2 Experimental Drugs Offer Hope Against Psoriasis

Two experimental drugs show promise in treating psoriasis and a related condition, psoriatic arthritis, new studies report.

News Picture: 2 Experimental Drugs Offer Hope Against Psoriasis: Studies

The drugs, brodalumab and secukinumab (Cosentyx), represent a new approach to treatment, said Michael Siegel, director of research programs at the National Psoriasis Foundation.

“These studies show how targeting parts of theimmune system can have great effects, and that’s really exciting for our patients,” said Siegel, who wasn’t involved in the research.

Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmunecondition, causes raised red patches of skin topped with silvery scales. These patches usually appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, face, lower back, hands and feet. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of the disease that includes joint pain, stiffness and swelling.

The study findings appear in the Oct. 1 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In one study, brodalumab reduced psoriasis symptoms 100 percent in more than 40 percent of patients. In the other report, Cosentyx slowed progression of psoriatic arthritis.

“Brodalumab was dramatically able to clear psoriasis,” said the lead researcher of that study, Dr. Mark Lebwohl, chairman of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Brodalumab is a so-called monoclonal antibody designed to block the function of a protein called interleukin 17 (IL-17), which contributes to psoriasis, Lebwohl explained.

For the phase 3 brodalumab trials — the final phase needed for U.S. drug approval — researchers randomly selected more than 3,000 patients with moderate to severe psoriasis to receive either brodalumab, ustekinumab(Stelara) or placebo. According to Lebwohl, Stelara is currently the best psoriasis drug available.

Forty-four percent of patients using brodalumab had 100 percent of their psoriasis cleared, compared with 22 percent of those receiving Stelara, Lebwohl said.

Moreover, more than 68 percent of patients receiving brodalumab saw 90 percent of their psoriasis clear, compared with 47 percent of patients receiving Stelara, he added.

The study was funded by drug maker Amgen, which co-developed brodalumab with AstraZeneca.

Brodalumab is injected every two weeks. Because psoriasis is a chronic disease, treatment lasts a lifetime, Lebwohl said.

Dr. Katy Burris, a dermatologist at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y., found the results impressive.

“Not only was the clearance rate better with brodalumab, but the time it took until clearance was achieved was less when compared to ustekinumab [Stelara],” said Burris.

Burris cautioned, however, that “the long-term safety of this new medication will be determined upon further study and will hopefully be as safe as it is efficacious.”

Side effects from brodalumab included mild to moderate yeast infections, Lebwohl said. These infections were easy to treat and no one stopped the drug because of an infection, he said.

However, two patients committed suicide. “I don’t know of any mechanism why the drug would result in depression or suicide,” he said. “Psoriasis itself increases depression and suicides.”

Assuming the drug is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Lebwohl said it will likely be expensive. For comparison purposes, Stelara would cost from $30,000 to $70,000 a year without insurance, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

The other study, funded by drug maker Novartis, involved more than 600 patients with psoriatic arthritis.

Participants received either Cosentyx or a placebo drug. About 50 percent of the patients responded to treatment with Cosentyx, compared with a little more than 17 percent of patients receiving placebo, researchers found.

“We have a valuable new asset to treat psoriatic arthritis,” said lead researcher Dr. Philip Mease, a clinical professor of rheumatology at the University of Washington. He said about 30 percent of people with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis.

Do You Smoke to Cope With Pain? Research Finds Surprising Effect

If you find yourself lighting a cigarette when you’re in pain, you’re not alone. Many people smoke to cope with chronic pain. But here’s the kicker: Research shows that tobacco use overall – both smoking and chewing tobacco – can actually trigger pain. It also can make pain medication less effective.

The situation is complicated for smokers. More than half of chronic pain sufferers who seek pain management therapies smoke.

Tobacco use plays an active role in a wide variety of pain types, says pain management specialist Benjamin Abraham, MD.

In many cases, if you stop smoking, you can reverse the impact. In other cases, the damage is permanent.

The many pains of smoking

Tobacco use affects different areas of the body and the body’s systems in different ways.

Circulatory system: The nicotine in cigarettes and chewing tobacco decreases circulation, a condition also called peripheral artery disease (PAD).

The condition leads to atherosclerosis, a stiffening of the arterial walls that contributes to coronary artery disease. PAD also starves the heart muscle of needed oxygen and causes chest pain, called angina.

Lower back: Research shows that current and former smokers are 2.7 times more likely to have pain in the lower back than people who have never smoked. This link is strongest among adolescents, Dr. Abraham says.

