Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Britain: New cancer drug to save a thousand lives a year

More than a thousand women a year will survive breast cancer thanks to a type of drug that improves survival rates by 17 per cent, new research shows today. A study of 4,742 post-menopausal women found that switching from the present gold-standard breast cancer treatment tamoxifen to the new drug exemestane after two or three years resulted in the dramatic fall in death rates. The study followed the progress of women who were treated for a total of five years and monitored for a further three. Women were assigned randomly to a full five years of tamoxifen, or treatment with tamoxifen followed by exemestane.

Giving women tamoxifen after surgery already reduced the risk of dying by 33 per cent. After another two to three years of exemestane, plus a further three years of posttreatment follow-up, survival was found to be significantly improved. The chances were 50 per lower than they would have been with no drug therapy. An estimated 31,000 post-meno-pausal women have breast cancer diagnosed in Britain each year. In 80-85 per cent of cases, the disease is fuelled by oestrogen. Whereas tamoxifen interferes with the activity of the hormone, exemestane reduces the levels produced in a woman's body.

The charity Cancer Research UK, whose scientists were involved in the study, said that the treatment would prevent an estimated 1,300 deaths each year. Professor Charles Coombes, director of The Cancer Research UK Laboratories and head of cancer medicine at Imperial College, London, said: "This is the first time any hormone treatment has been shown to reduce the death rate more than tamoxifen alone. "Switching drugs also seems to avoid the side-effects of long-term tamoxifen therapy, such as cancer of the womb and deep vein thrombosis."

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: "These results are really very encouraging... We will continue to follow the results of this study to see how well the women fare in the longterm." The drug, sold under the brand name Aromasin, is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as an alternative to tamoxifen after two to three years. However, it is not available everywhere.


Mice study shows that one severe genetic disability can be "switched off"

It's very loose terminology to refer to the syndrome as "autism", as autistic people normally have physical health within the normal range

A severe form of autism has been reversed in mice, offering the best indication yet that it could be possible to treat a condition that affects more than 10,000 children in Britain. Rett syndrome is the most physically disabling of the autism spectrum disorders, leaving many children unable to speak, walk or use their hands, and has long been considered incurable. It also causes breathing difficulties and primarily affects girls, 1 in 10,000 of whom has the condition.

Research at the University of Edinburgh has shown that these symptoms can be treated successfully in mice by activating a single gene which, when defective, causes Rett syndrome. The findings, which are published in the journal Science, surprised scientists, who had not thought that restoring the MECP2 gene's function would be a promising approach to therapy. If it is possible to develop drugs that mimic MECP2, or the protein it produces, they could be used to treat Rett syndrome even at an advanced stage, said Adrian Bird, who led the research. He said, however, that while the study suggested a mechanism by which a new drug may work, much more research was needed before a therapy became available.

Professor Bird discovered in 1990 that the MECP2 gene was involved in Rett syndrome, but felt that it would be difficult to treat the disease simply by improving its function. In his most recent study, Professor Bird reactivated MECP2 in mice that had been born with the gene switched off and the symptoms of Rett syndrome. After four weeks the mice, some of which had been close to death, recovered, becoming almost indistinguishable from normal mice, and their movement and breathing problems disappeared.

"The results we came across were entirely unexpected," Professor Bird said. "It had been thought that Rett syndrome is irrevocable, but our findings show that the damage to nerve-cell function is, in fact, reversible." Chris James, director of the Rett Syndrome Association UK, which, along with other charities, helped to fund the research with the Wellcome Trust, said: "This is a very significant step on the road to future therapeutic approaches to Rett syndrome. It will give hope to those families affected by Rett syndrome."



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.


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