Health Watch - February 2019
Health Watch by Brian Collett...
GASTRIC BYPASS? HAVE A PILL
A pill has been produced to treat obesity by replacing gastric bypass surgery and to eliminate type 2 diabetes at the same time.
The pill coats the small intestine lining to mimic the reduction in blood sugar surges achieved by bariatric surgery, but it also lowers glucose response and can reverse type 2 diabetes, as does a gastric bypass – though the process is unclear. The medication is based on sucralfate, already used to treat gastrointestinal ulcers. The researchers, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, think their work could eventually create a new method of delivering drugs accurately to the gastrointestinal tract.
HIT ON CHOLESTEROL GENE
Cholesterol levels may eventually be lowered with gene control. The target for biomedical specialists at Pennsylvania University was a protein called PCSK9, which stops the liver from removing harmful cholesterol. The method was to engineer certain enzymes to disable the gene that encodes PCSK9. This proved more successful than previously used drugs that were costly and less consistently effective. The team, whose tests were on monkeys, are now refining the treatment but do not expect human trials for at least five years.
TEA TAKES ON CANCER
Tea leaves have been used in creating quantum dots – semiconductor particles with electrical and optical functions –to discover and kill cancer tumours. Researchers at Swansea University and two Indian institutions incubated tea leaf extract with cadmium sulfate and sodium sulfide until the dots formed. To their surprise the dots destroyed cancer cells, as well as lighting up tumours in bio-images. The process was also non-toxic, contrasting with previous expensive, complicated methods. The team think quantum dots could help them to produce new cancer treatments and may have uses in, for example, sun cream and anti-microbial paint for operating theatres. They want to establish a quantum dot factory for exploring more possibilities.
THERAPY FROM SPIDERS
Spider venom could help to fight melanoma. Scientists at Queensland University and a government tropical disease institute found that a peptide in the Australian tunnel-web spider’s venom killed human melanoma cells in the laboratory and slowed melanoma growth in mice, all without harming healthy cells. Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou had hopes for the compound but warned years of work lay ahead. The peptide is being explored as a treatment for liver disease, obesity and metabolism-related disorders as well as cancer.
Brain changes caused by long-term depression have been detected at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. Researchers found patients with ten years of untreated depression had 30% higher levels of a brain inflammation biomarker. Anti-inflammatory drug treatment is now being considered.
An enzyme in soil from a tobacco field has been refined to destroy nicotine in the bloodstream before it can reach the brain. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California found it “incredibly effective” in rats. Professor Olivier George reported: “What’s unique about this enzyme is that it removes enough nicotine to reduce the level of dependence but leaves enough to keep the animals from going into severe withdrawal.” Human trials to fight smoking addiction will follow.