Several factors contribute to the link between smoking and back pain:

  • Constricted blood vessels make it harder for necessary nutrients to reach the intervertebral discs responsible for spinal movement.
  • Decreased blood supply can cause degenerative lesions on these discs.
  • Smoking increases the risk for osteoporosis, which can cause fractures and deformities in the lower spine.

Joint pain: Smoking also contributes to joint pain linked to other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Dr. Abraham says.

Recent studies label smoking as one of the biggest contributing environmental risk factors for developing RA.

Male smokers are twice as likely to develop RA, and female smokers are 1.27 times as likely as non-smokers. Smokers who have a genetic risk for RA are four times as likely to develop the condition.

Central nervous system: Smoking increases the level of pro-inflammatory cytokines floating in the blood stream.

Cytokines trigger the central nervous system, amplifying existing pain from the very first cigarette, Dr. Abraham says. Consequently, smokers require greater amounts of both over-the-counter and narcotic medications to control pain.

Menstrual cycle: According to a study in the British Medical Journal, women who begin smoking by age 15 are 50 percent more likely than non-smokers to have cramps that last two or more days during their period.

Tooth pain: Research shows smokers face a 30 percent increase in the risk of tooth pain. Researchers suspect the pain develops because tobacco reduces saliva and also leads to progressive tooth decay and poor wound healing.

Headache: Smokers are also 1.5 times more likely to get headaches than people who have never smoked.

Cluster headaches – severe headaches that last between 15 minutes and three hours – are common among smokers. Eighty percent to 90 percent of cluster headache sufferers have a significant history of smoking tobacco, Dr. Abraham says.

Can the painful damage be reversed?

The medical industry currently doesn’t know if there is any safe level of cigarette use, Dr. Abraham says. Much depends on gender, age and other contributing factors of disease, but some research suggests that as few as 10 cigarettes can induce an increase in general pain, slower healing, worse surgical outcomes, and more pain after surgery.

Tobacco-induced damage to structures linked to long-term pain, such as degenerative disc disease, does not heal on its own. However, in some areas, including the circulatory system, smoking cessation can reverse tobacco’s effect on pain, Dr. Abraham says.

The Skarp Razor.

Want A Really Close Shave? Now, You Can Shave With A Freaking Laser Beam

What if we told you that you could shave without a razor ever having to touch your face? No razor bumps or burns. No trips to the barbershop where the your neighborhood cutter reddens your face with a straight edge. No more bleeding into your bathroom sink.

The Skarp Razor is looking to change the game with new shaver that’s powered by a small laser. Yes, a small laser that cuts through the hair on your face for what should be an incredibly close shave. The Skarp razor’s, as of the time this piece was written, has already racked up $1.3 million on its Kickstarter page in just over a week.

The laser-powered shaver looks just like a traditional one, but uses wavelengths of light to cut through hair thanks to the discovery of a specific “chromophore” in all human hair allows the laser to cut through both dark and light hair when hit at a particular wavelength.

The project boasts that its product will leave no scratches, infection, itch, cutting or post-shave irritation. It also needs little or no water usage or cartridge replacements. And almost equally important, you won’t need waxing or shaving creams either.

If this thing’s all it’s cracked up to be, the days of shaving with a traditional razor may be coming to a sharp end.

Exposure to toxic chemicals threatening human reproduction and health — ScienceDaily

Dramatic increases in exposure to toxic chemicals in the last four decades are threatening human reproduction and health, according to experts. Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals is linked to millions of deaths and costs billions of dollars every year, according to the authors.

Miscarriage and still birth, impaired fetal growth, congenital malformations, impaired or reduced neurodevelopment and cognitive function, and an increase in cancer, attention problems, ADHD behaviors and hyperactivity are among the list of poor health outcomes linked to chemicals such as pesticides, air pollutants, plastics, solvents and more, according to the expert opinion.
Credit: © sauletas / Fotolia

Dramatic increases in exposure to toxic chemicals in the last four decades are threatening human reproduction and health, according to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the first global reproductive health organization to take a stand on human exposure to toxic chemicals.

The opinion was written by obstetrician-gynecologists and scientists from the major global, US, UK and Canadian reproductive health professional societies, the World Health Organization and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

FIGO, which represents obstetricians from 125 countries and territories, published the opinion in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics on Oct. 1, 2015, just prior to its Oct. 4 to 9, 2015, world congress in Vancouver, BC, where more than 7,000 clinicians and scientists will explore global trends in women’s health issues.

