October 27, 2008, 5:35 AM CT
Credit crunch threatens new medicines
The global financial crisis could seriously delay the discovery and production of a number of new life-saving medicines, warns a major international conference today (Monday).
Investment into research for new drugs - which globally runs into the billions is now seriously at threat as former investors in the drug companies shy away as a result of the economic meltdown.
Professor David Wield, Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Edinburgh-based Innogen Centre, and chair of the 'Genomics and Society: Reinventing Life?' conference, delivered a stark warning previous to the gathering of over 200 experts at conference in London.
Professor Wield said: "Investing in biotech companies is now seen as risk taking, and will not be for the timid. What will happen to investment in biotech research if finance cannot even be found for relatively everyday expenses which are increasingly becoming more of a struggle?
"Drug discovery depends on long-term finance with high risk of failure and lots of it. Financing of biotechnology companies hit $50bn in 2007. And overall, these biotechs only made profits for the very first time last year, amounting to $1bn on revenues of $59bn".
As per Professor Wield, in addition to the impact on the basic research performed at biotechnology companies, development of medicines by pharmaceutical companies has also been hit by the credit crunch. "Like a number of other sectors, the pharmaceutical industry has had tough times recently there is seemingly no way to speed up and improve the drug discovery pipeline, and heavily increased R&D has not increased the number of new drugs".........
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October 27, 2008, 5:33 AM CT
Stress may make you itch
Gera number of Current research suggests that stress may activate immune cells in your skin, resulting in inflammatory skin disease. The related report by Joachim et al., "Stress-induced Neurogenic Inflammation in Murine Skin Skews Dendritic Cells towards Maturation and Migration: Key role of ICAM-1/LFA-1 interactions," appears in the recent issue of The American Journal of Pathology
Skin provides the first level of defense to infection, serving not only as a physical barrier, but also as a site for white blood cells to attack invading bacteria and viruses. The immune cells in skin can over-react, however, resulting in inflammatory skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Stress can trigger an outbreak in patients suffering from inflammatory skin conditions. This cross talk between stress perception, which involves the brain, and the skin is mediated the through the "brain-skin connection". Yet, little is know about the means by which stress aggravates skin diseases.
Scientists lead by Dr. Petra Arck of Charit, University of Medicine Berlin and McMaster University in Canada, hypothesized that stress could exacerbate skin disease by increasing the number of immune cells in the skin. To test this hypothesis, they exposed mice to sound stress. Dr. Arck's group observed that this stress challenge resulted in higher numbers of mature white blood cells in the skin. Furthermore, blocking the function of two proteins that attract immune cells to the skin, LFA-1 and ICAM-1, prevented the stress-induced increase in white blood cells in the skin.........
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October 23, 2008, 9:29 PM CT
Self-assembling 'organic wires'
John D. Tovar, assistant professor of chemistry at The Johns Hopkins University.
From pacemakers constructed of materials that so closely mimic human tissues that a patient's body can't discern the difference to devices that bypass injured spinal cords to restore movement to paralyzed limbs, the possibilities presented by organic electronics read like something from a science fiction novel.
Derived from carbon-based compounds (hence the term "organic"), these "soft" electronic materials are valued as lightweight, flexible, easily processed alternatives to "hard" electronics components such as metal wires or silicon semiconductors. And just as the semiconductor industry is actively developing smaller and smaller transistors, so, too, are those involved with organic electronics devising ways to shrink the features of their materials, so they can be better utilized in bioelectronic applications such as those above.
To this end, a team of chemists at The Johns Hopkins University has created water-soluble electronic materials that spontaneously assemble themselves into "wires" much narrower than a human hair. An article about their work was published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society
"What's exciting about our materials is that they are of size and scale that cells can intimately associate with, meaning that they may have built-in potential for biomedical applications," said John D. Tovar, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "Can we use these materials to guide electrical current at the nanoscale? Can we use them to regulate cell-to-cell communication as a prelude to re-engineering neural networks or damaged spinal cords? These are the kinds of questions we are looking forward to being able to address and answer in the coming years".........
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October 23, 2008, 9:24 PM CT
Green tea may delay onset of type 1 diabetes
A powerful antioxidant in green tea may prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes, Medical College of Georgia scientists say.
