220F2BF8-3689-4972-A1DD-95A96BD003A6.jpgPARIS, August 21, 2008, Yahoo.com – Personalised, genome-based health care could help prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths caused each year by adverse drug reactions, genetics pioneer Craig Venter said Tuesday.

A new era of affordable gene sequencing will also render obsolete the practice of testing drugs on various ethnic groups, he said in a commentary, published by the London-based Nature Publishing Group.

Currently, clinical trials for medications often compare results across different racial groups.

One new compound, BiDil, is specifically designed for African Americans with heart disease.

Venter and three scientists from the Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland vigorously defend the focus on minorities in drug studies, but argue that race-based medicine should be seen only as an imperfect stop-gap measure.

“Practitioners can now go beyond therapy on the basis of ethnicity into the precisely targeted arena of personal genomics,” they write.

The high degree of genetic diversity within single ethnic groups, they point out, shows that assumptions about shared traits are deeply flawed.

To underscore the point, the scientists compared the genetic makeup of two Caucasian men whose entire genomes have been sequenced — American biologist James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine for co-discovering the structure of DNA, and Venter himself.

In 2000, a team led by Venter and a publicly-funded rival effort simultaneously unveiled the world’s first two completely sequenced human genomes.

Writing in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Venter and his colleagues looked at six genes known to play key roles in metabolising medicine.

Three of the genes were identical, but the other three showed variations that could result in sharply different reactions between the two men to several common drugs.

Venter, for example, had a variant of the CYP2D6 gene that helps metabolise certain medications prescribed for depression, psychosis and arrhythmia, an irregular beating of the heart.

In Watson, however, the same gene was different enough such that none of these drugs would be likely to function as intended.

Anti-cancer medication as well as drugs to prevent blood clots and hypertension would also have different effects on the two men due to differences in two other genes, the study found.

Sometimes having the wrong version of a gene can help made a medicine toxic, contributing to a syndrome called adverse drug reaction (ADR).

In the United States alone, there are more than two million cases of ADR ever year, about 100,000 of them fatal.

Forbes.com — Substances found in a type of Chinese ant may provide anti-inflammatory and painkilling benefits against several diseases, a new report says.

Chemists analyzing extracts from a Chinese medicinal ant, Polyrhacis lamellidens, found two polyketides, potent natural products that other studies have deemed as promising treatments for arthritis, bacterial infections and many other diseases. Polyketides are also found in plants, fungi and bacteria.

The findings, published in the April 25 issue of American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products, support Chinese folk medicine’s practice of using ants as a health food or drink ingredient to treat conditions such as joint pain or hepatitis.

Researchers have long suspected this is due to substances in the ants, but the exact chemicals responsible for the medicinal effects have largely been unknown.

ScienceDaily) — Scientists in the United Kingdom have “decoded” the inscrutable language of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), revealing its strong chemical foundation in a way that may help scientists mine age-old Chinese medicines to develop tomorrow’s new drugs.

David J. Barlow, Thomas M. Ehrman, and Peter J. Hylands point out that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) – regarded by many Western experts as an archaic system doomed to extinction 50 years ago – has undergone a “remarkable renaissance” in recent years.

However, the arcane language used to describe categories of medication in TCM has hindered effective understanding of one of the most developed and mature systems of alternative medicine in existence.

To overcome that barrier, the researchers analyzed patterns among 8411 compounds from 240 Chinese herbs in relation to the categories found in traditional Chinese medicine. Organizing their findings in a kind of herbal “map,” their results reveal that many categories in Chinese medicine are amenable to translation to Western terminology. TCM’s “fire poison” group, for example, is comparable to today’s family of anti-inflammatory medicines.

Now, future researchers will better understand the chemical basis of remedies that have been in use for thousands of years, the study indicated.

“This is likely to be of benefit both in the search for new drugs and, equally significantly, in understanding how Chinese medicine works,” say the authors.

The study is “Phytochemical Informatics of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Therapeutic Relevance” is scheduled for the Nov./Dec. issue of ACS’ Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling.

Adapted from materials provided by American Chemical Society

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Zheng Yu (R), 30, sells his laughs in a Chongqing street on August 3, 2008. [Photo: Chongqing Times/cnhan.com]

CHINA.ORG.CN – A real-life version of the nightclub claque depicted in German writer Heinrich Boll’s short story “The Laugher” has been found in a Chinese street, trying to earn a living by laughing.

Zheng Yu, a 30-year-old man in southwestern China’s Chongqing Municipality, began selling his laughter on Sunday in a local street, Chongqing Times reported.

The self-claimed “the world’s number one laughter-selling professional” has 12 types of facial expressions on sale. For one yuan (14 US cents), one can ask him to smile or grin, smirk or sneer. Or you can pay 10 yuan to see him perform all 12 expressions.

The man even sports a hairstyle featuring a smiley face on the back of his head.

“We should laugh more. Laughing makes us healthy,” Zheng told onlookers, who crowded around him. Few, however, actually paid to see him laugh.

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Zheng Yu, 30, who sells his laughs in a Chongqing street, shows his hairstyle on August 3, 2008. [Photo: Chongqing Times/cnhan.com]