Archive for July, 2010


Friday, July 30th, 2010

What is Hoodia Gordonii?

Latin Name: Hoodia gordonii
Other Names: hoodia, xhooba, !khoba, Ghaap, hoodia cactus, South African desert cactus

Hoodia (pronounced HOO-dee-ah) is a cactus-like plant that grows primarily in the semi-deserts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola.

In the last few years, hoodia has been heavily marketed for weight loss and has become immensely popular.

Although there has always been a demand for diet pills, after the ban on the herb ephedra, the market was particularly ripe for the next new diet pill.

Much of hoodia’s popularity stems from claims that the San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert relied on hoodia for thousands of years to ward off hunger and thirst during long hunting trips. They were said to have cut off the stem and eat the bitter-tasting plant.

Hoodia gordonii grows in clumps of green upright stems. Although it is often called a cactus because it resembles one, hoodia is actually a succulent plant.

It takes about five years before hoodia gordonii’s pale purple flowers appear and the plant can be harvested.

There are over 13 types of hoodia. The only active ingredient identified so far is a steroidal glycoside that has been called “p57”. Currently, only hoodia gordonii is thought to contain p57.

What is the History of Hoodia Gordonii?

In 1937, a Dutch anthropologist studying the San Bushmen noted that they used hoodia gordonii to suppress appetite. In 1963, scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s national laboratory, began studying hoodia. They claimed that lab animals lost weight after they were given hoodia gordonii.

The South African scientists, working with a British company named Phytopharm, isolated what they believed to be an active ingredient in hoodia gordonii, a steroidal glycoside, which they named p57. After obtaining a patent in 1995, they licensed p57 to Phytopharm. Phytopharm has spent more than $20 million on hoodia research.

Eventually pharmaceutical giant Pfizer learned about hoodia and expressed interest in developing a hoodia drug. In 1998, Phytopharm sub-licensed the rights to develop p57 to Pfizer for $21 million. Pfizer returned the rights to hoodia to Phytopharm, who is now working with Unilever.

Much of the hype about hoodia started after 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl and crew traveled to Africa to try hoodia. They hired a local Bushman to go with them into the desert and track down some hoodia. Stahl ate it, describing it as “cucumbery in texture, but not bad.” She reported that she lost the desire to eat or drink the entire day. She also said she didn’t experience any immediate side effects, such as indigestion or heart palpitations.

Where is Hoodia Gordonii Found?

Hoodia gordonii is sold in capsule, powder, liquid, or tea form in health food stores and on the Internet. Hoodia is also found in the popular diet pill Trimspa.

How Does Hoodia Gordonii Work?

Despite its popularity, there are no published randomized controlled trials in humans to show hoodia is safe or effective in pill form.

One study published in the September 2004 issue of Brain Research found that injections of p57 into the appetite center of rat brains resulted in altered levels of ATP, an energy molecule that may affect hunger. The animals receiving the P57 injections also ate less than rats that received placebo injections. However, this was an animal study and injections in the brain are different from oral consumption, so it cannot be used to show that oral hoodia can suppress appetite in humans.

The manufacturer Phytopharm cites a clinical trial involving 18 human volunteers that found hoodia consumption reduced food intake by about 1000 calories per day compared to a placebo group. Although intriguing, the study wasn’t published or subjected to a peer-review process, so the quality of the study cannot be evaluated.

What are the Side Effects of Hoodia?

There are some potential side effects of hoodia that you should be aware of. What are Hoodia’s Side Effects and Safety Concerns?

How do I Know if it’s Pure Hoodia?

There are widespread reports of counterfeit hoodia products. Mike Adams of News Target, estimates that 80% of hoodia products are contaminated or counterfeit. It’s impossible to know if a hoodia product contains pure hoodia and the active ingredient, unless it has been tested by an independent laboratory.

After looking at hoodia buyer’s guides, hoodia ratings, and hoodia comparisons on the Internet, my advice is that you be very cautious. Most of these sites have been secretly created by companies selling hoodia. They explain why the hoodia in other products is inferior, even though there are no published reports showing that one is more effective. Q&A: How Do I Know if it’s Pure Hoodia or a Fake?