Scientists were testing EGCG, green tea's predominant antioxidant, in a laboratory mouse with type 1 diabetes and primary Sjogren's syndrome, which damages moisture-producing glands, causing dry mouth and eyes.
"Our study focused on Sjogren's syndrome, so learning that EGCG also can prevent and delay insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes was a big surprise," says Dr. Stephen Hsu, molecular/cell biologist in the School of Dentistry.
They found it also worked well in their original disease focus.
In the mouse, EGCG reduced the severity and delayed onset of salivary gland damage linked to Sjogren's syndrome, which has no known cure.
"EGCG modulates several important genes, so it suppresses the abnormality at the molecular level in the salivary gland. It also significantly lowered the serum autoantibodies, reducing the severity of Sjogren's syndrome-like symptoms," Dr. Hsu says. Autoantibodies are antibodies the body makes against itself.
Both type 1 diabetes and Sjogren's syndrome are autoimmune diseases, which cause the body to attack itself. Autoimmune disorders are the third most common group of diseases in the United States and affect about 8 percent of the population, says Dr. Hsu. Sjogren's syndrome can occur alone or secondary to another autoimmune disease, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes.........
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October 23, 2008, 9:21 PM CT
Study finds that practice makes perfect in lung cancer surgery
Patients operated on by surgeons who do not routinely remove cancer from the lungs may be at a higher risk for complications, as per a research studyconducted by scientists at Duke University Medical Center.
"Our study observed that hospitals that do higher volumes of these types of surgeries have correspondingly lower mortality rates than those who do fewer of the procedures," said Andrew Shaw, M.D., an anesthesiologist at Duke and lead investigator on the study.
"This has important implications for both patients and doctors: patients should choose a center that does these procedures often, and doctors who are only doing a few of these a year should consider either growing their practices, or focusing their attention on other, less complex, types of surgery".
The results of the study would be reported in the recent issue of the journal Cancer Therapy,
but they have already appeared online on the journal's Web site. The study was funded by Duke's department of anesthesiology.
The scientists used the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a publicly-available database of hospital admissions dating back 20 years and representing approximately 90 percent of hospitals in the country, to examine death rates following three common types of surgery for lung cancer -- pneumonectomy, in which the whole lung is removed, lobectomy, in which a third to half of the lung is removed, and segmental resection, in which a smaller portion of the lung is removed. Over 130,000 patient data samples were studied.........
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October 23, 2008, 9:04 PM CT
BG-12 significantly reduced brain lesions in multiple sclerosis
Cambridge, MA October 23, 2008 Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) today announced the publication of Phase IIb data showing that a 240 mg three-times-daily dose of the company's novel oral compound, BG-12 (BG00012, dimethyl fumarate), reduced the number of new gadolinium enhancing (Gd+) lesions by 69 percent in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) when in comparison to therapy with placebo (p<0.0001). The data also showed a 53 percent reduction in the mean number of T1-hypointense lesions and a 44 percent reduction in cumulative new Gd+ lesions in patients treated with BG-12 in comparison to therapy with placebo. The presence of Gd+ lesions is thought to indicate continuing inflammatory activity within the central nervous system. T1-hypointense lesions are linked to significant breakdown and loss of brain tissue. An ad hoc analysis conducted during the study showed a decrease in the likelihood of Gd+ lesions evolving into T1-hypointense lesions (black holes), warranting further clinical study into the potential neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects of BG-12. These results have been reported in the October 25th issue of The Lancet
BG-12 is the first compound that has been shown to activate the Nrf2 transcriptional pathway, which prior studies have shown defends against oxidative-stress induced neuronal death, protects the blood-brain barrier, and supports maintenance of myelin integrity in the central nervous system.........
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October 23, 2008, 8:52 PM CT
Hypnosis can induce synesthesia
Hypnosis can induce "synesthetic" experiences where one sense triggers the involuntary use of another within an average brain, as per a new study in the journal Psychological Science,
the premiere publication of the Association for Psychological Society.
The findings suggests that people with synesthesia, contrary to popular belief, do not necessarily have extra connections in their brain; rather, their brains may simply do more 'cross talking' which can be induced by changing inhibitory processes in the average brain.
The research, "Induced cross-modal synesthetic experience without abnormal neuronal connections," was conducted by an international group that includes Cohen Kadosh, previously a doctoral student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev under the supervision of Prof. Avishai Henik from BGU's Department of Psychology and now at the University College London (UCL); Andres Catena from the University of Granada, Spain; Vincent Walsh from the UCL; and Luis J. Fuentes from University of Murcia, Spain.