“We are drowning our world in untested and unsafe chemicals, and the price we are paying in terms of our reproductive health is of serious concern,” said Gian Carlo Di Renzo, MD, PhD, Honorary Secretary of FIGO and lead author of the FIGO opinion. According to Di Renzo, reproductive health professionals “witness first-hand the increasing numbers of health problems facing their patients, and preventing exposure to toxic chemicals can reduce this burden on women, children and families around the world.”

Miscarriage and still birth, impaired fetal growth, congenital malformations, impaired or reduced neurodevelopment and cognitive function, and an increase in cancer, attention problems, ADHD behaviors and hyperactivity are among the list of poor health outcomes linked to chemicals such as pesticides, air pollutants, plastics, solvents and more, according to the FIGO opinion.

“What FIGO is saying is that physicians need to do more than simply advise patients about the health risks of chemical exposure,” said Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD, a co-author of the FIGO opinion and past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which issued an opinion on chemicals and reproductive health in 2013. “We need to advocate for policies that will protect our patients and communities from the dangers of involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Chemical manufacturing is expected to grow fastest in developing countries in the next five years, according to FIGO. In the U.S. alone, more than 30,000 pounds of chemicals per person are manufactured or imported, and yet the vast majority of these chemicals have not been tested. Chemicals travel the globe via international trade agreements, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. Environmental and health groups have criticized the proposed agreement for weakening controls and regulations designed to protect communities from toxic chemicals.

“Exposure to chemicals in the air, food and water supplies disproportionately affect poor people,” said Linda Giudice, MD, PhD, MSc, a FIGO opinion co-author, past president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and chair of the UCSF department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences. “In developing countries, lower respiratory infections are more than twice as likely to be caused by chemical exposures than in developed countries.”

Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals is linked to millions of deaths and costs billions of dollars every year, according to the FIGO opinion, which cites the following examples:

• Nearly 4 million people die each year because of exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution as well as to lead.

• Pesticide poisonings of farmworkers in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to cost $66 billion between 2005-2020.

• Health care and other costs from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in Europe are estimated to be at a minimum of 157 billion Euros a year.

• The cost of childhood diseases related to environmental toxins and pollutants in air, food, water, soil and in homes and neighborhoods was calculated to be $76.6 billion in 2008 in the United States.

“Given accumulating evidence of adverse health impacts related to toxic chemicals, including the potential for inter-generational harm, FIGO has wisely proposed a series of recommendations that health professionals can adopt to reduce the burden of unsafe chemicals on patients and communities,” said FIGO President Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, MBBS, who is also past president of the British Medical Association.

FIGO proposes that physicians, midwives, and other reproductive health professionals advocate for policies to prevent exposure to toxic environmental chemicals; work to ensure a healthy food system for all; make environmental health part of health care; and champion environmental justice.

Increasing fluoride levels in drinking water by just 1% can cause 131,000 ADHD cases, study shows – NaturalNews.com

A study published in the journal Environmental Health reinforces what many people have known for a long time: Increasing levels of fluoride in drinking water is harmful to health. While its findings are disturbing, the study is good news for those who have been told time and again that fluoride is safe, as it arms them with even more evidence of the harms caused by this chemical.

Titled, “Exposure to fluoridated water and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States: an ecological association,” the study noted that a “1% increase in artificial fluoridation prevalence in 1992 was associated with approximately 67,000 to 131,000 additional ADHD diagnoses from 2003 to 2011.”(1)

Proof that children’s neurological issues linked to fluoride in drinking water

That’s right, a mere 1% increase in the fluoride levels of drinking water was found to cause ADHD cases up into the hundreds of thousands. Just as important is the fact that the study goes back to fluoridation in 1992, showing that detrimental effects exist some 20 years later. This proves that ongoing usage of a chemical, even in just one year’s time, can cause it to linger in the body for years. Therefore, the importance of considering potential future health drawbacks rather than jumping on the what’s-in-it-for-me-now bandwagon, as many pro-fluoridation folks do, is vital.

The study analyzed information pertaining to children between four and 17 years old, which was collected over several years from the National Survey of Children’s Health. The prevalence of state water fluoridation was also collected, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).(1)

“Parents reported higher rates of medically-diagnosed ADHD in their children in states in which a greater proportion of people receive fluoridated water from public water supplies,” the study concludes. It’s aim was to delve deeper into the “epidemiological and animal-based studies [which] have suggested that prenatal and postnatal fluoride exposure has adverse effects on neurodevelopment.”(1)

Health experts suggest lowering amount of fluoride in drinking water, but it’s not for the reason it should be

Interestingly, about two months after this study came out, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the amount of fluoride in drinking water be lowered to nearly half of its current recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams. It’s the first time since the 1960s that the federal heath officials have suggested such a change; they now say that exactly 0.7 milligrams, instead of the broader range, should be put in place.(2)

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The recommendation, yes. The reason for it, no.