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Saving Eyes

Ocular Oncologists Inject Drug Into Eye

To Starve Tumors And Save Sight

October 1, 2008 — Ocular oncologists adopted a drug originally intended to treat colon cancer as a treatment for cancers in the eye as well as macular degeneration. The drug reduces abnormal blood vessel growth, which starves tumors and stops blood vessels from leaking. This interrupts the processes that would, if not stopped, greatly damage patients’ vision.

Whether it’s cancer or macular degeneration, many times patients must face the reality that they will go blind. Now, a new treatment is helping save their sight.

The first thing everyone notices about Dove Karn is her beautiful blue eyes — and it was in Central Park where she came to terms with the fact that she had melanoma in one of those very eyes.

Her tumor was treated with radiation — but the side effects could destroy her vision. Ocular oncologist Paul Finger turned to a new drug to stop Dove’s vision from slipping away.

“It’s a real paradigm shift — like antibiotics were for infections,” says Paul Finger, M.D., an ocular oncologist at the New York Eye Cancer Center in New York City. “This anti-blood-vessel drug is saving people’s vision.”

Avastin is a shot given directly into the eye. It starves the tumor by stopping the growth of abnormal blood vessels that normally would feed the tumor.

“Avastin stops new blood vessels from growing, but it also prevents new and old blood vessels from leaking — and the leaking is what takes away most of the patient’s vision,” Dr. Finger said.

Dove will need to get shots every 6 to 8 weeks, indefinitely — but she says it’s worth it.

“This year was the year that I could say I’m in remission,” Karn said. “I have a full-time teaching job. My children are fabulous — life is wonderful right now.”

ABOUT CANCER IN THE EYE: Ocular melanoma — eye cancer — is a particularly rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the pigment cells in the retina. There are essentially two types of intraocular melanoma: low-grade tumors, which grow slowly and rarely metastasize, and high-grade tumors, which grow more quickly and metastasize at a very early stage. Once a tumor metastasizes, the cancer spreads quickly to the liver and other organs, and a patient has only 6 to 12 months to live in the worst cases, although some can survive for as long as 5 years. The National Eye Institute estimates some 2,000 newly diagnosed cases of ocular melanoma occur per year in the United States and Canada –roughly seven in one million people. It affects people of all ages and races, and is not hereditary. Ocular melanoma kills nearly half of those who develop it.

ABOUT THE RETINA: We can see because light reflects off objects in our surroundings and enters the eye through the pupil. The light is then focused and inverted by the cornea and the lens, and projected onto the back of the eye. There we find the retina, which is lined with a series of photoreceptors that convert the light signal into an electrical signal. Ganglion cells then transmit those signals to the brain via the optic nerve.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Morphine Blocks Tumor Growth,

Study Suggests

Science (July 28, 2010) — Current research suggests that taking morphine can block new blood vessel and tumor growth. The related report by Koodie et al, “Morphine suppresses tumor angiogenesis through a HIF1?/p38MAPK pathway,” appears in the August 2010 issue of the American Journal of Pathology.

Morphine is currently the gold standard of analgesics used to relieve severe pain and suffering. Angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth, is critical for tumor progression from dormant to malignant. Morphine is commonly used to treat cancer pain, but the effects of morphine use on new blood vessel and tumor growth remain controversial.

Using a clinically relevant morphine dose in a mouse model of Lewis lung carcinoma, researchers led by Dr. Sabita Roy of the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, MN examined the effect of morphine use on new blood vessel growth in tumors. They found that chronic morphine use decreased levels of tumor angiogenesis in a manner dependent on the opioid receptor. This effect was mediated by suppression of signaling induced by low oxygen concentrations, leading to a reduction in the levels of pro-angiogenic factors. Therefore, morphine may not only serve as an analgesic for cancer patients, but may also inhibit tumor angiogenesis and growth.

Koodie et al conclude that “morphine is a potential inhibitor of tumor growth, through the suppression of tumor cell-induced angiogenesis and hypoxia-induced p38 MAPK activation of HIF-1. In addition to its analgesic potential, morphine can be exploited for its anti-angiogenic potential in cancer pain management; these findings support the use of morphine for cancer pain management.”