People living with synesthesia (known as synesthetes) experience abnormal interactions between the senses. Digit-color synesthesia, for instance, will experience certain numbers in specific colors (for example, they might experience the number seven as red). A possible reason put forward for this phenomenon is the existence of extra connections between brain areas in synesthesia, but this new study suggests otherwise.........
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October 23, 2008, 5:36 AM CT
Seeing a brain as it learns to see
A brain isn't born fully organized. It builds its abilities through experience, making physical connections between neurons and organizing circuits to store and retrieve information in milliseconds for years afterwards.
Now that process has been caught in the act for the first time by a Duke University research team that watched a nave brain organize itself to interpret images of motion.
"This is the first time that anyone has been able to watch as visual experience selectively shapes the functional properties of individual neurons," said David Fitzpatrick, professor of neurobiology and director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. "These results emphasize just how important experience is for the early development of brain circuits." The group's findings appear online Oct. 22 in the journal Nature
Using an advanced imaging system that can see changes in calcium levels within individual neurons as an indication of electrical activity, the team has been able to see inside the brain of a one-month old ferret as it opened its eyes for the first time and learned how to interpret moving images.
They watched the brain learning how to see. As a ferret learned to discriminate one pattern of motion from another over the course of a few hours, the scientists could see large numbers of individual neurons in the visual cortex develop specific responses and become organized into functional assemblies called cortical columns. Additional experiments confirmed that the changes were dependent on the neurons being activated by the animal's experience with moving visual images.........
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October 23, 2008, 5:32 AM CT
How antibiotic sets up road block to kill bacteria
Researchers have taken a critical step toward the development of new and more effective antibacterial drugs by identifying exactly how a specific antibiotic sets up a road block that halts bacterial growth.
The antibiotic, myxopyronin, is a natural substance that is made by bacteria to fend off other bacteria. Researchers already knew that this antibiotic inhibited the actions of an enzyme called RNA polymerase, which sets gene expression in motion and is essential to the life of any cell.
But until now, scientists did not know the mechanism behind how the antibiotic actually killed the bacteria.
Key to investigating this mechanism is the use of the powerful imaging technique X-ray crystallography, which allows scientists to see the fine details of the complex between the antibiotic and its target.
In the case of myxopyronin, the antibiotic binds to RNA polymerase in a way that interferes with the enzyme's ability to use DNA to start the process of activating genes so they can make proteins.
"This is the first antibiotic that we know that inhibits polymerase before it even starts RNA synthesis," said Irina Artsimovitch, a coauthor of the study and an associate professor of microbiology at Ohio State University.
The research is published online in the journal Nature
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October 22, 2008, 10:42 PM CT
Gene expression for advanced bowel cancer
Research by researchers in France has demonstrated for the first time that identifying patterns of gene expression can be used to predict response to therapy in patients with advanced metastatic colorectal cancer.
Dr Maguy Del Rio, a scientist at the Institut de Recherche en Cancrologie de Montpellier (Montpellier, France), presented a study to the 20th EORTC-NCI-AACR Symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Geneva today (Wednesday)  in which she and her team had identified an 11-gene signature that could be used to separate those patients who would respond to a particular chemotherapy (FOLFIRI leucovorin, fluorouracil and irinotecan) from those who would not. FOLFIRI is one of the most usually used, first-line therapys for metastatic colorectal cancer.
Dr Del Rio said: "Gene expression signatures are a new class of molecular diagnostic tests for cancer. For cancer prognosis, three tests are commercially available, all for breast cancer. It is more difficult to predict responses to anticancer drugs than it is to predict prognosis. Few studies have been made in this field. This and our prior study  are the first that demonstrate the utility of gene expression profiling for the prediction of response in colorectal patients".
About half of patients with colorectal cancer develop liver metastases during the course of their disease. Dr Del Rio said: "When this happens, it is critical for the success of overall therapy to chose a chemotherapy regime that is most likely to induce a maximal response during the first course of therapy. It is a major clinical challenge to identify a subset of patients who could benefit from a particular chemotherapy, and to identify those who will not and therefore need to be treated using an alternative therapy".........
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