Unfortunately, they’re not doing it because they were motivated by the study published in Environmental Health. Sadly, a group that has “health” as part of their name is homing in on a vain reason, saying that increased access to fluorides (toothpastes, mouthwashes, etc.) is leading to fluorosis, which creates small, white streaks on people’s teeth.

Of this news to reduce fluorides in drinking water, Barbara Gooch, a dentist with the CDC, said, “The only documented risk of water fluoridation is fluorosis, and it is primarily a cosmetic risk.” She added that fluorosis, at least in the milder form, “is not a health risk.”(2)

Meanwhile, according to the same organization — the CDC — “The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011.”(3)

Isn’t it time, especially when study after study comes out showing the harmful effects of fluoride in drinking water — from neurological problems like ADHD to hypothyroidism — that people see the problem for what it is rather than grasping at straws to diminish the severity of the issue?

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/051382_fluoride_drinking_water_ADHD.html#ixzz3nOMoQpCd

Why we love pain?

Why exactly do some people enjoy eye-wateringly hot curries, extreme workouts or sadomasochistic sex?

Making pain a part of sex attracts many people (Credit: Getty Images)

His opponent had been known to cause seizures, heart attacks, and even death. But Jason McNabb looked remarkably calm as he entered the arena. The whistle blew. Assault came thick and fast – a chaotic rush of watering eyes, swollen lips and perspiration.

This was no ordinary competition. McNabb now holds a world record for eating the most Bhut Jolokia peppers in two minutes. “It felt like I had a mouthful of hornets stinging me all at one time. Candidly, it was like pure hell”, he says.

It felt like I had a mouthful of hornets stinging me all at one time – Jason McNabb

The Bhut Jolokia, or ‘ghost pepper’ can measure more than a million Scoville units – in other words, it is 200 to 400 times spicier than a jalapeno. It’s one of the hottest in the world, and anyone who takes so much as a nibble is likely to suffer excruciating pain. A reasonable question to ask is: why would anyone do this to themselves?

(Credit: Guinness World Records)

Jason McNabb is a champion chilli-eater and describes it as “pure hell”

Common sense tells us that people seek pleasure and avoid pain. But that’s not always the case – various activities involve pain, including running, hot massages, tattoos, piercings and even BDSM (an abbreviation for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism).

For McNabb, the pain from the peppers produces a rush that is similar to that produced by food, drugs or sex. “The pain subsided pretty quickly and then it was just the high of the adrenaline and euphoria from the peppers,” Jason explains.

The link between pleasure and pain is deeply rooted in our biology. For a start, all pain causes the central nervous system to release endorphins – proteins which act to block pain and work in a similar way to opiates such as morphine to induce feelings of euphoria.

The relationship will come as no surprise to those who run. Bursts of intense exertion release lactic acid, a by-product of the breakdown of glucose when oxygen is in short supply. The acid irritates pain receptors in the muscles, and these communicate their plight to the brain through electrical messages, sent through the spinal cord. The signals are interpreted as a burning sensation in the legs, usually causing the runner to slow down or stop.

The ‘runner’s high’ may have enabled our ancestors to endure the pain of a marathon hunt

That is until the nervous system’s control centre, the hippocampus, kicks in. This seahorse-shaped portion of the brain responds to pain signals by ordering the production of the body’s own narcotics, endorphins. The proteins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and prevent the release of chemicals involved in the transmission of pain signals. This helps block pain, but endorphins go further, stimulating the brain’s limbic and prefrontal regions – the same areas activated by passionate love affairs and music. It’s a post-pain rush similar to the high of morphine or heroin, which also bind to the brain’s opioid receptors.

(Credit: Thinkstock)

Runners get a high after a long workout, but what’s going on in the brain?

Meanwhile, the pain of intense exercise also causes a spike in another of the body’s painkillers, anandamide. Known as the ‘bliss chemical’, it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to block pain signals and induce the warm, fuzzy pleasure emulated by marijuana, which binds to the same receptors. Adrenaline, also produced in response to pain, adds to the excitement by raising the athlete’s heart rate.