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Disabled man eaten to death

by maggots

  • July 28, 2010 11:19PM

A DISABLED Austrian man was eaten to death by maggots in his bed while his partner slept beside him.

The 61-year-old retiree died in an ambulance on his way to hospital in Vienna on Tuesday with the maggots having partly devoured his back.

Paramedics notified police after discovering the shocking state of hygiene in the man’s home, and his 34-year-old partner was questioned over his condition.

“The man had not wanted to be washed for a long time,” a police spokesman said.

According to police, the couple had been together for around a decade, and the victim’s partner had slept in the same bed right up until his death.

The dead man had been paralysed for several years following a stroke.

Some types of maggots found on corpses can be of great use to forensic scientists. By their stage of development, these maggots can be used to give an indication of the time elapsed since death, as well as the place the organism died. Some maggots are leaf miners. Maggots are bred commercially, as a popular bait in angling, and a food for carnivourous pets such as reptiles or birds. Some maggots which eat dead, but not living, flesh have been used medically, being introduced into wounds to clean them. Other maggots, such as the screwworm, eat live flesh. In the early days of medicine, maggot infestations of wounds (myiasis) were inevitable. The wounds that were infested tended to be less life-threatening than wounds without the infestation, so until the development of antibiotics it was common practice to leave the maggots. After antibiotics, the presence of maggots became viewed as unhygienic
Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Nanotechnology and stem cells rejuvenate arteries

A combination of nanotechnology and adult stem cells has been shown to destroy arterial plaque atherosclerosis in the hearts of pigs. Animals that received stem cells also showed signs of new blood vessel growth and restoration of artery function, according to the study reported at the American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2010 Scientific Sessions.

The study was conducted at the Department of Internal Medicine and Research Center of Regenerative Medicine, Ural State Medical Academy in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Nanoparticles were infused into the heart of pigs, along with adult stem cells, then heated by laser light until they burned away arterial plaque. The volume of plaque shrunk an average of 28.9 percent immediately after treatment across the three treatment groups, and six months later it had declined 56.8 percent on average. In the control group, plaque volume increased an average of 4.3 percent.

“Biophotonics (light therapy), plasmonics (plasma therapy), stem cell therapy and nanotechnology might someday offer a completely novel treatment to reduce artery plaque build-up,” said lead author and research manager Alexandr Kharlamov. “Nanoburning in combination with stem cell treatment promises demolition of plaque and functional restoration of the vessel wall.”

This new approach may one day replace angioplasty, a common treatment for atherosclerosis, in which a balloon-tipped catheter is threaded into a blocked artery and the balloon is inflated to restore blood flow. The balloon squeezes plaque against the artery wall, but does not eliminate it.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Study: Music training ‘primes’ the brain

EVANSTON, Ill. (UPI) — Musical instruction can “prime” the brain to improve human skills in language, speech, memory and attention, U.S. researchers say.

A study at Northwestern University found the effects of musical training on the nervous system can build meaningful patterns important to all types of learning, reported Tuesday.

Researchers studied music training’s effect on neuroplasticity, defined as the brain’s ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the course of a person’s life.

An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, said, but also creates permanent patterns important to all learning.

“The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant,” Kraus said.

“A musician’s brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound,” Kraus said, and “the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and what they mean.”

These efficient sound-to-meaning connections are important not only for music but for other aspects of communication, she said.

“The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness,” the study said.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Officials warn of ocean bacteria

MIAMI (UPI) — Wading in the ocean to let salt water heal cuts and scrapes is not always a good idea, health experts say, as bacteria can proliferate in summer months.

A little known, deadly bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus can infect open wounds of beach goers and cause a life-threatening illness in those with weakened immune systems, The Miami Herald reported Friday.

he bacteria, which occur naturally in warm coastal waters, infected 138 people in Florida between 2005 and 2009 and 31 of them died, the Florida Department of Health said.

“The high mortality rate makes it a big deal,” Juan A. Suarez, an epidemiologist for FDH, said.

The bacteria proliferate in waters where temperature and salinity are increasing, particularly between the months of April and November, Suarez said.

