Friday, May 02, 2008

Smoking makes you depressed (?)

Cart before the horse! Depressed people smoke more. All the mentally ill do. It's a form of self-medication

SMOKERS are 41 per cent more likely to suffer from depression than those who have never taken a puff, according to new US research and a six-year study. Researchers from the University of Navarra and the University of Las Palmas De Gran Canaria in Spain, along with experts from Harvard University, have linked depression to tobacco use after completing a six-year study.

The results of the study, published in Spanish health journal Medicina Clinica, suggested that former smokers who had not had any tobacco in the last decade were the least likely to develop depression. "A significantly higher risk was found for smokers when they were compared to non smokers, whereas an inverse association was found for ex-smokers who had quit smoking more than 10 years ago," the researchers said. "This study supports an increased risk of depression associated to smoking."

Researcher Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez from the University of Navarra said many current smokers were diagnosed as having depression over the course of the study. "Over the course (of the study), 190 smokers who initially did not present depression were diagnosed with this disease by a doctor," Professor Martinez-Gonzalez said. "In addition, 65 who were not diagnosed indicated that they were taking anti-depressants during this period." The researchers also found that the more someone smoked tobacco, the less physically-active they were in their free time.


Regeneration advance

Lee Spievak, 69, severed half an inch from his fingertip after getting it caught in the propellor of a model plane. But over four months he watched as a perfectly-formed replacement grew from his stump, complete with tissue, nerves, nail, skin, and fingerprint. Doctors now hope that the treatment - using a powder called extra cellular matrix - could be used to repair severely burnt skin, or even damaged organs.

Mr Spievak, who works in a hobby shop in Ohio, was unable to find his severed fingertip and doctors told him he had lost it for good. His brother Alan, who works in the field of regenerative medicine, sent him the powder, which Mr Spievak calls 'pixie dust'. For ten days he put a little on the end of his finger, and says after just two applications the re-growth was already visible. He told BBC News: "Each day it was up further. Finally it closed up and was a finger. It took about four weeks before it was sealed." Now he says he has "complete feeling, complete movement."

The inventor of the powder, Dr Stephen Badylak from the University of Pittsburgh, has pioneered a process which involves scraping cells from the lining of a pig's bladder. The tissue is then "cleaned" of all cells in acid and dried out before being turned into sheets, or a powder. Scientists believe that when the extra cellular matrix is put on a wound, it stimulates cells in the tissue to grow rather than a scar.

Dr Badylak said: "I think that within ten years that we will have strategies that will re-grow the bones, and promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones. And that is a major step towards eventually doing the entire limb." The US military is poised to start trials of the powder to regrow parts of the fingers of injured soldiers. Another trial in Buenos Aires will involve a woman who has cancer of the oesophagus.


Leftist bigotry in medical research

CONSIDER an academic scientist - we'll call him Louis - who receives funding from the beverage industry, the textile industry, and the livestock industry, and ultimately generates profound new scientific insights, beneficial both to the sponsoring companies and to the world as a whole. Are these accomplishments diminished because the work was industry funded? Should Louis - Pasteur - have an asterisk next to his name? That's the implication of a recent New York Times profile of three academic researchers from New England who have pledged to decline industry funding and "have lost their asterisks."

The notion that academic researchers who partner with industry are intrinsically tainted reflects a misunderstanding of the importance and quality of industry research, and the role industry plays in bringing new drugs to the patients who need them. While most of the original insights leading to new drugs and devices likely derive, at least in part, from the work of academic scientists, turning these preliminary advances into FDA-approved treatments required an exceptional investment by industry, and vital partnerships between academic investigators and company scientists.

The gaping distance between promising lab result and approved drug is apparent to anyone who has tried to reconcile the breathless news reports touting "scientific breakthrough" with the paucity of options available for patients suffering from any number of devastating medical conditions. In the last 10 years, for example, there have been more then 7,000 academic papers published on pancreatic cancer, but not a single breakthrough treatment.

The primary reason for this gap: The human body is complicated, and our understanding limited. In many cases, we are still struggling to figure out the molecular basis for important diseases. In other conditions, even when the cause is clear, designing a drug capable of selectively correcting the defect while not causing new problems, is a monumental challenge. To overcome these hurdles, there is a need for more, not less, interaction between academic physician scientists and their counterparts in industry, engagement that should occur at every stage of the drug development process.

Our own experiences with difficult science and sick patients has convinced us that the battle is not drug companies vs. academics, but rather between dreadful diseases and the medical researchers who are trying to subdue them.

Unfortunately, industry critics often lose sight of the big picture, and routinely stigmatize pharmaceutical researchers and their academic collaborators. Young academic investigators are often counseled against "selling out" and pursuing a career in pharmaceutical research, despite the exciting drug-development opportunities such a choice might afford. Senior university researchers who might contribute considerable wisdom to drug discovery efforts are reviled in the press if they associate with industry in any way, even though these relationships are vital for the creation of new medicines.

Finally, of course, there is the money. Because pharmaceutical companies are for-profit entities, conventional wisdom holds that any data they publish should be suspect. In fact, pharmaceutical research is tightly regulated, and industry-sponsored clinical studies are typically performed in a rigorous, consistent, and transparent fashion that would be the envy of many academics. To the extent some industry studies fall short, the problem generally lies not in the results obtained, but rather in the questions never asked - a critique that applies at least as well to the pharma-bashing studies now so popular in certain medical journals.

Also puzzling is the suggestion that it is improper for drug companies to solicit the perspective of academic experts, and immoral (or at least asterisk-worthy) for experts to accept financial compensation for their time. Expert insight may accelerate the delivery of new treatments to patients, and it seems disrespectful to suggest this time should not be valued.

Still, although the relationship between universities and industry should be broadened, useful and transparent guidelines must be developed to get this relationship right. Ultimately, these interactions must be defined, protected and enhanced if the medical community is to deliver on its commitment to secure the health and well-being of patients.


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