Burning legs are thought to discourage overexertion, while the ‘runner’s high’ may have enabled our ancestors to endure the pain of a marathon hunt. More generally, the pleasurable post-pain rush is thought to have evolved to help people cope in the immediate aftermath of an injury.

But why are some types of pain enjoyable, and others just plain agonising?

One theory to explain it is ‘benign masochism’ – seeking out pain while maintaining the awareness that it won’t cause serious damage. It’s something animals aren’t capable of doing.

Hot chillis can trigger pleasurable responses... eventually (Credit: Thinkstock)

Hot chillis can trigger pleasurable responses… eventually (Credit: Thinkstock)

One example is chilli. The active ingredient, capsaicin, is harmless. It hurts because it happens to bind to TRPV1, part of a family of temperature-sensitive receptors in our tongues which alert the body to potentially damaging heat or cold. Activating TRPV1 sends the brain the same signals as if the tongue was actually on fire.

Most young children are averse to chilli, but they learn to enjoy it through repeated exposure as they learn to disassociate the fruit with real physical harm. Yet chilli addicts’ tongues are just as sensitive to capsaicin as everyone else’s.

Pain is a uniquely human indulgence

This is a uniquely human indulgence. Scientists have tried, and failed, to induce a preference for chilli in rats. Animals have been trained to self-harm, but only by ‘positive reinforcement’, in which animals are taught to associate pain with a reward. “Generally, when an animal experiences something negative, it avoids it,” explains Paul Rozin, from the University of Pennsylvania.

Benign masochism is something that those who engage in BDSM won’t find surprising. Mistress Alexandra, a professional sadist based in London, explains: “We make a difference between good pain and bad pain. Bad pain indicates that something is not right, something we have to pay instant attention to. Then there’s good pain which is enjoyable. For example, when the shoulder starts pulling during bondage, that’s potentially unsafe so we release it.”

(Credit: Getty Images)

Common sense tells us that people seek pleasure and avoid pain, but that’s not the case

The theory is also thought to explain why we seek out and enjoy other intrinsically unpleasant experiences, such as fear-inducing rollercoasters or sad movies. “If an animal took a rollercoaster it would be scared, and it would never go again.” says Rozin.

The link between sex and pain is not confined to the world of BDSM. One study, in which researchers used fMRI to visualise the brains of women as they stimulated themselves to climax, found that more than 30 areas of the brain were active, including those involved in pain. Another found that cancer survivors, who had nerves in their spinal cord cut to relieve chronic abdominal pain, lost the ability to have orgasms. If their pain returned, so did the orgasms.

Barry Komisaruk from Rutgers University, who authored the imaging study, thinks there’s a fundamental link between pain and orgasm pathways. “Another observation is that the facial expressions during orgasm are often indistinguishable from those in pain,” he says.

Along these lines, a study into how paracetamol affects emotions found that the painkilling drug not only relieves emotional pain, but also blunts feelings of pleasure. In the study, students were given either paracetamol or a placebo, and asked to rate the intensity of their emotions towards a series of provocative photographs. The drug levelled-off highs as well as lows – an indicator that it operates on shared biological pathways.

For human beings, then, it appears that pain and pleasure have always been intertwined.

Native American tribe to open first marijuana resort in US

 The Santee Sioux tribe's facility for growing marijuana is pictured on 24 September 2015

A Native American tribe in the US state of South Dakota has said it plans to open what would be the first marijuana resort in the US.

The 400-member Santee Sioux tribe already runs a casino, hotel and ranch and hopes the resort will be a new revenue generator.

Marijuana is not legal in South Dakota but the tribe has been permitted to grow and sell pot since June.

It will open on New Year’s Eve and only be sold on the reservation.

Sioux leaders would grow the marijuana to be offered in a smoking lounge.

The lounge would have games, food and a bar, and eventually slot machines and a music venue.

“We want it to be an adult playground,” tribal president Anthony Reider told the AP news agency.

“There’s nowhere else in America that has something like this.”

Tribe leaders predict the resort would make up to $2m (£1.3m) per month.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Marijuana seedlings are currently growing in the facility on the reservation

Marijuana is growing at a facility on the reservation now and they hope to sell it for the first time on 31 December at a New Year’s Eve party.

The Justice Department put out a new policy allowing Native American tribes to grow and sell marijuana in a similar way to some US states like Colorado in 2014.

The strict provision does not allow tribes to sell marijuana to minors or grow it on public land.