“It’s a particularly difficult organism because it doesn’t affect everyone.” he said. “Most healthy people will not respond to the organism. They are probably not at risk.”

But he advised all people to heal their cuts and scrapes through other means, not ocean water.

“It’s probably not a good idea, even if you’re healthy, to go into the water with an open wound,” Suarez said.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Protein could battle Alzheimer’s disease

NEW YORK (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they are looking at a new approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease with a protein thought to extend lifespan in laboratory animals.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that in mice prone to developing Alzheimer’s, activating a protein called sirtuin suppressed the disease and destroying the protein made the disease much worse, The New York Times reported.

The finding raises the hope that Alzheimer’s, and possibly other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, could be treated with drugs that activate sirtuin, researchers say.

“We think it is a scientifically compelling story that ties the sirtuins to the biology of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Dennis J. Selkoe, an Alzheimer’s expert at Harvard Medical School who was not a part of the study.

Drugs that activate sirtuin already exist, including resveratrol, a minor ingredient of red wine and other foods.

One drug company, Sirtris, is in preclinical trials with sirtuin-activating drugs.

“We think it has very significant potential in neurodegenerative diseases,” Sirtris Chief Executive Officer George P. Vlasuk said.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Do Cleaning Products & Sprays

Cause Breast Cancer?

Science (July 21, 2010) — Women who report greater use of cleaning products may be at higher breast cancer risk than those who say they use them sparingly. Researchers writing in BioMed Central’s open access journal Environmental Health asked more than 1500 women about their cleaning product usage and found that women who reported using more air fresheners and products for mold and mildew control had a higher incidence of breast cancer.

Julia Brody, from the Silent Spring Institute, USA, worked with a team of researchers to carry out telephone interviews with 787 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 721 comparison women. She said, “Women who reported the highest combined cleaning product use had a doubled risk of breast cancer compared to those with the lowest reported use. Use of air fresheners and products for mold and mildew control were associated with increased risk. To our knowledge, this is the first published report on cleaning product use and risk of breast cancer.”

The researchers questioned women on product use, beliefs about breast cancer causes, and established and suspected risk factors. They found that cleaning products, air fresheners, and insect repellents were associated with breast cancer, but little association was observed with overall pesticide use. Women with breast cancer who believed that chemicals and pollutants contribute ‘a lot’ to the risk of developing the condition were more likely to report high product usage.

Speaking about this potential bias to the study, Brody said, “When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they often think about what happened in the past that might have contributed to the disease. As a result, it may be that women with breast cancer more accurately recall their past product use or even over-estimate it. Or, it could also be that experience with breast cancer influences beliefs about its causes. For example, women diagnosed with breast cancer are less likely to believe heredity contributes ‘a lot’, because most are the first in their family to get the disease.”

In order to avoid possible recall bias, the researchers recommend further study of cleaning products and breast cancer using prospective self-reports and measurements in environmental and biological media.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Of Bugs and Brains:

Gut Bacteria Affect Multiple Sclerosis

Science (July 20, 2010) — Biologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have demonstrated a connection between multiple sclerosis (MS) — an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord — and gut bacteria.

The work — led by Sarkis K. Mazmanian, an assistant professor of biology at Caltech, and postdoctoral scholar Yun Kyung Lee — appears online the week of July 19-23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Multiple sclerosis results from the progressive deterioration of the protective fatty myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells. The loss of myelin hinders nerve cells from communicating with one another, leading to a host of neurological symptoms including loss of sensation, muscle spasms and weakness, fatigue, and pain. Multiple sclerosis is estimated to affect about half a million people in the United States alone, with rates of diagnosis rapidly increasing. There is currently no cure for MS.

Although the cause of MS is unknown, microorganisms seem to play some sort of role. “In the literature from clinical studies, there are papers showing that microbes affect MS,” Mazmanian says. “For example, the disease gets worse after viral infections, and bacterial infections cause an increase in MS symptoms.”

On the other hand, he concedes, “it seems counterintuitive that a microbe would be involved in a disease of the central nervous system, because these are sterile tissues.”

