Science Weekly: Changing our bodies

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Cosmetic surgery’s latest intimate trend, a memory-making exhibition and Britain’s new science minister

Meeting – Leveraging Healthcare Technology to Improve Clinical Outcomes

Take a look at the 6th Leveraging Healthcare Technology to Improve Clinical Outcomes meeting taking place August 11-12 in Philadelphia. This year’s expanded topic scope reflects the industry’s interest beyond integrating and into the utility of the wealth of healthcare technology and data made available by the implementation of EHRs catalyzed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The conference focuses on strategies for utilizing HIT applications and data to optimize efficiency and increase patient safety by improving health outcomes, advancing outcomes research, identifying unmet clinical need and conducting effective safety surveillance. For an exclusive discount to ON TARGET subscribers, contact Warren Pearlson or Click Here to register and use “Discount Code: “Target“ for 10% off of the registration rate.  

For more information about Target Health contact Warren Pearlson (212-681-2100 ext 104). For additional information about software tools for paperless clinical trials, please feel free to also contact Dr. Jules T. Mitchel or Ms. Joyce Hays. Target Health’s software tools are designed to partner with both CROs and Sponsors. Please visit the Target Health Website, at

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Cheese — Acting as “Carrier“ for Probiotic Bacteria — Found to Improve Immune Response of Elderly

Scientists in Finland have discovered that cheese can help preserve and enhance the immune system of the elderly by acting as a carrier for probiotic bacteria. The research, published in FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, reveals that daily consumption of probiotic cheese helps to tackle age-related changes in the 1) ___ system. “The increase in the proportion of aged individuals in modern society makes finding innovative ways to thwart the deterioration of the immune system a priority,“ said lead author Dr Fandi Ibrahim from the University of Turku in Finland. The intake of 2) ___ bacteria has been reported to enhance the immune response through other products and now we have discovered that cheese can be a carrier of the same bacteria. Dr Ibrahim’s team have hypothesized that the daily intake of probiotic cheese may tackle the age-related deterioration of the immune system known as immunosenescene. This deterioration means the body is unable to kill tumor cells and reduces the immune response to vaccinations and infections. Infectious diseases, chronic inflammation disorders and cancer are hallmarks of 3) ___. To tackle immunosenescene the team targeted the 4) ___ tract, which is the main entry for bacteria cells into the body through food and drink and is also the site where 70% of vital immunoglobulin cells are created. The team asked volunteers aged between 72 and 103, all of which lived in the same care home, to eat one slice of either 5) ___ or probiotic Gouda cheese with their breakfast for four weeks. Blood tests were then carried out to discover the effect of probiotic bacteria contained within the cheese on the immune system. The results revealed a clear enhancement of natural and acquired immunity through the activation of NK blood cells and an increase in phagocytic activity. The aim of the study was to see if specific probiotic bacteria in cheese would have immune enhancing effects on healthy older individuals in a nursing home setting. The authors concluded that the regular intake of probiotic cheese can help to boost the immune system and that including it in a regular diet may help to improve an elderly person’s immune 6) ___ to external challenges.

ANSWERS: 1) immune; 2) probiotic; 3) immunosenescene; 4) gastrointestinal; 5) placebo; 6) response

Lasers (1960 to Present)

