Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stem cells help Australian woman to walk

A sad day when Indian bureaucracy is less restrictive than Australia's

A BRISBANE woman who was paralysed in a car accident is walking again after receiving controversial stem-cell treatment in India. Australian doctors told mother-of-three Sonya Smith 18 months ago that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Her spine was broken after she was crushed by her car when the handbrake failed and it rolled down a hill. But after eight weeks of embryonic stem-cell injections, Mrs Smith, 45, is now able to stand with the aid of calipers and has regained bowel and bladder control.

She says she has recovered "deep sensation" in her thighs and feet and has been able to swing her legs. "When I first moved my toes, I was blown away," she said. "The doctors in Australia told me I would never walk again, but now I actually think I will be able to - without calipers some day."

Mrs Smith heard about the treatment from her sister, who lives in India, where medical guidelines are less stringent. Phil Smith, 44, said yesterday that his wife's recovery had been "amazing". Mr Smith, an editor with Channel 7 in Brisbane, spoke from the family home in Bardon where the couple live with their daughters, Kirsty, 10, Holly, 8, and Carly, 7. He said his wife would be coming home next month for Holly's birthday. "I've been speaking to her every day and she gets better all the time," he said. "It's been hard for her having the treatment in India and we hope one day it is available here. "Of course there are concerns about stem cells, but Sonya wouldn't have had a chance."

Mrs Smith is one of more than 300 patients who have been treated in New Delhi by controversial stem-cell pioneer Dr Geeta Shroff. The treatment, forbidden in Australia, involves collecting stem cells from embryos and injecting them into injured or diseased patients. When taken from embryos, the cells are undeveloped and seem better able to replace damaged tissue.

Critics have described the treatment as irresponsible and unethical. But Dr Shroff shrugged off the scepticism. "These are people who are desperate and I have given them hope. What is wrong with that?" she said. Dr Shroff claims to have an "inexhaustible" bank of stem cells from a single embryo, which she uses to treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neurone disease. She has never submitted her work for international scrutiny.

Australian legislation was passed last year allowing scientists to clone human embryos to extract stem cells, but only for research. This month, state MPs will vote on whether to allow the practice in Queensland. Mrs Smith, a teacher aide at Petrie Terrace State School, urged governments to do more to make the treatment available in Australia.


New HIV drug shows 'unprecedented' results: study

A new category of drugs has shown promising results for HIV/AIDS patients who failed to respond to other treatments, a new study shows. Especially when combined with other medications, raltegravir - the first in a new class of anti-retroviral drugs called integrase inhibitors - dramatically reduced the presence of the HIV virus and boosted immunity in clinical-trial patients, according to the study in the British journal, The Lancet.

Integrase inhibitors act by targeting and disrupting an enzyme that facilitates the insertion of the HIV virus into the host's cellular genome. In clinical tests on 178 patients with advanced HIV infections that had proved resistant to standard treatments, raltegravir "showed unprecedented levels of virological efficiency", virologists Pedro Cahn and Omar Sued wrote in a commentary in the same journal.

The treatment "achieved virological suppression even in patients with limited options", they wrote, predicting that the new drug would "have a major role in salvage therapy", the term used to describe last-ditch efforts to save those with highly-compromised immune systems. "Clearly, we are in a new era of anti-retroviral therapy," they said.

There are three types of enzyme needed for HIV to replicate, namely reverse-transcriptase, protease and integrase. Up to now, no drug has successfully inhibited integrase enzymes.

A team of US researchers at Merck Research Laboratories in Westpoint, Pennsylvania, led by Beatriz Grinsztejn, divided the 178 patients into four groups during clinical trials. Each of three groups were given different doses of raltegravir, ranging from 200 to 600 mg, and the fourth group received a placebo. All four also took a basic "background treatment". After 24 weeks, the amount of HIV genetic material in the blood dropped below a measurable threshold (50 copies per ml) in 65 per cent of the patients taking raltegravir, nearly five times as many as the placebo group. Immune system responses were also dramatically improved. "If no long-term unexpected side-effects or resistance issues emerge, raltegravir will have a major role in salvage therapy, particularly in combination with another new drug," Cahn and Sued concluded.



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.