And yet, as Mazmanian found when he began examining the multiple sclerosis literature, the suggestion of a link between bacteria and the disease is more than anecdotal. Notably, back in 1993, Caltech biochemist Leroy Hood — who was then at the University of Washington — published a paper describing a genetically engineered strain of mouse that developed a lab-induced form of multiple sclerosis known as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, or EAE.

When Hood’s animals were housed at Caltech, they developed the disease. But, oddly, when the mice were shipped to a cleaner biotech facility — where their resident gut bacterial populations were reduced — they didn’t get sick. The question was, why? At the time, Mazmanian says, “the authors speculated that some environmental component was modulating MS in these animals.” Just what that environmental component was, however, remained a mystery for almost two decades.

But Mazmanian — whose laboratory examines the relationships between gut microbes, both harmful and helpful, and the immune systems of their mammalian hosts — had a hunch that intestinal bacteria were the key. “As we gained an appreciation for how profoundly the gut microbiota can affect the immune system, we decided to ask if symbiotic bacteria are the missing variable in these mice with MS,” he says.

To find out, Mazmanian and his colleagues tried to induce MS in animals that were completely devoid of the microbes that normally inhabit the digestive system. “Lo and behold, these sterile animals did not get sick,” he says.

Then the researchers decided to see what would happen if bacteria were reintroduced to the germ-free mice. But not just any bacteria. They inoculated mice with one specific organism, an unculturable bug from a group known as segmented filamentous bacteria. In prior studies, these bacteria had been shown to lead to intestinal inflammation and, more intriguingly, to induce in the gut the appearance of a particular immune-system cell known as Th17. Th17 cells are a type of T helper cell — cells that help activate and direct other immune system cells. Furthermore, Th17 cells induce the inflammatory cascade that leads to multiple sclerosis in animals.

“The question was, if this organism is inducing Th17 cells in the gut, will it be able to do so in the brain and central nervous system?” Mazmanian says. “Furthermore, with that one organism, can we restore to sterile animals the entire inflammatory response normally seen in animals with hundreds of species of gut bacteria?”

The answer? Yes on all counts. Giving the formerly germ-free mice a dose of one species of segmented filamentous bacteria induced Th17 not only in the gut but in the central nervous system and brain — and caused the formerly healthy mice to become ill with MS-like symptoms.

“It definitely shows that gut microbes have a strong role in MS, because the genetics of the animals were the same. In fact, everything was the same except for the presence of those otherwise benign bacteria, which are clearly playing a role in shaping the immune system,” Mazmanian says. “This study shows for the first time that specific intestinal bacteria have a significant role in affecting the nervous system during MS — and they do so from the gut, an anatomical location very, very far from the brain.”

Mazmanian and his colleagues don’t, however, suggest that gut bacteria are the direct cause of multiple sclerosis, which is known to be genetically linked. Rather, the bacteria may be helping to shape the immune system’s inflammatory response, thus creating conditions that could allow the disease to develop. Indeed, multiple sclerosis also has a strong environmental component; identical twins, who possess the same genome and share all of their genes, only have a 25 percent chance of sharing the disease. “We would like to suggest that gut bacteria may be the missing environmental component,” he says.

For their part, Th17 cells are needed for the immune system to properly combat infection. Problems only arise when the cells are activated in the absence of infection — just as disease can arise, Mazmanian and others suspect, when the species composition of gut bacteria become imbalanced, say, by changes in diet, because of improved hygiene (which kills off the beneficial bacteria as well as the dangerous ones), or because of stress or antibiotic use. One impact of the dysregulation of normal gut bacterial populations — a phenomenon dubbed “dysbiosis” — may be the rising rate of multiple sclerosis seen in recent years in more hygienic societies.

“As we live cleaner, we’re not just changing our exposure to infectious agents, but we’re changing our relationship with the entire microbial world, both around and inside us, and we may be altering the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory bacteria,” leading to diseases like MS, Mazmanian says. “Perhaps treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis may someday include probiotic bacteria that can restore normal immune function in the gut… and the brain.”

The work was supported by funding from the California Institute of Technology, the Weston Havens Foundation, and the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha