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New drug to help fight Alzheimer's

From The Times of India:

A new study has revealed that rapamycin, a drug that keeps the immune system from attacking transplanted organs, may help fight Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio found that rapamycin rescued learning and memory deficits in a mouse model of Alzheimer's.

Senior author, Salvatore Oddo, assistant professor in the Department of Physiology of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, said that the study offers the first evidence that the drug is able to reverse Alzheimer's-like deficits in an animal model.

The researchers also found that the drug also reduced lesions in the brains of the mice. The lesions are similar to those seen in the brains of people who died with Alzheimer's.

"Our findings may have a profound clinical implication. Because rapamycin is a US Food and Drug Administration-approved drug, a clinical trial using it as an anti-Alzheimer's disease therapy could be started fairly quickly," said Oddo.

The study has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry .

Posted: 2/26/2010 9:52:00 AM

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More States Starting To Take Action To Limit BPA Ahead Of Federal Regulation

From The Baltimore Sun:

As scientific evidence mounts against bisphenol-A, a chemical used in plastic baby bottles, soup cans and other containers, many states - including Maryland - are starting to take action to limit the chemical ahead of any federal regulation.

The states are responding to some scientists, consumer groups and now even federal officials who have been sounding alarms about the chemical better known as BPA, which has been linked to developmental disabilities in children and reproductive problems in women.

Minnesota and Connecticut, Chicago and four counties in New York have banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Maryland is among 20 states that are considering legislation, according to the consumer group Maryland PIRG.

Del. James W. Hubbard, a Democrat from Prince George's County, has pushed BPA legislation in the state for years. On Friday, the House of Delegates passed a bill he sponsored by a vote of 137-0 that would prohibit manufacture, sale or distribution of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups intended for children younger than 4. The Senate recently held a hearing and might vote as soon as today on the bill, which would take effect in 2012.

The FDA said the chemical, used for more than four decades in hard plastic food containers and the lining of metal food and soda cans, may be passed into food and beverages, and the agency expressed "concern" about its safety.

It was a reversal of a position taken in 2008, when the FDA said toxicology research showed BPA was safe.

In response, the Interagency Task Force on Children's Environmental Health was created to coordinate more research. The National Institutes of Health was given $30 million to foster research, and results are expected in 18 months to two years.

Posted: 2/25/2010 10:54:00 AM

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Maine Drug Cops Say Bad Cocaine Reaching State

From wbztv.com (Portland, Maine):

Maine drug police say that some of the illegal drug cocaine that is reaching the state has been contaminated with a drug used to treat parasites in farm animals.

Christopher Montagna of the Maine Health & Environmental testing lab says the drug levamisole first started showing up in Maine in 2008, but now it shows up in 30 percent to 50 percent of tested samples.

Sgt. Kevin Cashman of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency tells the Portland Press Herald it's "very, very dangerous."

The drug is used to increase the volume of cocaine.

Some scientific studies believe it might give cocaine users a more intense high. Experts say it has killed at least three people in the U.S. and Canada and sickened more than 100 others.

Posted: 2/25/2010 9:25:00 AM

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More Antipsychotics Approved for Pediatric Use

From Psychiatric News:

Days before a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee reviewed the safety concerns about antipsychotic drug use in pediatric patients, two additional antipsychotics, quetiapine and olanzapine, were approved by the agency for treating youth with schizophrenia and those with bipolar I disorder.

With these additions, four second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) have been approved by the FDA for use in patients under age 18: risperidone, aripiprazole, quetiapine, and olanzapine. Indications are for the acute treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar I manic or mixed episodes based on three- to six-week clinical trials in pediatric and adolescent patients. Risperidone and aripiprazole have also been approved by the FDA to treat irritability associated with autistic disorders.

Other SGAs, including ziprasidone and paliperidone, and recently approved iloperidone and asenapine, are not approved for pediatric use but are sometimes prescribed off-label for children and adolescents.

In the past decade, mounting research evidence has linked SGAs to significant weight gain, increased blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and endocrine abnormalities in adult and underage patients.
At a public meeting held last December 8, representatives from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Antipsychotics Safety Therapeutic Working Group told the FDA's Pediatric Advisory Committee that the lack of knowledge about these drugs in the pediatric population is worrisome. A number of published epidemiological studies suggest that children may experience more dramatic weight gain and worse metabolic effects on SGAs compared with adults, the working group reported. Most recently, a study in the October 28, 2009, Journal of the American Medical Association showed that first-time SGA use was associated with a large increase in cardiometabolic risks in patients aged 4 to 19. The study found that average weight gain in youth taking SGAs ranged from 4.4 kg (aripiprazole) to 8.5 kg (olanzapine) after a median of 10.8 weeks.

The working group urged the FDA and National Institutes of Health to fund and conduct postmarketing studies, both retrospective and prospective, to clarify the long-term effectiveness and safety of SGAs in children and adolescents.

Already under fire, crime labs cut to the bone

From msnbc.com:

About 250 case files languish in a bin at the Maine State Police computer crimes unit in Vassalboro. The files document the worst child pornography cases, complete with instructional videos detailing how to sexually assault children without getting caught.

