Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A drug that could give you a longer healthy life?

Given its close similarity to thalidomide, I don't think anybody should be cheering yet

Until now it has merely been the stuff of fairy tales and science fiction. But a ‘fountain of youth’ drug which could help pensioners stay fit and healthy long into old age has been unveiled by doctors.

In tests, tiny amounts of the drug lenalidomide massively boosted immune system chemicals key to fighting off invaders from bugs to tumours. Concentrations of one of the protective compounds rose more than 100-fold.

Bolstering the body’s defences could also make vaccines such as the flu jab more effective in those whose immunity has weakened with age. The final years would be healthier and so theoretically happier and more productive.

Dr Edward Goetzl, who has hailed the drug as a ‘fountain of youth pill’, said: ‘We are definitely aiming for longer healthy lifespan and a shorter period of frailty.’

If the drug worked particularly well, users could work longer, removing some of the economic burden of an ageing society and lightening the care-giving load for their children.

And the minuscule amounts of the drug needed mean that treatment is likely to be side-effect free, the doctors behind the breakthrough believe.

Dr Goetzl, of the University of California, began by studying levels of immune system chemicals called cytokines in a group of elderly adults. He found that amounts in healthy pensioners mirrored those of much younger people. But in frail pensioners vulnerable to infection, levels were low. Further work showed that lenalidomide could raise their levels in a way that no other pill or potion could.

Dr Goetzl said: ‘No one is talking about longevity and lifespan now but about “health span”. ‘If, at age 50, your cytokine levels are the same as they were at 25, you’ll probably stay healthy as you age. ‘But if they’re heading downhill, we need to do something about it. ‘If you could take a low dosage pill with no side-effects, wouldn’t you do it?’

In the tests, tiny doses of lenalidomide boosted production of the cytokine interleukin-2 by 120 times, restoring concentration to youthful levels. The drug also raised levels of interferon-gamma, a second protective cytokine, the journal Clinical Immunology reports.

But Dr Goetzl said it would not automatically mean people living longer. Rather, their later years would be healthier.

Large-scale trials are planned for next year with a view to prescribing the drug widely in years to come. Dr Goetzl envisages it initially being given to men and women aged 65 and above when they receive vaccines such as the winter flu jab.

But its similarity to thalidomide, the most notorious drug of the 20th century, means that any such health drive is likely to be subject to tight controls. Thalidomide was marketed as a ‘wonder cure’ for morning sickness but withdrawn in 1961 after 10,000 babies were born with missing or deformed limbs and damaged organs. In some cases, their mothers had taken the drug just once.

Lenalidomide is a more modern drug and is considered safer than thalidomide. But its close structural similarity means that women of child-bearing age must use contraception while taking it. Dr Goetzl says that while the very low doses needed should not produce any side-effects, he would never advise giving the drug to young women.


Pomegranate juice 'could slow the spread of cancer'

An old faithful is trotted out again. The "new" findings sound speculative to me but I will await their passage through peer review

Scientists have found components in the juice which stop the movement of cancer cells, and weaken their attraction to chemical signals which cause them to spread. They found that particular ingredients in the juice - such as fatty acids - slowed the spread of the disease from prostate cancer to the bone.

The team from the University of California hope the fruit will have a similar effect on other cancers.

Previous research that claimed pomegranate juice could slow the disease was controversial as the UCLA researchers did not define the biological mechanism behind the the effects.

In September this year, the US Federal Trade Commission charged Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate company which supplied the juice for the research, with making false and misleading claims about the effect on health.

But the authors of the latest study said they had now identified the beneficial components which impact on cell adhesion and migration.

Presenting the findings at the American Society of Cell Biology's 50th annual meeting, Dr Manuela Martins-Green said: 'This is particularly exciting because we can now modify these naturally occurring components of the juice to improve their functions and make them more effective in preventing prostate cancer metastasis.

'Because the genes and proteins involved in movement of prostate cancer cells are essentially the same as those involved in movement of other types of cancer cells, the same modified components of the juice could have a much broader impact in cancer treatment.'


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