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Bizarre fatal shootings leave questions of why?

From The Oregonian:

As of Tuesday, west Washington County is still wondering why - why did a young Hillsboro man with no previous criminal record suddenly snap Saturday after a seemingly minor traffic accident, fatally shoot a seemingly uninvolved stranger then die exchanging bullets with police?

One possibility is drugs, said Dr. Karen Gunson, the Oregon Medical Examiner. Gunson says it's clear 28-year-old Shane Schumacher of Hillsboro died from the police bullets in his head and chest. But it could be weeks before it's known if the hallucinogenic drug mescaline had anything to do with the bizarre circumstances that ended in death for Schumacher and 55-year-old Danny K. Le Gore, also of Hillsboro.

While it's easy to screen for mescaline's presence, it takes a specialty lab to determine if there is enough of the drug present to say someone is under its influence.

"If there's mescaline there, we can screen for it, we can test for it, but we can't quantify it," Gunson said. She anticipates sending the toxicology reports to national forensics authority NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pa. Definitive results should be available in two to four weeks, she said.

The mescaline theory was developed after detectives found evidence Schumacher was producing mescaline from the small, spineless cactus commonly called peyote at his residence in the 1000 block of Southeast Nazomi Avenue. Users often suffer sensation and perception impairment, loss of a sense of time, disorganization of thought and psychotic reactions, according to police drug recognition experts.

Investigators believe Schumacher got out of his westbound 1997 Honda Civic at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, after being rear-ended at the intersection of 10th and Oak streets. Barefoot and wearing only ragged khaki pants, Schumacher walked toward an unrelated southbound vehicle and fired at least 12 rounds from two guns into the driver's side.

Miraculously, none of the bullets struck the driver, but one bullet hit the driver's uncle, 55-year-old Danny K. Le Gore, of Hillsboro, who was sitting in the passenger's seat. Le Gore was Life-flighted to Oregon Health Science University, where he later died.

Police say Schumacher fired an unknown number of rounds as he sped into the city, where officers scrambled to set up spike strips. But Schumacher eliminated the need to disable his vehicle when he crashed into a parked Ford van at 13th Avenue and Adair Street, in Cornelius.

Two Cornelius officers and a WCSO deputy approached, where Schumacher was reportedly slumped over the wheel.

According to police, Schumacher emerged with a handgun in each hand and started shooting, putting one bullet in a patrol car. The officers returned fire, killing Schumacher. No bullets struck officers.

After eliminating road rage as a cause, investigators are now hanging their collective hats on Schumacher being in a "drug-induced state," he said.

"But in the end I think we have to be comfortable with the fact we're never going to know 100 percent," Rouches said. "We just can't because he's gone. It doesn't make it easier (on either of the families), but we'll conclude it as well as we can. It's a sad thing for everyone involved."

Posted: 11/30/2009 3:13:00 PM

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FDA OKs Abilify for autism-linked irritability

From BusinessWeek:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved top-selling Abilify as a treatment for autism-related irritability in children from the ages of 6 to 17, drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Friday.

Abilify is Bristol-Myers' second-biggest revenue generator, with $2.2 billion in 2008 sales.

The FDA's latest approval allows the drug to be used to treat symptoms associated with autism such as aggression toward others, deliberate infliction of self-injury, tempter tantrums and moodiness.

The companies said in a statement that it was intended to be used as part of a more comprehensive treatment program that includes educational, psychological and social aspects.

Several other drug companies sell medications that compete with Abilify for customers. One is Schering-Plough Corp.'s Saphris, used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Others include Pfizer Inc.'s Geodon, Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal, AstraZeneca PLC's Seroquel and Eli Lilly & Co.'s Zyprexa. The drugs have combined sales of well over $15 billion a year.

Posted: 11/23/2009 1:52:00 PM

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Controversial herb may have medicinal benefits

From Scripps News:

Purple blossoms of midnight salvia and stems of blue chiquita salvia adorn the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden at the White House and thousands of other back yards.

The common garden flowers, which belong to the mint family, have a lesser-known hallucinogenic cousin. It's called salvia divinorum, or salvia for short, and it is the subject of controversy over whether it should be classified as an illegal drug. Fourteen states have made it illegal or regulated its use. Proposed legislation in several other states died.

Packets of dried salvia leaves cost $20 to $40, depending on the amount and potency, in head shops, holistic centers and online stores.

Salvia entered the mainstream in the late 1990s, due to its widespread availability, media attention and recreational use among young adults.

When salvia is smoked or chewed, the Mexican native herb produces a short but intense psychoactive high, on par with that of synthetic hallucinogens. Like its cultural cousin, marijuana, salvia may have medical uses.