On 16 May 1960, fifty years ago today, Theodore H. Maiman at the Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, California, demonstrated the first functional laser capable of producing short pulses. Maiman’s functional LASER used a solid-state flashlamp-pumped synthetic ruby crystal to produce red laser light, at 694 nanometres wavelength. however, the device only was capable of pulsed operation, because of its three-level pumping design scheme. For the past 50 years, lasers have revolutionized the way we live. This milestone marks one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century! Since ancient times, people believed that rays of light carry grand and mysterious powers. Interest in radiation redoubled around the start of the 20th century with the discovery of radio, X-rays and radioactivity. A whole spectrum of radiation opened up, with wavelengths longer or shorter than light. In 1917, Albert Einstein established the theoretic foundations for the LASER and the MASER in the paper On the Quantum Theory of Radiation. In 1928, Rudolf W. Ladenburg confirmed the existences of the phenomena of stimulated emission and negative absorption and in 1939, Valentin A. Fabrikant predicted the use of stimulated emission to amplify “short“ waves. In 1947, Willis E. Lamb and R. C. Retherford found apparent stimulated emission in hydrogen spectra and effected the first demonstration of stimulated emission and in 1950, Alfred Kastler (Nobel Prize for Physics 1966) proposed the method of optical pumping, experimentally confirmed, two years later, by Brossel, Kastler, and Winter. In 1953, Charles H. Townes and graduate students James P. Gordon and Herbert J. Zeiger produced the first microwave amplifier, a device operating on similar principles to the laser – but amplifying microwave radiation, rather than infrared or visible radiations. Yet, Townes’s maser was incapable of continuous output. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Nikolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov were independently working on the quantum oscillator and produced the first MASER when they solved the problem of continuous-output systems by using more than two energy levels. These MASER systems could release stimulated emissions without falling to the ground state, thus maintaining a population inversion. In 1955, Prokhorov and Basov suggested an optical pumping of a multi-level system as a method for obtaining the population inversion, later a main method of laser pumping. In 1964 Charles H. Townes, Nikolay Basov, and Aleksandr Prokhorov shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle. In 1957, Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow, then at Bell Labs, began a serious study of the infrared laser. As ideas developed, they abandoned infrared radiation to instead concentrate upon visible light. The concept originally was called an optical “maser“. Simultaneously, at Columbia University, graduate student Gordon Gould was working on a doctoral thesis about the energy levels of excited thallium. When Gould and Townes met, they spoke of radiation emission, as a general subject. Afterwards, in November 1957, Gould noted his ideas for a “laser“, including using an open resonator (later an essential laser-device component). Moreover, in 1958, Prokhorov independently proposed using an open resonator, the first published appearance (the USSR) of this idea. Elsewhere, in the US, Schawlow and Townes had agreed to an open-resonator laser design – apparently unaware of Prokhorov’s publications and Gould’s unpublished laser work. At a conference in 1959, Gordon Gould published the term LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). Gould’s notes included possible applications for a laser, such as spectrometry, interferometry, radar, and nuclear fusion. He continued developing the idea, and filed a patent application in April 1959. The U.S. Patent Office denied his application, and awarded a patent to Bell Labs, in 1960. That provoked a twenty-eight-year lawsuit, featuring scientific prestige and money as the stakes. Gould won his first, minor patent in 1977, yet it was not until 1987 that he won the first, significant patent lawsuit victory, when a Federal judge ordered the US Patent Office to issue patents to Gould for the optically pumped and the gas discharge laser devices. Pain free Surgery is used in millions of medical procedures every year, with lasers reducing the need for general anesthesia. The heat of the beam cauterizes tissue as it cuts, resulting in almost bloodless surgery and less infection. For example, detached retinas cause blindness in thousand of people each year. If caught early, a laser can “weld“ the retina back in place before permanent damage results. Optical fibers can also deliver laser beams inside the body to reduce the need for more invasive surgery. The first medical use of a laser was in 1961, when Charles Campbell and Charles Koester destroyed a retinal tumor with the ruby laser. Laser surgery includes the use of a laser scalpel in otherwise conventional surgery, and soft tissue laser surgery, in which the laser beam vaporizes soft tissue with high water content. Laser surgery is commonly used on the eye. Techniques used include LASIK, which is used to correct near- and far-sightedness in vision, and photorefractive keratectomy, a procedure which permanently reshapes the cornea using an excimer laser to remove a small amount of tissue. Green laser surgery is used for the treatment/reduction of enlarged prostates. Photodynamic therapy (PDT), matured as a feasible medical technology in the 1980s at several institutions throughout the world, is a third-level treatment for cancer involving three key components: a photosensitizer, light, and tissue oxygen. It is an approved treatment for wet macular degeneration, and is also being investigated for treatment of psoriasis. Treatment of internal organs may be achieved through the use of endoscopes and fiber optic catheters to deliver light, and intravenously-administered photosensitizers. A great deal of research and clinical study is now underway to determine optimal combinations of photosensitizers, light sources, and treatment parameters for a wide variety of different cancers. It is currently being tested as a treatment for severe acne.

Mouse Study May Lead to New Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease results from a loss of brain cells that produce the chemical messenger dopamine, which aids the transmission of brain signals that coordinate movement. Stem cells retain the capacity to develop into a range of cell types with specific functions. They have been derived from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, embryonic tissue, and from other tissues with an inherent capacity to develop into specialized cells. Because of their ability to divide into new cells and to develop into a variety of cell types, stem cells are considered promising for the treatment of many diseases in which the body’s own cells are damaged or depleted. According to an article published online in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine (April 2010), endometrial stem cells from the lining of the uterus, injected into the brains of mice with a laboratory-induced form of Parkinson’s disease appeared to take over the functioning of brain cells eradicated by the disease. The finding raises the possibility that women with Parkinson’s disease could serve as their own stem cell donors. Similarly, because endometrial stem cells are readily available and easy to collect, banks of endometrial stem cells could be stored for men and women with Parkinson’s disease. This is the first time that researchers have successfully transplanted stem cells derived from the endometrium into another kind of tissue (the brain) and shown that these cells can develop into cells with the properties of that tissue. In the current study, the researchers generated stem cells using endometrial tissue obtained from nine women who did not have Parkinson’s disease and verified that, in laboratory cultures, the unspecialized endometrial stem cells could be transformed into dopamine-producing nerve cells like those in the brain. The researchers also demonstrated that, when injected directly into the brains of mice with a Parkinson’s-like condition, endometrial stem cells would develop into dopamine-producing cells. Then, unspecialized stem cells from the endometrial tissue were injected into mouse striatum, a structure deep in the brain that plays a vital role in coordinating balance and movement. When the researchers examined the animals’ striata five weeks later, they found that the stem cells had populated the striatum and an adjacent brain region, the substantia nigra. The substantia nigra produces abnormally low levels of dopamine in human Parkinson’s disease and the mouse version of the disorder. The researchers confirmed that the stem cells that had migrated to the substantia nigra became dopamine-producing nerve cells and that the animals’ dopamine levels were partially restored. The study did not examine the longer-term effects of the stem cell transplants or evaluate any changes in the ability of the mice to move. The researchers noted that additional research would need to be conducted to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the technique before it could be approved for human use. According to the authors, stem cells derived from endometrial tissue appear to be less likely to be rejected than are stem cells from other sources.  As expected, the stem cells generated dopamine producing cells when transplanted into the brains of mice with compromised immune systems.  However, the transplants also successfully gave rise to dopamine producing cells in the brains of mice with normal immune systems.

