Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blood test to detect schizophrenia by year-end

A simple blood test for diagnosing schizophrenia, the most serious form of mental illness, could be available by the year-end, according to a new study.

The disorder, with symptoms that can include hallucinations and delusional thoughts, affects millions of people worldwide.

Celia Henry Arnaud, senior editor, Chemical and Engineering News, which published the report, mentions the test as a part of a broader discussion of how scientists are using non-brain cells to study schizophrenia in a bid to develop new diagnostic tests.

She notes that schizophrenia does not just involve the brain, but also abnormal levels of certain proteins that appear in other parts of the body.

The article highlights groundbreaking research by a group of scientists in Britain, indicating that 40 percent of the chemical changes in the brains of schizophrenia patients also occur in other body parts.

The scientists are studying these biomarkers in the skin, immune cells, and blood of patients to provide a real-time picture of the disease.

Most previous studies, in contrast, were done with brain tissue taken from patients after death, the article notes.

The scientists have already identified several schizophrenia biomarkers in the blood and are working with a company that plans to launch a blood test for diagnosing schizophrenia in 2010, said a release of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The test could help confirm diagnoses made on the basis of psychiatric evaluations and allow earlier diagnosis so that patients can be treated earlier.

The report appeared in Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly journal.

Obesity also ups liver cancer risk

Obesity comes with plenty of health risks but there's one that's perhaps not so well known -- increased risk of developing liver cancer.

Now, a team of researchers have confirmed in mice that obesity does act as a "bonafide tumour promoter", and they have backed it up with real evidence.

"Doctors always worry about our weight, but the focus is often on cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, both of which can be managed pretty well with existing drugs," said Michael Karin of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

"However, we should also worry about elevated cancer risk. If we can reduce cancer deaths by as many as 90,000 per year, that's a lot of people - a lot of lives."

Karin's team shows that liver cancer is fostered by the chronic inflammatory state that goes with obesity, and two well-known inflammatory factors in particular.

The findings suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs that have been taken by millions for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease might also reduce the risk of cancer in those at high risk due to obesity, Karin said.

The studies reported earlier showed that obese people have about a 1.5-fold increase in their risk of cancer overall, said an UCSD release.

These findings appeared in the Friday issue of Cell.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vitamin D may help fight Tuberculosis

A dose of vitamin D may help ward off tuberculosis, researchers say.

A study of 131 people found the vitamin helped to boost the ability of the body to inhibit the growth of the bacteria causing the disease, reported online edition of BBC News.

Until now no study has evaluated the effect of Vitamin D on the body's immunity to mycobacteria - that causes TB.

During the study researchers took blood from all the participants and infected with mycobacteria.

The group was then split into two with 64 given a dummy pill and the rest a 2.5mg dose of the Vitamin D.

After six weeks, the blood was taken again and infected with mycobacteria.

The blood analysis showed the growth of the bacteria in the people who were given vitamin D was 20 percent less than the placebo group.

The researchers said clinical trials were now needed to fully prove the findings, but they added the vitamin had the potential to help in warding off the disease.

The researchers from Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Imperial College said it could be given to those deemed at risk - the bacteria can lay dormant waiting for the immune system to be weakened before striking - or added to drinks such as milk and orange juice.

The study appeared in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Few minutes of exercise could help inactive overweight women

Just a few minutes of exercise every day could help improve fitness and health of women who are inactive and overweight, US scientists say.

Conducting tests on overweight and obese women, many of whom had high blood pressure, researchers at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge found that even ten minutes of exercise a day improved their fitness and toned them up enough to lower their overall risk of early death.

The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association is the first to reinforce with concrete medical data that exercise does not have to be an all-or-nothing venture, and lead researcher Timothy Church says the information should be used to encourage sedentary adults to find the time for some activity each week.

While everyone knows that exercise is good for you, 20 percent of US adults admit they do no exercise at all and most do not get as much as is recommended, reported health portal News Medical.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health recommend at least half an hour of moderate exercise to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

The Institute of Medicine, which advises the US government, says people need to get themselves slightly out of breath for close to an hour every day.

Depression tied to risk of becoming diabetic

Young adults with a history of depression have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a Canadian team.

"Our results are very important because the typical onset of depression occurs between 20 and 30 years of age," Dr. Jeffrey A. Johnson told. "These are the people who are at highest risk of developing depression and, based on our study results, they seem to have the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes."

Diabetes and depression often co-exist, and "depression is associated with worse outcomes in people with diabetes," Dr. Johnson and colleagues from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, write in the journal Diabetes Care.

It is not been entirely clear, however, whether people with a history of depression are somehow predisposed to developing diabetes, they explain.

The researchers used databases of Saskatchewan Health to identify 33,257 cases of type 2 diabetes among people at least 20 years of age, and each was matched to two nondiabetic "controls." The records were also used to any ascertain history of depression.

Patients with newly diagnosed diabetes were more likely to have a history of depression than were those without diabetes (4.9 percent vs. 3.8 percent, respectively).