"There is a lot of promising evidence that some work on this drug could lead to medications for a variety of disorders," said Matthew W. Johnson, a substance-abuse researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, which recently listed salvia as a drug of concern, is working with the Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate the substance for possible placement on the federal controlled-substance schedule.

"Once it's on a Schedule I list, it will make it nearly impossible to be researched for medicinal purposes," said Naomi Long, Washington office director of the Drug Policy Alliance Network, which promotes drug policies grounded in science, health and human rights.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs have high potential for abuse, no approved medical use and a lack of accepted safety.

"Until that is complete, we cannot say what schedule it would be in; however, Schedule I is for drugs with no legitimate medical purpose," DEA spokeswoman Barbara Wetherell said. "At this time, it would appear that it doesn't have one."

Early research has found that salvia may treat Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dementia, pain and substance abuse.

Johnson said premature scheduling may deter or slow development of medical uses, similar to marijuana's footsteps, because of legal barriers and limited resources. The DEA does not recognize medical uses for marijuana, although 14 states do.

"Pharmaceutical companies are not likely to invest money in a drug or the modification of a drug that is already scheduled," Johnson said.

Posted: 11/20/2009 10:55:00 AM

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Common pain relief medication may encourage cancer growth

From EurekAlert!:

Although morphine has been the gold-standard treatment for postoperative and chronic cancer pain for two centuries, a growing body of evidence is showing that opiate-based painkillers can stimulate the growth and spread of cancer cells. Two new studies advance that argument and demonstrate how shielding lung cancer cells from opiates reduces cell proliferation, invasion and migration in both cell-culture and mouse models.

The reports highlight the mu opiate receptor, where morphine works, as a potential therapeutic target.

"If confirmed clinically, this could change how we do surgical anesthesia for our cancer patients," said Patrick A. Singleton, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and principal author of both studies. "It also suggests potential new applications for this novel class of drugs which should be explored."

The proposition that opiates influence cancer recurrence, prompted by several unrelated clinical and laboratory studies, has gradually gained support. It started with a 2002 palliative-care trial in which patients who received spinal rather than systemic pain relief survived longer. Soon after that, Singleton's colleague, anesthesiologist Jonathan Moss, noticed that several cancer patients receiving a selective opiate blocker in a compassionate-use protocol lived longer than expected. Two recent retrospective studies found that breast and prostate cancer patients who received regional rather than general anesthesia had fewer recurrences. In February, 2009, the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation highlighted the issue.

Moss's palliative-care patients were taking methylnaltrexone (MNTX), developed in the 1980s for opiate-induced constipation by the late University of Chicago pharmacologist Leon Goldberg. Goldberg modified an established drug that blocks morphine so that it could no longer cross the protective barrier that surrounds the brain. So MNTX blocks morphine's peripheral side effects but does not interfere with its effect on pain, which is centered in the brain. It won FDA approval in 2008.

"These were patients with advanced cancer and a life expectancy of one to two months," Moss recalled, "yet several lived for another five or six. It made us wonder whether this was just a consequence of better GI function or could there possibly be an effect on the tumors."

So Singleton, Moss and colleagues, including Joe G.N. Garcia, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, began a series of studies looking at the many peripheral effects of opiates and the potential benefits of blocking those effects.

In laboratory studies, morphine can directly boost tumor-cell proliferation and inhibit the immune response. The researchers found that opiates also promote angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, and decrease barrier function--effects that may exacerbate diseases involving vascular leakiness including acute lung injury in experimental models. In a surgical setting, decreased barrier function may make it easier for tumors to invade tissue and spread to distant sites. Increased angiogenesis helps cancers thrive in a new site.

Using two different models of non-small cell lung cancer, the research teams showed that MNTX inhibited the tumor-promoting effects of opiates. In one study, using bronchioloalveolar carcinoma cells, MNTX blocked oncogenic signaling and prevented tumor-cell proliferation and migration.

In the other study, using Lewis lung carcinoma cells, mice without the mu opiate receptor did not develop the tumors that normal mice did when injected with cancer cells. The researchers further showed that MNTX reduced proliferation of cancer cells by 90 percent in normal mice. It also prevented invasion in cell culture and tumor growth and metastasis in mice.

The opioid receptor promotes Lewis lung cancer tumor growth, angiogenesis and metastasis, the authors conclude in a summary of the second study. "Methylnaltrexone attenuates these oncogenic effects."
Posted: 11/18/2009 3:51:00 PM

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Vitamin B niacin offers no extra benefit to statin therapy in seniors already diagnosed with CAD

From EurekAlert!:

Blood cholesterol levels improved, but arteries do not show it

The routine prescription of extended-release niacin, a B vitamin (1,500 milligrams daily), in combination with traditional cholesterol-lowering therapy offers no extra benefit in correcting arterial narrowing and diminishing plaque buildup in seniors who already have coronary artery disease, a new vascular imaging study from Johns Hopkins experts shows.