Marijuana will be sold in sealed one-gram packages for $12.50 (£8.27) to $15, and people will only be able to buy one gram at a time.

“[The tribe] must look at these opportunities because in order to preserve the past we do have to advance in the present,” said Mr Reider.

Venom experts say global snake bite death tolls “grossly underestimated”

* Stocks of antivenom running “dangerously low”

* Experts urge WHO to prioritize snake bite as killer disease

* Study finds 46,000 snake bite deaths per year in India alone

LONDON, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Venom specialists said on Wednesday disease and disability caused by snake bites is far higher than official global health estimates suggest and antivenom stocks are running dangerously low.

In a joint statement after a five-day conference in Britain, the international experts said snake bites kill more people than all other so-called Neglected Tropical Diseases combined, yet get little attention or funding from the World Health Organisation (WHO) or from governments.

Citing new evidence from a study in India and Bangladesh, the experts said around 46,000 people died annually of snake bites in India, plus another 6,000 in Bangladesh. The WHO estimates the annual death toll in India from snake bites is 10,000.

“Snake bite … is almost completely ignored and grossly underestimated,” said Alan Harvey, head of the International Society of Toxinology, who led the meeting.

“WHO and governments need to … rank snake bite where it belongs — as a very real public health and medical concern which needs funding, training and focus.”

Bites from snakes such as cobras, mambas and vipers mainly affect people living in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia with scant health facilities nearby.

Antivenom treatment can cost between $250 and $500, the experts said, meaning many victims either seek no treatment at all or go to local witch doctors or herbalists.

Despite high death rates, the WHO in 2013 downgraded snake bite to a “neglected condition” with no formal programme on how to address it as a health threat, the experts said.

The specialists also warned that antivenom stocks are running “dangerously low” in many risk areas and said there is a “real crisis in the quantity and quality of antivenoms in rural areas, where they are needed most”.

Even where antivenom stocks are good and of high quality, there is often a shortage of medical staff trained in how to administer them safely or effectively.

Aspirin may double survival for cancer patients

Aspirin may double the chances of survival for patients with gastrointestinal cancers, according to the results of a new study recently presented at the 2015 European Cancer Congress in Vienna, Austria.
[A bottle of aspirin
New research suggests aspirin could double the survival of patients with gastrointestinal cancers.

This research, led by Dr. Martine Frouws of Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, adds to growing evidence suggesting aspirin may be useful in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting aspirin may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, while a more recent study claims aspirin may help boost treatment response in patients with breast, skin andbowel cancers.

For their study, Dr. Frouws and colleagues set out to determine how aspirin impacts the survival of patients with tumors in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract – namely the rectum, colon and esophagus. This is the first time a study has simultaneously assessed survival data by different GI locations, according to the authors.

The study included 13,715 patients who received a GI cancer diagnosis between 1998 and 2011. They were followed up for a median of 48.6 months. Of these patients, 42.8% had colon cancer, 25.4% had rectal cancer and 10.2% had cancer of the esophagus.

To determine how aspirin use after a GI cancer diagnosis impacted the overall survival of these patients, the researchers linked patient data with drug dispensing information from the PHARMO Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

“In this study we analyzed each separate prescription per patient, and therefore we were able to achieve a more exact estimate of the effect of aspirin on cancer survival,” notes Dr. Frouws.

Post-diagnosis aspirin users twice as likely to survive GI cancer

Overall, around 30.5% of patients used aspirin prior to GI cancer diagnosis, 8.3% only used aspirin after their diagnosis, while 61.1% did not use aspirin.

Fast facts about aspirin

  • Aspirin is a widely used painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug, though it is increasingly used as an antiplatelet medication
  • The US Preventive Services Task Force recommend thatpeople ages 50-59 take aspirin daily to lower their risk ofheart attack and stroke
  • Side effects of aspirin use include nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, heartburn and, in more severe cases, intestinal bleeding.

Learn more about aspirin

Across all cancers, around 28% of patients survived for at least 5 years.

Compared with patients who used aspirin before their cancer diagnosis and those who did not use the medication, patients who used aspirin after their diagnosis were twice as likely to survive, according to the results.

This finding remained even after the team accounted for potential confounding factors, including age, sex, cancer stage, cancer treatment and the presence of other medical conditions.

While the exact mechanism underlying the anticancer effect of aspirin is unclear, the researchers suggest it could be down to its antiplatelet properties. They explain that circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are believed to use platelets – a component of blood – to shield themselves from the immune system. Because aspirin blocks the function of platelets, this may expose CTCs, leaving them open to attack.