Maternal Vitamin A Supplementation and Lung Function in Offspring

Vitamin A is important in regulating early lung development and alveolar formation, and maternal vitamin A status may be an important determinant of embryonic alveolar formation. Vitamin A deficiency in a mother during pregnancy could also have lasting adverse effects on the lung health of her offspring. Therefore, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2010;362:1784-1794) was performed in a population with chronic vitamin A deficiency, to examine the long-term effects of maternal supplementation with vitamin A or beta carotene before, during, and after pregnancy. The study examined a cohort of rural Nepali children 9 to 13 years of age whose mothers had participated in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, cluster-randomized trial of vitamin A or beta-carotene supplementation between 1994 and 1997. Of the 1,894 children who were alive at the end of the original trial, 1658 (88%) were eligible to participate in the follow-up trial. Of those eligible, spirometry was performed in 1,371 (83%) of the children between October 2006 and March 2008. Results showed that children whose mothers had received vitamin A had a forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and a forced vital capacity (FVC) that were significantly higher than those of children whose mothers had received placebo (FEV1, 46 ml higher with vitamin A; FVC, 46 ml higher with vitamin A), after adjustment for height, age, gender, body-mass index, calendar month, caste, and individual spirometer used. Children whose mothers had received beta carotene had adjusted FEV1 and FVC values that were similar to those of children whose mothers had received placebo (FEV1, 14 ml higher with beta carotene; FVC, 17 ml higher with beta carotene. According to the authors, in a chronically undernourished population, maternal repletion with vitamin A at recommended dietary levels before, during, and after pregnancy improved lung function in offspring and this public health benefit was apparent in the preadolescent years.

Physical Activity and Risk of Stroke in Women

Physical activity has generally been inversely related to the risk of developing stroke, but details regarding the amount and kinds of activity required are unclear as are associations for specific stroke subtypes. As a result a study, published online in the journal Stroke (April 2010) was performed to evaluate the relationship of different types of exercise and stroke. Eligible subjects were 39,315 healthy US women, 45 years of age, from the Women’s Health Study. Women reported physical activity at baseline (1992 to 1995) and at 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 years post follow-up. During an average follow-up of 11.9 years, 579 women developed incident stroke (473 ischemic, 102 hemorrhagic, and 4 of unknown type). Proportional hazards models related physical activity, updated over time, to the risk of incident stroke. Results showed that the multivariable relative risks associated with <200, 200 to 599, 600 to 1499, and 1500 kcal/week of leisure-time physical activity were 1.00 (referent), 1.11, 0.86, and 0.83, respectively (P trend=0.06). Similar results were observed for ischemic stroke, whereas no associations were observed for hemorrhagic stroke. Vigorous physical activity was not related to stroke risk (P trend=0.50); however, walking time and walking pace were inversely related, either significantly or with borderline significance, to total, ischemic, and hemorrhagic stroke risks (P trend between 0.002 and 0.07). According to the authors, the study shows a tendency for leisure-time physical activity to be associated with lower stroke risk in women. In particular, walking was generally associated with lower risks of total, ischemic, and hemorrhagic stroke.

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FDA Launches “Bad Ad Program“

The FDA has launched a program designed to educate health care providers about their role in ensuring that prescription drug advertising and promotion is truthful, and not misleading. The Bad Ad Program is an FDA-sponsored educational outreach effort administered by the agency’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC), in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The program will be rolled out in three phases. In Phase 1, DDMAC will engage health care providers at specifically-selected medical conventions and partner with specific medical societies to distribute educational materials. Phases 2 and 3 will expand the FDA’s collaborative efforts and update the educational materials developed for Phase 1. The FDA’s traditional regulatory activities for monitoring prescription drug promotion primarily rely on review of promotional pieces submitted to the agency by sponsoring drug companies, industry complaints, and field surveillance at large medical conventions. Although these efforts are effective, the agency has limited ability to monitor promotional activities that occur in private. Health care professionals are encouraged to report a potential violation in drug promotion by sending an email to badad@fda.gov or calling 877-RX-DDMAC. Reports can be submitted anonymously; however, the FDA encourages providers to include contact information so that DDMAC officials can follow-up, if necessary.

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