In tests on 145 Baltimore-area men and women with existing atherosclerosis, all over age 65, researchers found that after 18 months of drug therapy, reductions in arterial wall thickness were measurably no different between the half who took dual niacin-statin therapy and the rest who remained on statin therapy alone.

The results were the same whether they took any one of the three leading statin medications: atorvastatin (Lipitor), simvistatin (Zocor) or rosuvastatin (Crestor). Seniors on dual drug therapy had an average 5.4 cubic millimeter per month scale back in plaque buildup in the main neck artery, while those taking just a cholesterol-lowering statin medication came down by 4 cubic millimeters per month, a difference that researchers say is not statistically significant.

The team will present its findings Nov. 18 at the American Heart Association's (AHA) annual Scientific Sessions in Orlando.

According to senior study investigator and Johns Hopkins cardiologist João Lima, M.D., the lack of any discernible advantage occurred despite promising gains in bad (LDL) and good (HDL) blood cholesterol levels in those taking vitamin B niacin. Results showed that in the group taking both niacin and a statin, blood levels of LDL-cholesterol fell 5 percent more than in the group taking only statin medications. And levels of HDL jumped 14 percent more than in the statin-only group.

"Our findings tell us that improved cholesterol levels from taking combination vitamin B niacin and statin therapy do not necessarily translate into observable benefits in reversing and stalling carotid artery disease," says Lima, a professor of medicine and radiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart and Vascular Institute. "This does not mean that niacin therapy may not have other cardiovascular benefits, but any such benefits are independent of reducing the amount of plaque buildup and patients should be aware of that."

"Our recommendation to physicians is that current national treatment guidelines, which recommend mainly statin therapy tailored to the severity of atherosclerosis for preventing arteries from reclogging and narrowing, appear to be sufficient and accurate for physicians and patients to follow," says Lima.

However, Lima cautions that an ongoing national study of the long-term vascular benefits of dual therapy and whether extended-release niacin, also known as nicotinic acid, lowers death rates from heart disease should provide more definitive data. Hopkins is participating in that research, as well. He also notes that extended-releases niacin used in this study is a prescription medication, and that it is not sold over the counter like many other vitamin B products.

Posted: 11/18/2009 3:24:00 PM

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Can plastic chemicals cause effeminate behavior in boys?

From TIME:

Prenatal exposure to common chemicals used to soften plastics may impact boys' play behavior later in life, according to new research published in the International Journal of Andrology. This new study expands on a wealth of previous research in animals showing that exposure in the womb to chemicals known as phthalates was associated with lower testosterone production, and subsequently impaired genital development. (This phenomena, known as the phthalate syndrome, has also been shown to influence sexual development in animals later in life.) And in addition to animal studies, the lead author of the current research, Shanna H. Swan, director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester, has also published previous findings demonstrating similar developmental issues in male human infants. This current study suggests that, not only does prenatal exposure to these common chemicals impact testosterone production, but it may also have longer term influence on gender identity and play behaviors as children grow up.

"Play behaviours offer themselves as a test of the hypothesis that phthalate exposures during gestation may alter brain sexual differentiation and its behavioural outcomes," Swan and colleagues write. To test this hypothesis, researchers initially began with 334 pregnant women, 150 of whom ultimately participated in all phases of the research. Midway through pregnancy, phthalate levels among the pregnant women were measured using urinalysis. Four to seven years later, when the participants' children were between the ages of 3.6 to 6.4-years-old, researchers sent out questionnaires to assess the children's play preferences, and also, how their parents' attitudes might impact how they chose to play. To assess behavior, researchers used a slightly modified version of the Pre-School Activities Inventory, a widely used screening tool that measures gender-related play in small children. (Much previous research has shown that there are objectively different play preferences among boys and girls: boys tend to do more play-fighting, for example, girls tend to be more captivated by dolls than toy trucks, etc.) To determine how parental views might sway behavior, parents completed a survey that included questions such as, "What would you do if you had a boy who preferred toys that girls usually play with?" They were asked to respond with whether they would support or discourage such behavior, and how strongly. The combination of these two assessments was used to measure children's gender-related play preferences.