Though the optimal dosage and duration of aspirin use and its effect on GI cancers need to be investigated in further research, the team believes they have uncovered a potential treatment option that could reach a wide number of patients.

“Given that aspirin is a cheap, off-patent drug with relatively few side effects, this will have a great impact on health care systems as well as patients,” says Dr. Frouws, adding:

“Medical research is focusing more and more on personalized medicine, but many personalized treatments are expensive and only useful in small populations.

We believe that our research shows quite the opposite – it demonstrates the considerable benefit of a cheap, well-established and easily obtainable drug in a larger group of patients, while still targeting the treatment to a specific individual.”

The team is now conducting a randomized, placebo-controlled trial investigating how an 80-milligram dose of aspirin affects elderly patients with colon cancer.

Earlier this year, MNT reported on a study published in JAMA suggesting that certain genetic variations may influence the effect of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on colorectal cancer.

Disgraced Scientist Clones Dogs, And Critics Question His Intent

A surgical team at Sooam Biotech in Seoul, South Korea, injects cloned embryos into the uterus of an anesthetized dog.

A surgical team at Sooam Biotech in Seoul, South Korea, injects cloned embryos into the uterus of an anesthetized dog.

The Sooam Biotech Research Foundation’s sleek marble building is on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea. After passing through a guarded gate, visitors climb the steps to the entrance and a big door with tinted glass slides open.

“Hello, sir. Nice to meet you, sir,” says David Kim, a researcher at the laboratory. “You can follow me. We can go into the clean room. It’s the laboratory where we do the procedures — the cloning.”

Sooam Biotech is the only lab in the world that makes genetically identical copies —clones — of dogs for pet owners. Nearly 20 years ago, when Dolly the sheep became the first mammal ever cloned from a mature cell taken from an adult animal, many people feared the advance would lead to human cloning.

That hasn’t happened. But scientists have cloned several other species since, including cattle, rabbits, mules and cats. The success rates and health of the cloned animals has varied from species to species; Sooam’s scientists seem to be the only ones to figure out how to clone dogs.

For $100,000, anyone who has a cell from any dog can attempt to get a clone. The lab says it has cloned more than 600 dogs so far. Many of these clones are created for grieving pet owners, but some are being used by police agencies, including the South Korean National Police Agency.

Dr. Hwang Woo Suk founded Sooam's dog cloning service. But he is better known for announcing in 2004 that his research team had cloned the first human embryos. Other scientists found that claim to be fraudulent.

Dr. Hwang Woo Suk founded Sooam’s dog cloning service. But he is better known for announcing in 2004 that his research team had cloned the first human embryos. Other scientists found that claim to be fraudulent.

Sooam’s dog-cloning service is controversial. It was started by Hwang Woo Suk, who became a scientific pariah in 2006, when his claim that he had created the first cloned human embryos in 2004 to produce human embryonic stem cells was discovered to befraudulent.

But no one doubts that Hwang is cloning dogs. The big question is: Why? For the money? To fund other research? To reclaim the spotlight? Hwang refused several requests by NPR for an interview, but he agreed to let me tour the facility with Kim, to see how the process is done.

After we change into rubber slippers and blue jumpsuits, Kim leads me into a darkened room that’s crowded with technicians peering into microscopes. Kim points to a flat screen on the wall that shows a live feed of what’s happening in a petri dish under one microscope. There’s a big blob near the center of the dish.

“What you see here on the screen is the egg,” Kim says, explaining that to clone one dog, scientists start with an egg from another dog. “The small, blue shining dot that you see is the genetic material, which we will take out now.”

A technician gently pierces the egg’s outer membrane with a tiny glass tube and withdraws the genetic material.

A Sooam Biotech technician prepares to zap an egg that's been re-injected with a skin cell from a donor dog. The tiny shock can be enough to prompt the egg to start dividing and developing into a viable dog embryo.

A Sooam Biotech technician prepares to zap an egg that’s been re-injected with a skin cell from a donor dog. The tiny shock can be enough to prompt the egg to start dividing and developing into a viable dog embryo.

“We can see how the DNA is being extracted,” Kim says. “So now, what we are left with is a blank egg, in a sense.”

Next, the technician injects another tiny blob into the blank egg. It’s a skin cell from the animal that’s being cloned. A single skin cell contains all the DNA needed to create a genetically identical clone.

“We will insert one cell per egg,” Kim says. “With this, the procedure is done.”

