Thursday, May 29, 2014

H10N8 strain of bird flu is 'not a current threat to public health

The recent H10N8 strain of bird flu is unlikely to result in a public health threat without further mutations in the virus that would allow it to spread between humans. H10N8 is the latest in a line of continually evolving avian influenza viruses that can cause serious, potentially fatal disease in humans. Similar bird flu strains, such as H7N9, can cause severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, impaired liver or renal function, septic shock, muscle breakdown and brain disease. Initial symptoms include fever, muscle pains, cough, wheeze, headache and general malaise. H10N8 was first detected in humans in December 2013. The virus was found in a 73-year-old woman from Nanchang City in China, after she was admitted to the hospital with symptoms of severe pneumonia and fever. She died 9 days after the onset of illness. There have since been two further cases of the infection in humans, including one more death from the virus. Earlier this year, a report in The Lancet warned of the potential of a pandemic, with experts writing: "A H5N1 virus infection in Hong Kong in 1997 preceded the next 17 cases by 6 months, so more human cases of H10N8 infection might occur in the future. The pandemic potential of this novel virus should not be underestimated." Assessing the binding properties of avian flu strains At the Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research (MRC-NIMR), researchers have been investigating what potential the H10 family of viruses have for causing a pandemic. woman sneezing The virus will need to change receptor binding preference for more efficient transmission to humans. Assessing this requires the researchers to examine the molecular structure of the virus and see how it is able to bind to receptors. The researchers found that the H10 viruses have the same binding characteristics of other pandemic flu strains, such as H1 (the 1918 Spanish flu). There are also similarities in binding properties between H10 and the H7 viruses that have infected humans. Where the H10 deviates from the H1 and H7 viruses, though, is in its preference of receptor. H1 and H7 viruses bind up to 100 times more strongly to human receptors than avian receptors. However, the H10 viruses bind with avian receptors about 150 times more strongly than with human receptors. "We pay special attention to viruses that show changes in receptor binding preference," says Dr. John McCauley, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Influenza Centre at the MRC-NIMR, "because it is likely to be a requirement for more efficient transmission to humans." "A change in receptor binding is the essential first step in generating a pandemic virus," asserts Dr. McCauley, who adds that the MRC-NIMR results illustrate "the sophisticated scientific basis of monitoring influenza viruses and the importance of the WHO global influenza surveillance for public health." Written by David McNamee

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Caffeine may boost long-term memory

Numerous studies have suggested that caffeine has many health benefits. Now, new research suggests that a dose of caffeine after a learning session may help to boost long-term memory. This is according to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The research team, led by Daniel Borota of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, notes that although previous research has analyzed the effects of caffeine as a cognitive enhancer, whether caffeine can impact long-term memory has not been studied in detail. To find out, the investigators analyzed 160 participants aged between 18 and 30 years. On the first day of the study, the participants were shown pictures of different objects and were asked to identify them as "indoor" or "outdoor" items. Soon after this task, they were randomized to receive either 200 mg of caffeine in the form of a pill, or a placebo tablet. The next day, the participants were shown the same pictures as well as some new ones. The researchers asked them to identify whether the pictures were "new," "old" or "similar to the original pictures." 200 mg of caffeine 'enhanced memory' From this, the researchers found that subjects who took the caffeine were better at identifying pictures that were similar, compared with participants who took the placebo. However, the researchers note that both groups were able to accurately distinguish whether pictures were old or new. Coffee being poured into a cup which is sitting on a bed of coffee beans New research suggests that consuming 200 mg of caffeine a day may boost long-term memory. The team conducted further experiments using 100 mg and 300 mg doses of caffeine. They found that performance was better after the 200 mg dose, compared with the 100 mg dose, but there was no improvement after the 300 mg of caffeine, compared with 200 mg. "Thus, we conclude that a dose of at least 200 mg is required to observe the enhancing effect of caffeine on consolidation of memory," the study authors write. The team also found that memory performance was not improved if subjects were given caffeine 1 hour before carrying out the picture identification test. They investigators say there are many possibilities as to how caffeine may enhance long-term memory. For example, they say it may block a molecule called adenosine, preventing it from stopping the function of norepinephrine - a hormone that has been shown to have positive effects on memory. They note that further research should be conducted to better understand the mechanisms by which caffeine affects long-term memory. They add: "Given the widespread use of caffeine and the growing interest in its effects both as a cognitive enhancer and as a neuroprotectant, these questions are of critical importance." Potential benefits and risks of caffeine consumption According to the latest figures from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the average American consumes 300 mg of caffeine a day. The main sources of the compound are coffee, tea and soft drinks. Many studies have suggested that caffeine offers health benefits. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that caffeinated drinks may reduce the risk of liver disease, while another study says drinking 2-4 cups of coffee a day may reduce suicide risk. But it is not all good news. One study suggests that the stimulant is able to disrupt sleep patterns hours after consuming it, while another proposes that caffeine from energy drinks may alter heart function. Written by Honor Whiteman

Monday, May 26, 2014

How Safe Is Splenda (Sucralose)?