What the researchers found was that, while, in girls exposure to phthalates had little significant impact on behavior, in boys, higher levels of exposure were correlated with "less masculine" preferences. What's more, exposure to specific varieties of phthalates correlated most strongly with behavioral differences—namely, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or DEHP and dibutyl phthalate or DBP. As the authors write, "[t]he two metabolites of DBP, as well as their sum, were associated with a decreased (less masculine) composite score in boys." Concentrations of DEHP too, the researchers found, "were associated with a decreased masculine score."

These findings, the researchers say, suggest that phthalates indeed do "possess the potential to modify male behaviour, potentially reflecting changes to the developing brain." And, this latest research may add to growing concerns about how common chemicals used in ubiquitous plastics, such as bisphenol A, or BPA, may be impacting our health—for the worse. (A study recently published in the journal Human Reproduction found high exposure levels to BPA among Chinese factory workers were associated with sexual dysfunciton.)

Of course, to substantiate these findings about phthalates, researchers acknowledge that more investigation beyond this relatively small sample population is necessary. But, if these results are verified through additional, rigorous research, it may pose some unique and potentially challenging questions, not only about healthy levels of exposure to common plastic chemicals, but about just what factors shape gender identity in childhood, and as we grow older.

Posted: 11/17/2009 8:43:00 AM

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UK study warns against anti-psychotics for dementia

From Reuters:

More than 140,000 dementia patients in Britain are given anti-psychotic drugs needlessly and overprescribing of the medicines is linked to an extra 1,800 deaths in elderly people each year, a report said on Thursday.

The government-backed review showed that only around 36,000 of around 180,000 dementia patients prescribed anti-psychotics got any benefit from them -- findings it said could affect clinical practice in dementia across the world.

"Anti-psychotics are used too often in dementia," Sube Banerjee, the report's author and a professor of mental health and ageing at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said in a statement.

He said use of anti-psychotics drugs for dementia should be cut to a third of current levels in Britain and said his study would "provide international leadership in this complex clinical area."

Alzheimer's Disease International predicted in September that more than 35 million people around the world will suffer from dementia in 2010. That number is expected to almost double every 20 years, to 66 million in 2030 and more than 115 million in 2050.

Anti-psychotic drugs include generic treatments like thioridazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, trifluorperazine and Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal, Eli Lilly and Co's Zyprexa, and Seroquel, made by AstraZeneca, which are among the top-selling drugs worldwide.

Such medicines have increasingly been used to treat the personality changes and aggression often associated with dementia, an incurable brain disease that worsens over time and whose most common form is Alzheimer's disease.

There is no cure for dementia and the costs of illness are forecast to rise dramatically in the coming decades. Experts cite a 2005 study from Sweden's Karolinska Institute that estimated dementia cost global economies $315 billion a year, $227 billion for rich countries and $88 billion for low- and middle-income countries.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of Britain's Alzheimer's Society said the report supported his view that anti-psychotics "should only ever be used as a last resort".

"The scandalous over prescription of antipsychotic drugs leads to an estimated 1,800 deaths a year," he said. "It must end."

British researchers published a study in January showing that antipsychotic drugs prescribed to treat aggression in older Alzheimer's patients appeared to significantly raise their risk of dying prematurely.

Posted: 11/16/2009 10:42:00 AM

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ND prof. discovers new cancer killing agents

From The Observer:

A University professor has recently discovered certain chemicals that can kill cancer cells and potentially be used in a new generation of anti-cancer drugs.

Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Subhash Basu recently announced his findings based on 10 years of research with almost 20 collaborators. During the past decade, Basu and his associates, including Dr. Rui Ma, Dr. Patrick Boyle and his wife, Dr. Manju Basu, have reported that apoptotic agents such as Tamoxifen and Melphalan will initiate apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in metastatic breast and colon cancer cells.

“Cancer cells are unlike normal cells in that they don’t want to die,” Basu said. “A normal cell goes through a process that ranges from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ with the ‘Z’ being death, but cancer cells obviously never hit ‘Z.’ We found these apoptotic agents start this ‘A’ to ‘Z’ path so we discovered that they can be used to kill cancer cells.”

Basu said he and his associates place the apoptotic agents into a liposome, which is composed of conjugated nanoparticles made of gold, iron oxide or cadium sulfide, resulting in the creation of a “Magic Bullet” that can target several types of cancer cells.

Basu believes the combination of the apoptotic agents with a liposome is a breakthrough in the field of anti-cancer drugs.

“When we administer anti-cancer drugs to patients we have to give them in high doses that kill normal cells as well as cancer cells,” he said. “With the apoptotic agents we would deliver them in a hundred times lower level.”

On Oct. 22, Basu gave a talk at the seventh International Drug Discovery Science and Technology Symposium held in Shanghai, China. Basu said the reaction from China was positive.

“They were pleased with my findings but they asked a lot of questions too,” he said. “They wanted to know how stable the liposomes are and how we can direct the different agents to the different cancer cells. I had to give them a bit of a plan.”

Basu said this plan included continuing his research for at least the next five years.

“We need to definitely establish that the different anti-bodies in the ‘bullet’ go to the different cancer cells,” he said. “We need to make sure that the proper one goes to the liver, colon and breast; finding this information will take years.”

Although there are still many years of additional research ahead of him, Basu said he is confident in his work and hopes that bringing more awareness to his findings will prompt further research by others.

Posted: 11/6/2009 11:15:00 AM

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BPA Found in Canned Foods


Bisphenol A—BPA—the ubiquitous, estrogen-mimicking chemical that hardens plastic has, according to another emerging study, been found in some popular canned foods, said FoxNews.

According to Consumer Reports’ December issue, it “tested soups, juice, tuna, and green beans,” said FoxNews, and discovered “19 name-brand foods” contain some level of BPA. As we have previously noted, BPA can be found in everything from baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, aluminum can linings, eyeglasses, and cars, to DVD and CD cases and some dental sealants. BPA can also be found in appliances and windshields; on recyclable bottles, BPA, as a component, can be verified if the item contains recycling number 7. We recently wrote that BPA has also been found to be present in common paper receipts. With BPA turning up in carbonless copy and thermal imaging papers, its common usage has grown exponentially.

FoxNews noted that the canned foods found containing BPA included organic foods, that organic foods did not necessarily have lower levels of the toxin, and that some products contained the toxin despite labeling that the cans were BPA-free. The highest levels were seen in Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Blue Lake, Progresso Vegetable Soup, and Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Soup, as well as in Similac Advance Infant Formula and canned Nestle Juicy Juice, reported FoxNews.

In urine tests, BPA is found in the overwhelming majority of Americans, more than 93 percent. Despite this, industry has long argued that scientists and consumer advocates exaggerate the chemical’s adverse effects, continually citing two industry studies; however, at last count, over 900 peer-reviewed studies found links between BPA and health effects. The industry group, American Chemistry Council, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also maintain current levels are safe, said FoxNews. New FDA guidelines are expected, as we have been writing, at month’s end.

BPA has long been connected to increased risks of brain, reproductive, cardiac, and immune system diseases and disorders; problems with liver function testing; interruptions in chemotherapy treatment; and links with serious health problems. Studies have overwhelmingly found BPA to have negative effects at doses lower than current FDA standards; retention in the body longer than was previously believed; leeching into liquids being held in containers regardless of the containers’ temperature; and longer lasting damage, which some feel can be passed to future generations.

Laws are either in effect or coming into effect in a variety of states and counties in the United States in which the sale of certain products containing polycarbonate has been banned, for instance, in baby bottles, food containers, and sippy cups. Canada was the first country to announce plans to ban BPA, calling it a toxin and some retailers and manufacturers have announced plans to stop making products containing the chemical. Other states are looking into similar measures and a federal ban has been proposed in Congress on all food contact material.

Posted: 11/5/2009 9:28:00 AM

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Bug spray eyed in death of 10-month-old boy


Bug spray that produces a fog to kill insects is likely to blame for the death of a 10-month-old South Carolina boy, and his 2-year-old brother was critically injured by the fumes, authorities said Monday.

Anderson County Deputy Coroner Don McCown said the boys' mother had been using foggers in their single-wide mobile home in Williamston, in the northwest part of the state, because of an insect problem. Elizabeth Whitfield, 25, called 911 on Sunday afternoon to report her youngest son was having trouble breathing.

Paramedics took all three to a hospital, and Jacob Whitfield was pronounced dead. His brother, Kenneth, was flown to another hospital about 20 minutes north to Greenville, where he remained Monday on a respirator, but was starting to stabilize, McCown said.

Elizabeth Whitfield was coated in chemicals when she first arrived to the hospital and had to remove her clothes and take a shower. She was released Sunday, but was re-admitted to the ER on Monday with breathing problems, McCown said.

Investigators found seven fogger containers. She told authorities she set off three when she began renting a month ago, then continued using them when the insects wouldn't die.

A single fogger is typically used to treat 6,000 cubic feet and can leave an oily residue on furniture and floors. Directions call for residents to cover all furniture, vacate the home for four hours, then open windows and doors for an hour before returning, he said.

While the pesticides appear to be the cause of death, confirmation through toxicology reports could take eight weeks. Other air quality tests turned up nothing. The baby was otherwise healthy with no signs of abuse or neglect, McCown said.

Posted: 11/3/2009 9:43:00 AM

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