Well, almost. After that another technician zaps the egg with a tiny bit of electricity.

“After you zap it, it will start developing — dividing and developing — into an early embryo,” Kim says. “It’s at the stage of early embryonic development.”

Within days, if all goes well, the embryos will be ready for transfer into the uterus of another female dog — a surrogate mother.

Kim heads to another part of the lab, stopping on a platform in front of a huge window that overlooks an operating room. Two big brown dogs lie unconscious on tables, each mostly covered by a green tarp. The dogs have tubes down their throats, and their long, pink tongues dangle to the side.

A half-dozen people in blue scrubs and surgical masks scurry around; bits of conversation are audible through a monitor on the wall.

“Are you ready?” one of the surgeons asks the team. He leans over a small opening in the tarp and makes an incision that will give him access to the dog’s ovaries.

“We are going to flush out the eggs,” Kim explains.

After a few minutes, when the surgeon steps away from the operating table and pulls down his mask, I can see that it’s Hwang Woo Suk — the scientist who runs the lab.

“We got 15 eggs from both sides of the ovaries,” Hwang says.

They’ll take those eggs back to the microscope room, in hopes of turning them into cloned dog embryos.

Hwang moves over to the second dog and starts cutting. She’s there to become the surrogate mother for a cloned puppy.

“This is our final process of embryo transfer — using an embryo-loaded catheter,” Hwang explains.

After just a few seconds he’s injected several previously created embryos into the dog’s uterus and steps away from the table.

A litter of puppies created at Sooam Biotech. Though clones share the same genes, they aren't exact replicas; developmental changes have an effect on markings, for example.

A litter of puppies created at Sooam Biotech. Though clones share the same genes, they aren’t exact replicas; developmental changes have an effect on markings, for example.

“Hopefully we can get cloned puppies after 61 days,” he says. That’s how long a dog pregnancy usually lasts.

The next stop on the tour is a long, bright kennel room. Puppies paw at the glass doors of each stall — a Boston terrier bound for the United States, a black female pug, a couple of male Pomeranians and a pair of Yorkshire terriers headed for Ireland.

Some newborn cloned puppies are still with their surrogate mothers in another kennel downstairs, in the process of being weaned. Others are outside getting some exercise. All the animals look healthy and happy. But critics have some big concerns about this procedure.

For one thing, this cloning process works only about a third of the time. So, getting a cloned puppy entails a lot of attempts and a lot of miscarriages. And the process requires many dogs — some to provide the eggs, and others to serve as surrogates.

“I think you really need to think twice about it in terms of animal welfare,” says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University. “Dog owners should really be aware of the potential harm to dogs that could be produced during this process.”

What’s more, most cloned animals end up pretty sickly — which raises further questions about the cloning process.

“The cloning process is imperfect. It doesn’t completely reset the DNA to an embryonic state,” Huyn says. “So depending on how imperfect that process is, you have different ailments that will befall the dog — many of them might die at an early age.”

And even when the process works perfectly, the cloned animals aren’t exact replicas of the originals. Environmental influences, including some that help determine when particular genes are turned on and off during development, play a role in how closely the resulting clone mimics the the original dog.

“They may not even look like your beloved pet,” Hyun says.

Hyun also worries that Hwang is using his dog-cloning services as a way to try to rehabilitate his career and eventually be allowed to return to doing research involving human cells.

“I’m a little bit wary of the idea that he’s still trying to do research and publish in scientific journals,” Hyun says. “And some have even suggested that over time, he may make a comeback in the human research arena. I just don’t think someone like him can be trusted to follow the rules appropriately.”

Although reputable scientists say Hwang committed fraud, he has always maintained that he did clone stem cells; during the tour Kim shows off what he claims is the original line of these cells.

Kim also says all cloned dogs born so far have been perfectly healthy — and almost always look and act a lot like the dogs they were cloned from. Kim also says Sooam Biotech takes good care of the donor and surrogate dogs, though he wouldn’t say where the lab gets these animals or what happens to them after they are no longer needed.

Kim tells me the lab is using the cloning techniques its staff developed to clone dogs for other research — including creating animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, in hopes of finding treatments for the human illnesses.

Scientists at Sooam are also trying to save endangered species, Kim says, and even hope to one day re-create extinct ones — like the woolly mammoth.

In response to those who question the dog research, Kim says Sooam is just offering something that people want.

“Among the domestic animals that share a deep relationship with humans, you know, they say that dogs are a man’s best friend,” he says. “So there is a demand for it.”