This increased risk remained after taking into account various factors, "but was limited to subjects 20 to 50 years of age," the researchers report.

They note that there are several mechanisms that may be involved with this association. Depressed individuals are more likely to experience weight changes and less likely to partake in healthy behaviors such as exercise, both of which may increase the risk of diabetes.

Another possible explanation, according to the team, is that many of the medications used to treat depression cause weight gain and sedation, and may contribute to the development of diabetes.

Moms pregnant with boys may be less forgetful

Mothers pregnant with boys may be less forgetful than those carrying girls, Canadian researchers said on Tuesday.

The researchers said they found evidence that women who gave birth to boys consistently outperformed moms of girls in tests that specifically taxed memory in areas of listening, computational and visualization skills.

"When we set out to look at the effects of pregnancy on cognition, we weren't thinking of the sex of the fetus, so we were shocked by our results," said study leader Neil Watson, a Simon Fraser University psychology professor.

The 18-month study tracked 39 Vancouver-area women from early pregnancy to several months after birth. The women were given eight tests that were administered repeatedly during pregnancy and after.

In three cognitively-challenging tests, the women pregnant with boys performed significantly better, the researchers said.

Watson said the results suggest that an "unknown fetal-derived factor" that differs between male and female fetuses may have an influence on the mother's cognition.

"The small amount of research that has been done on maternal cognition has generated contradictory results, but our data suggest that some of this discrepancy may be due to the sex of the fetus," said researcher Claire Vanston.

The researchers' findings will be published in the May 12 findings of the journal NeuroReport.

New Type of Leukaemia Identified

Some infants with a type of leukaemia called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) respond poorly to therapy. Now researchers have found that these patients actually have a type of leukaemia that is distinct from ALL, paving the way, they say, for targeted treatments.

ALL is a cancer of cells that develop into white blood cells. It is more common among children than adults and accounts for more than half of all childhood leukaemia's.

Researchers already knew that many ALL patients who respond poorly to treatment have a defect in the ``mixed lineage'' gene, which is located on chromosome 11.

Now with the help of gene chip technology, Dr. Scott A. Armstrong of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues have identified more than 1,000 genes that are expressed differently between ALL patients and patients with the mixed-lineage defect, suggesting it should be considered a distinct type of leukaemia.

Reporting in the advance online edition of Nature Genetics for December, Armstrong's team suggests that these patients should be classified as having ``mixed-lineage leukaemia'' (MLL) rather than ALL.

To determine whether MLL was a distinct form of leukemia, the researchers compared the expression of over 30,000 genes in 10 ALL samples and 17 MLL samples.

The investigators also compared genes expressed in ALL and MLL with those in another type of blood cancer called acute myelogenous leukaemia (AML); MLL cells have features similar to both ALL and AML cells. But they concluded that the diseases were ``three distinct entities.''

``We expected to find that a few genes would be different between MLL and ALL, but the number we found immediately suggested to us that we were dealing with a different type of leukaemia,'' Armstrong says.

``This is exciting,'' Armstrong continued. ``It's not your standard ALL, and this is probably why these leukaemia's don't respond well to ALL therapy.''

According to Armstrong, a physician cannot tell an MLL patient from an ALL patient without sophisticated genetic tests, since the symptoms are the same, but ``now that we know that MLL is distinct, we can start directing treatment with that in mind.''

He added, ``It won't immediately change the way we do things, but our ultimate goal is to develop new therapies based on the genes expressed in different types of leukaemia--ones that are less toxic and more specific.''

Study Finds Morning Dialysis Patients Live Longer

Elderly patients undergoing regular dialysis for kidney failure live longer if they get their treatment in the morning, a new study has found.

Patients with kidney failure must undergo dialysis to clear waste products from the blood. No previous research has been done into whether the time of day at which dialysis is performed has any effect on patient survival, according to Dr. Donald L. Bliwise of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues.

To investigate, Bliwise's team followed 242 patients aged 60 and older for 11 years. The study participants included 167 patients who had dialysis in the morning, and 75 who had the procedure in the afternoon.

Morning dialysis patients lived, on average, about 1 year and 3 months longer than the patients treated in the afternoon, Bliwise and colleagues report.

When other factors that could affect survival, such as whether or not a patient had diabetes or heart disease, were taken into account, the researchers found morning dialysis cut the risk of death by about 30%.

The authors note that timing has been shown to influence the effectiveness of certain medical treatments. For example, in certain cancers, chemotherapy is much more effective when given in the early morning.

While the reason for the survival advantage to morning dialysis remains unclear, the fact that morning patients are more likely to sleep during the procedure may play a role, co-author Dr. Nancy Kutner explained.

``Previous studies have shown that dialysis during sleep may be more effective,'' she says. Another possibility, the researchers suggest, is that dialysis may be less effective when performed during the afternoon.

``More research needs to be conducted to identify if morning hemodialysis is more beneficial,'' she added.

Every year in the US, more than 300,000 patients receive treatment for kidney failure and roughly 20% of these patients die annually, the report notes.
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