Splenda (sucralose) is being downgraded from "safe" to "caution" after an Italian animal study linked sucralose to a higher risk of developing leukemia. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says it awaits the Italian study's review before deciding what long-term safety grade to assign to Splenda in its Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives. Hundreds of millions of people globally use artificial sweeteners, which are commonly found in a wide range of food and drinks, including food for diabetes, cakes, milkshakes, soft drinks, and even medications. The steadily growing problem of obesity and type 2 diabetes in developed and middle income countries has led to rising demand for reduced-calorie foods and drinks. However, the growth of the artificial-sweetener market has brought with it concerns among consumers regarding the potential health consequences. Italian study linked a lifetime of sucralose consumption to leukemia risk Dr. Morando Soffritti, director of the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, and team fed 843 laboratory mice varying doses of sucralose from when they were fetuses until they died. Post-mortems showed an association between leukemia risk and lifetime sucralose consumption - the more sucralose they consumed, the higher their risk of leukemia. Dr Soffritti said: "Our early studies in rats showed increases in several types of cancer, and, in our most recent aspartame studies, we observed a statistically significant increase of liver and lung tumors in male mice. This shows aspartame causes cancer in various places of the body in two different species. Health concerns over aspartame are leading consumers to switch to the widely promoted alternative: sucralose. Now that we have found evidence of a link between sucralose and cancer in mice, similar research should be urgently repeated on rats, and large scale observational studies should be set up to monitor any potential cancer risk to human health." Dr Soffritti says that children and pregnant mothers should avoid consuming artificial sweeteners until appropriate studies clearly show there is no cancer risk. On an online communiqué, CSPI added that the only long-term feeding studies on sucralose in animals, before the Italian one, were conducted by Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Splenda. As things stand at the moment, these are the gradings CSPI gives to artificial sweeteners: Splenda - caution Saccharin - avoid Aspartame - avoid Acesulfame potassium - avoid Rebiana - safe CSPI adds that it would be useful to have further testing done on rebiana. CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, said: "Sucralose may prove to be safer than saccharin, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium, but the forthcoming Italian study warrants careful scrutiny before we can be confident that the sweetener is safe for use in food." Diet sodas probably still better than regular ones Even though concerns exist regarding the health risks associated with artificial sweeteners, CSPI believes people are better off drinking diet rather than regular sugar-sweetened sodas. The CSPI says that the health consequences from regularly drinking sugar-laden soft drinks, which include obesity, gout, tooth decay, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, are probably greater. Water is best - soft drinks with any kind of natural or artificial sweetener commonly contain food dyes and caramel coloring that are contaminated with 4-methylimidazole, a carcinogen. CSPI encourages consumers to drink water, seltzer water (soda water, effervescent mineral water), flavored unsweetened waters, unsweetened iced tea, or seltzer mixed with natural fruit juice. New sweeteners enter CSPI's Chemical Cuisine guide CSPI has included some new natural sweeteners in its Chemical Cuisine guide: Monkfruit extract (also known as Luo Han Guo or Lo Han Kuo) - contains mogrosides. Mogrosides are 200 times sweeter than sugar. However, they can leave a licorice-like aftertaste. Monkfruit extract currently has a "caution" rating because it has not been tested scientifically. Monatin - derived from a South African shrub. Monatin is said to be 3,000 times sweeter than sugar. Monatin currently has a "caution" rating because it has not been tested scientifically. Sucralose is about 600 times as sweet as table sugar (sucrose), three times as sweet as aspartame, and twice as sweet as saccharin. Written by Christian Nordqvist

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cancer-Killing Stem Cells Could Be Used To Treat Cancer

Researchers in Japan have for the first time shown it is possible to make cancer-specific immune system cells from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Their work brings closer the day when therapies use cloned versions of patients' own cells to boost their immune system's natural ability to kill cancer cells. The researchers, from the RIKEN Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology in Yokohama, describe how they created cancer-specific killer T lymphocytes from iPSCs, in a paper published online on 3 January in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Hiroshi Kawamoto and colleagues started with mature T lymphocytes specific for a certain type of skin cancer and reprogrammed them into IPSCs with the help of "Yamanaka factors". The iPSCs cells then generated fully active, cancer-specific T lymphocytes. Yamanaka factors are named after Shinya Yamanaka, who with British scientist John B. Gurdon, won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for discovering that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells. Yamanaka discovered that treating adult skin cells with four pieces of DNA (the Yamanaka factors) makes them revert back to their pluripotent state, where they have the potential, almost like embryonic stem cells, to become virtually any cell in the body. Stem cell image Scientists have created cancer-specific immune system cells that could be capable of killing cancer cells. Speaking about their breakthrough in making cancer-specific T cells, Kawamoto says in a statement: "We have succeeded in the expansion of antigen-specific T cells by making iPS cells and differentiating them back into functional T cells." Previous attempts using conventional methods to make cancer-killing T lymphocytes in the lab have not been very successful. The cells failed to kill the cancer cells, mainly because they did not live long enough. So Kawamoto and colleagues thought they would have more success if they went down the iPSC route. After making a batch of iPSCs by exposing melanoma-specific mature T lymphocytes to the Yamanaka factors, they grew them in the lab and coaxed them to differentiate into killer T lymphocytes again. "In this study, we established iPSCs from mature cytotoxic T cells specific for the melanoma epitope MART-1," they write. They showed that the new batch of T lymphocytes was specific for the same type of melanoma as the original lymphocytes. The new cells kept the same genetic structure that enabled them to express the cancer-specific receptor on their surfaces: "more than 90% of the resulting cells were specific for the original MART-1 epitope," note the researchers. They also showed that the new T lymphocytes were active and able produce the anti-tumor compound interferon-gamma when exposed to antigen-presenting cells. Kawamoto and colleagues are now planning to test whether the new T cells can selectively kill tumor cells without harming healthy cells. "If they do, these cells might be directly injected to patients for therapy. This could be realized in the not-so-distant future," says Kawamoto. Written by Catharine Paddock PhD Copyright: Medical News Today

The Cinnamon Challenge Lands Many Children In Hospital

The "Cinnamon Challenge", which involves trying to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon without water within sixty seconds, has led to many calls to poison centers, emergency departments visits and hospitalizations of teenagers who require ventilator support for collapsed lungs. Swallowing a teaspoon of Cinnamon within sixty seconds is a nearly impossible challenge. Even on the online dare, there is a warning: "It's going to burn, you are going to cough, and regret you tried." The Cinnamon Challenge is a dare that has spread throughout the Internet. While most children know about it, very few parents and teachers do, researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine wrote in the journal Pediatrics. Steven E. Lipshultz, M.D., the George Batchelor Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Batchelor Children's Research Institute, said: "Given the allure of social media, peer pressure and a trendy new fad, pediatricians and parents have a 'challenge' of their own in counseling tweens and teens regarding the sensibilities of the choices they make and the potential health risks of this dare. Ingesting and Aspirating Dry Cinnamon by Children and Adolescents: The 'Cinnamon Challenge." The authors said that parents need to be told about the Cinnamon Challenge, and they need to advise their children about the dangers. Parental advice really matters to kids, they added. "Schools and pediatricians should be encouraged to discuss with children the 'Cinnamon Challenge' and its possible harmful effects." Co-author Judy Schaechter, M.D., M.B.A., Interim Chair of Pediatrics, was surprised to find out during a recent dinner with a dozen pediatricians that none of them had ever heard of the Cinnamon Challenge. Even though most teenagers who choose to do the challenge endure only temporary effects, the researchers wrote that poison centers are receiving an increasing number of calls related to the Cinnamon Challenge, and more kids are ending up in emergency departments and being hospitalized. Cinnamon is a caustic powder consisting of cellulose fibers which do not dissolve and are not biodegradable in the lungs. Animal studies have shown that cinnamon can cause inflammation of the airways and lungs (if it is inhaled), and it can also cause lesions and scarring in the lungs and airways. People with asthma, pulmonary cystic fibrosis, chronic lung disease or a hypersensitivity to spice need to be especially careful. The authors wrote: "Although we cannot make a strong statement on documented pulmonary sequelae in humans, it is prudent to warn that the 'Cinnamon Challenge' has a high likelihood to be damaging to the lungs. These discussions can also help children learn to weigh the risks and rewards of yielding to peer pressure when considering senseless and risky behaviors." Since August 2012, millions of people have watched at least 50,000 YouTube videos of adolescents and young adults coughing, gagging and chocking as they accept the Cinnamon Challenge. Most of the participants are aged from 13 to 24 years. This age has the "greatest need for conformity" (susceptible to peer pressure). The authors are in no doubt that the growing Internet presence of the Cinnamon Challenge has led to a significant rise in calls to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. From January through June 2012, 178 calls related to this fad were made, compared to just 51 during the whole of 2011. Of those calls, 69% (122) were because of intentional misuse or abuse. 17% of callers required medical attention. Serious or life-threatening consequences from the Cinnamon Challenge are extremely rare, the authors emphasized. However, "they are unnecessary and avoidable." Written by Christian Nordqvist Copyright: Medical News Today

What Are Fordyce Spots? What Causes Fordyce Spots?

Fordyce spots, also known as Fordyce's spots, Fordyce granules or Sebaceous Prominence, are small raised, pale red, yellow-white or skin-colored bumps or spots that appear on the shaft of the penis, the labia, scrotum, or the vermilion border of the lips of a person's face. They can also be found on the foreskin of the penis (called Tyson's glands). The vermilion (vermillion) border of the lips is the normally sharp demarcation between the red colored part of the lip and the adjacent normal skin of the face. Fordyce Spots are named after the American dermatologist John Addison Fordyce (1858-1925) who first described them clinically in a medical journal. He also coined the terms Fox Fordyce disease, Fordyce's disease, Fordyce's lesion, and Brooke-Fordyce trichoepithelioma. Fordyce Spots are common in both males and females. Fordyce spots are a type of ectopic sebaceous gland: Ectopic = in an abnormal location or position. Sebaceous - fatty, greasy, adipose, fat - relating to oil and fat Glands = organs or collection of cells that secrete things. Endocrine glands secrete things, such as hormones, into the body. Exocrine glands secrete things outside the body, such as sweat or mucus. Sebaceous gland = a small skin gland that secretes sebum (oily matter) into the hair follicles to lubricate the hair and skin Ectopic sebaceous gland = a sebaceous gland that is on the skin but not in the hair follicle. According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary, Fordyce spots are: "A condition marked by the presence of numerous small, yellowish-white bodies or granules on the inner surface and vermilion border of the lips; histologically the lesions are ectopic sebaceous glands." Although Fordyce Spots are sebaceous glands which are in "the wrong place" (not in hair follicles), they are not associated with any disease or illness. Dermatologists say they are of cosmetic concern only - people who have them might not be happy with how they affect the way they look. Experts say that Fordyce Spots are natural occurrences on the body and are not infectious. Some men may wonder whether they have some kind of STI (sexually transmitted infection) or cancer and see their doctor, only to be told that they are harmless. What are the signs and symptoms of Fordyce Spots? Small, pale (skin color, yellowish or pinkish) bumps or spots from 1 to 3 mm in diameter are visible on the: Shaft of the penis (in males) Scrotum (in males) Where the lips on the face meet the skin of the face (vermilion border) Labia (in females) On the penis glans/shaft, scrotum and labia they may appear as bright red or purple papules, as a solitary lesion or in crops of 50 to 100. They are painless and do not itch. They are simply abnormally dilated blood vessels that are covered by thickened skin. In some cases they made bleed during/after intercourse. fordycespots 30-year-old male patient, worried about herpes simplex, saw his doctor. Physical examination revealed several 1mm-wide smooth, white spots. He was diagnosed with Fordyce Spots (Hong Kong Medical Association) What are the treatment options for Fordyce Spots? Dermatologists and primary care physicians (general practitioners, family doctors) emphasize that Fordyce Spots are normal physiological occurrences and are not dangerous for human health. Many, in fact, advise against treatment. Electro desiccation or CO2 laser have been used with some degree of success in making the spots less visible, if the patient's concern is purely cosmetic. Pulsed dye lasers have also been anecdotally reported to be effective in some cases. This is a laser treatment usually used for sebaceous gland hyperplasia (a skin disorder of the sebaceous glands, basically, an enlarged oil gland). Although expensive, pulsed dye lasers tend to leave fewer scars than other methods. In the majority of cases, the treatment methods mentioned above are not effective enough for most patients. However, a recent article regarding a Micro-punch technique provides some hope. Micro-punch technique for treatment of Fordyce spots - Professor Norbert Pallua, who works at the Department of Plastic Surgery, Hand Surgery, Burn Center, University Hospital RWTH Aachen, Germany, reported in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery promising results with Micro-punch technique for the treatment of Fordyce spots. In a retrospective study involving 23 patients from 2003 to 2011, Pallua and team say they achieved satisfactory functional and cosmetic results. They added that so far during post-operative observations, there have been no signs of recurrence from 12 up to 84 months (median = 51.3 months). What are the possible complications of Fordyce Spots? For patients with severe Fordyce Spots on the vermilion border of the lips of the face, there is a risk of anxiety and depression, because the eyes and lips are the first things people look at. The spots can affect people emotionally. Those with severe symptoms in their genitalia may be embarrassed or concerned about what their sexual partners might think. In some cases, the spots may bleed if injured or during intercourse. Many doctors fail to diagnose Fordyce Spots accurately It is not uncommon for patients with Fordyce Spots on their lips to go to several dermatologists and plastic surgeons and find that only a minority are able to identify what they are and to provide information regarding their causes, nature and possible treatments. Written by Christian Nordqvist Copyright: Medical News Today Not to be reproduced without permission of Medical News Today

Monday, November 15, 2010

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