by the police were Australians allegedly linked to the Calabrian mafia in the New South Wales fruit-growing town of Griffith, as well as others associated with an outlawed motorcycle gang.

August 7, 2008

Hope for end to rejection drugs

Hope for end to rejection drugs

Surgery

At present patients must take powerful drugs

Scientists have developed a procedure which may help end the  need for transplant patients to rely on powerful anti-rejection drugs.

The complex procedure involves mixing the patient’s infection-fighting white blood cells with cells from the donor.

One patient went eight months without immunosuppressive drugs and others were switched to low doses.

The study, by Germany’s University of Schleswig-Holstein, appears in Transplant International.

It could eventually offer patients who have had transplant surgery a much higher quality of life, free from complex drug regimes
Dr James Hutchinson
University of Schleswig-Holstein

Currently, transplant patients must take a cocktail of powerful drugs for life to dampen down their immune system, and prevent the new organ being rejected.

But the drugs themselves can cause side effects, and may not prevent the slow rejection of the organ over time.

The new technique involves giving transplant patients an infusion of specialised cells known as a transplant acceptance-inducing cells (TAICs).

The TAICs are created by isolating a type of white blood cell from the donor, and modifying them chemically in the lab.

Once modified, the cells gain the ability to kill off cells in the immune system which trigger the rejection process, and to boost the action of another type of immune cell which plays a beneficial role in guarding against rejection.

The cells are then cultured alongside those from the recipient – which helps prime the immune system further – before being injected into the patient.

The technique has been tested on kidney transplant patients, some of whom were given the cells before surgery, and others after the transplant, as an additional drug therapy.

Preliminary, but promising

Lead researcher Dr James Hutchinson said the technique was still at a preliminary stage, but results on 17 patients were promising.

He said: “It could eventually offer patients who have had transplant surgery a much higher quality of life, free from complex drug regimes.”

In the first stage of the clinical trials 12 patients received kidneys from deceased donors, and were given TAICs in addition to traditional anti-rejection drugs.

Ten patients were gradually weaned off the cocktail of conventional drugs, and six eventually took only a low dose of one particular drug, cutting the risk of side effects substantially.

In the second stage of the trial five patients who received kidneys from live donors were given an infusion of TAICs before their surgery was carried out.

One patient was able to go eight months without any immunosuppression drugs, and a further three were successfully weaned down to the single low-dose therapy.

Dr Hutchinson said: “Our research clearly shows that infusing TAICs into patients before they have a kidney transplant, or after the procedure has been carried out, is a practical and safe clinical option.

“Although this procedure is still being developed and refined, it poses an exciting possibility for clinicians and patients alike.”

Keith Rigg, a transplant expert and vice president of the British Transplantation Society, said: “This is interesting work which has the potential to both reduce the risk of rejection after organ transplantation and the amount of anti-rejection drugs that are required, both of which will be good news for patients.

“As the authors say this is still early and preliminary work, and further development and refinement of the process is required, but this procedure does seem to have potential.

“Further developments will be watched with interest.”

August 5, 2008

Clinton wants Aids funding boost

Former US President Bill Clinton has called for an increase in funding to keep down the cost of drugs for people with HIV.

Courtesy BBC

Mr Clinton told a world Aids conference in Mexico that a 50% rise was needed in the next two years just to keep pace with expanding drug programme.

Figures released ahead of the meeting show the number of people with HIV worldwide has decreased slightly.

However, infection rates are still rising in some countries.

Across the world 33 million people are affected by the syndrome.

“Aids is a very big dragon. The mythological dragon was slain by Saint George, the original knight in shining armour, but this dragon must be slain by millions and millions of foot soldiers,” Mr Clinton told the conference.

A crowd of demonstrators holding banners calling for housing for people with HIV walked in front of the podium during his speech.

Mr Clinton used the moment to talk about how rising oil, food prices and the mortgage crisis had made the lives of people with HIV even more difficult.

There was “no silver bullet” to rid the world of the disease, he said.

“We know there is so much yet to be done: to expand prevention, treatment and care, to strengthen undeveloped health systems,” he added.

Universal access

The six-day conference was preceded by an awareness march, a photo exhibition and other events.

About 20,000 scientists, government officials and campaigners are in Mexico City for the event.

Funding, access to treatment, improving prevention against HIV and social issues such as stigma and violence against women are all on the agenda.

However delegates are not expecting any breakthrough announcement concerning new drugs or the search for a preventative vaccine.

The UN General Assembly and the Group of Eight (G8) have set the goal of achieving universal access to treatment and therapy by 2010.

Since Aids first became widely known, a quarter of a century ago, 25 million people have died.

In one positive development, US President George W Bush recently won backing to triple US spending on combating the syndrome.

But in some countries like Russia and China, and even Germany and the UK, the rates of infection are rising, the BBC’s Duncan Kennedy reports from Mexico City.

In the US, better detection methods have just shown the figures there have been underestimated by about 30%.

And in Africa, home to 70% of cases, access to the right drugs is improving but there are not enough health care workers to administer them.

There are concerns too about the human rights of sufferers who are often too scared to seek treatment.

Morgan Freeman hurt in car crash

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is in hospital after being injured in a car accident near his Mississippi home.

The 71-year-old Dark Knight star is in a serious condition, according to staff at Memphis’s Regional Medical Center.

The accident happened shortly before midnight on Sunday outside Charleston in the Mississippi Delta.

A Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman told the that Mr Freeman’s car left the road and “began to flip several times” before landing in a ditch.

Mr Freeman – who had been driving the car – and a female passenger were airlifted to the Memphis hospital, about 145km (90 miles) north of where the accident occurred in Tallahatchie County.

Talking at the scene

Both the actor and the woman, Demaris Meyer of Memphis, had been wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, said Sergeant Ben Williams.

“There’s no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved,” he added.

Mr Freeman was conscious and talking at the scene, he said, but the extent of his injuries was unclear.

There were “no other vehicles or pedestrians involved”, he said.

An investigation into the accident is currently under way.

Clay McFerrin, editor of local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel, told the Associated Press news agency he had been at the scene on Mississippi Highway 32, not far from where Mr Freeman owns a home with his wife.

“He was lucid, conscious,” Mr McFerrin said. “He was talking, joking with some of the rescue workers at one point.”

When one person tried to take a photo with a mobile phone, Mr Freeman joked, “no freebies, no freebies,” Mr McFerrin said.

FREEMAN FACTS
Born 1 June 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee
He spent several years in the US Air Force as a mechanic
Freeman started acting in the 1960s, appearing a couple of off-Broadway shows
His first credited film appearance was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!
Freeman starred in some of the biggest films of the 1990s, including The Shawshank Redemption, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Se7en, and Deep Impact
He won an Oscar in 2005 for the film Million Dollar Baby
Freeman plays Lucius Fox in this summer’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight (pictured)

Mechanic

Morgan Freeman is one of Hollywood’s best loved and busiest actors.

Mr Freeman won a best supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

He has twice been nominated in the leading actor category – for The Shawshank Redemption in 1995 and Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

His film appearances include Se7en, Unforgiven and the rebooted Batman franchise.

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