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Health Watch - February


Health Watch - February


A dialysis-type treatment to remove antibodies has been devised for severely allergic asthmatics. Beads of sepharose, a polymer from seaweed, bind to IgE antibodies as blood flows through a column and back into the body. Scientists at the Medical University of Vienna found this extracted 80 per cent of the antibodies, achieving “a significant improvement in the quality of life”. More antibodies are produced while allergens are present, so weekly treatments are needed, though their concentration gradually falls. The researchers advise accompanying the treatment with the standard asthma drug omalizumab.


The 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes, already known health risks, have been shown to harm the livers of babies in the womb. Scientists at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities tested foetal liver tissue grown from pluripotent stem cells and found scarring in males and more cell metabolism damage in females. Professor Peter Fowler at Aberdeen University said: “This work is part of an ongoing project to understand how cigarette smoking by pregnant mothers has harmful effects on the developing foetus.”


New chemical and genetic technologies are being used to discover where drugs would be effective against tropical diseases – for which UK family doctors are now more watchful because of foreign travel. The researchers also aim to improve drugs already used. Durham University specialists are leading the project being conducted at 14 centres worldwide, with £8 million from Research Councils UK, a partnership of the government’s research bodies. The teams are showing particular interest in the parasitic Chagas disease and leishmaniasis, a parasitic infection from sandflies.


A simple blood test has been devised to indicate the most effective drugs for depressives. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern found the key was C-reactive protein, or CRP, which the liver produces in response to inflammation. Patients with low CRP were best on the drug escitalopram, while those with higher levels benefited from escitalopram combined with bupropion. The research, still early-stage, is now concentrated on CRP’s role with other medications. Dr Madhukar Trivedi said: “Currently our selection of depression medications is not any more superior than flipping a coin.”


Drugs to remedy immunity malfunctions are being researched at Dundee University. A five-year project is investigating how cells inter-communicate in immune responses and sometimes produce abnormal reactions. They will focus on cytokines, the signallers overseeing the immune system, which they see as particularly appropriate drug targets. The team, working with £1.7m from the European Research Council, the EU scientific funding body, hopes to create new medication for arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune conditions.


Neurones in the throat that tell fruit flies when they have had enough sugar could enhance obesity treatment. Yale University researchers observed that when they blocked the genes regulating the neurones the flies gorged on sucrose, but they ate less when controls returned. Professor John Carlson said: “This was very surprising because most sugar-sensing taste cells promote eating but these are doing just the opposite.” The researchers are now investigating whether the mechanism could be an anti-obesity weapon as humans and fruit flies have similar eating controls.


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