The Maine crime lab can’t get to the cases because it’s overworked. With more cases coming in every week, the bin will likely never be empty.

The Maine crime lab, like many across the country, is stumbling under what specialists call the CSI Effect. Americans see television lab techs unravel the knottiest cases with evidence culled from the smallest clues, thanks to the most advanced equipment ever devised, and they presume that’s how it works in the real world.

It doesn’t. There are serious questions about the credibility of nearly every kind of crime lab analysis, the conclusions of which often rest on unproven science filtered through the subjective judgment of technicians whose training and certification vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

And with crime labs struggling under backlogs that already reach back years in many cities and states, budget cuts driven by the recession are threatening to make credible crime scene analysis a lost art, law enforcement officials and forensic specialists say.

“Overall, most laboratories lack adequate, dedicated and stable funding to fully accomplish their work,” the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors warned in the wake of a highly critical National Academy of Sciences report on crime labs, the impact of which continues to shake lawmakers and criminal justice experts a year after it was released.

Crime lab analysis has never been the empirical, nearly foolproof discipline depicted in top-rated TV shows like “CSI” and “Law & Order.”

Except for nuclear DNA analysis, “no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source,” the National Academies report said.

Numerous mistakes have come to light in recent months, potentially sabotaging untold numbers of criminal cases.

Elected officials know it’s political suicide to take police officers off the street, so if jobs have to go, the cuts typically come in back-office services like crime lab analysis:
  • Georgia is planning to close three of its seven regional crime labs on April 1. The state loses an average of four lab technicians a year to better-paying jobs elsewhere — especially in federal operations like the highly regarded FBI Laboratory — or in private industry. There’s no money to hire enough new scientists to keep the labs open, said officials of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which operates the facilities.
  • A shortage of ballistics examiners at the Washington State Patrol crime labs has created backlogs of up to a year, but Gov. Christine Gregoire is proposing to cut, not add, jobs. The lab’s acting director, Larry Hebert, insisted that all the fat had been trimmed from his budget and said any further cuts could mean even deeper reductions in service.
  • Requests for DNA analysis rose by 25 percent last year in Kansas, at the same time that the number of scientists at the state crime lab in Wichita dropped by 20 percent. The backlog is now about 800 cases and is expected to rise, because open jobs at the lab won’t be filled during the budget crisis.
  • The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is seeking legislation this year to allow it to charge police departments and other law enforcement agencies for using its forensics lab. Budget cuts mean the charges — $2,000 a year for small agencies and $6,000 a year for larger agencies — are the only way the TBI can avoid layoffs, Director Mark Gwyn said.
The money has been drying up even as the National Academies has urged many expensive changes to improve the reliability of crime lab reports. Boiled down from 254 densely scientific pages, it questions two fundamental underpinnings of forensic analysis itself: Is the science reliable, and are analysts qualified to interpret it?

Funding for forensic scientists varies widely from place to place, the report notes. Substandard facilities can lead to contamination of the evidence that is analyzed and stored in them. Analysts, many of whom are inadequately trained, are badly overworked. (Plus, they’re human beings, whose judgments are subject to bias.)

And once a report is concluded, it is not subject to assessment by scientific peers; instead, it is put in the hands of defense lawyers whose job it is to destroy it.

It adds up to a system that the public believes is infallible but that experts know is anything but. As the report’s authors concluded: “Substantive information and testimony based on faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people.”

Posted: 2/23/2010 4:29:00 PM

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New melatonin-based drinks help restless sleepers - but pack hormones

From the NY Daily News:

They're the anti-Red Bulls.

After nearly a decade of exploding energy drink sales, a new batch of relaxation tonics is creeping onto store shelves in the city - one drowsy shot at a time.

The nonalcoholic drinks with slumbering names like iChill, RelaxZen and Dream Water are marketed to teens trying to wind down or adults who have trouble falling asleep.

The relaxation drinks rack up about $20 million in sales a year, compared with $5 billion for energy drinks. Their popularity is growing in New York, but so are concerns about putting sleep-inducing melatonin in the drinks.

Last month the FDA ordered the makers of Drank, a melatonin-based drink that launched in 2008, to prove that using the hormone in the drink is safe. Drank has 2 milligrams of melatonin - 20 times the body's natural amount.

"Melatonin is a hormone," warned Dr. Charles Czeisler, a sleep expert with Harvard medical school. "[Hormones] should not be put in beverages, since the amount people drink often depends on thirst and taste rather than being taken only when needed like any other drug."

Experts say there haven't been reliable studies to determine the impact of melatonin on adults or children.

Posted: 2/23/2010 1:13:00 PM

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Wisconsin and Oregon vote on Bisphenol-A (BPA) bans

From the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel:

The Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ban the sale and manufacture of BPA in baby bottles and cups for children age 3 and younger, clearing the way for the matter to become law.

The measure, passed 95-2, also requires that these items made without BPA be labeled to let consumers know that they don't contain the chemical.

Last month, the state Senate unanimously passed an identical bill.

The measure moves to Gov. Jim Doyle for his signature to become law. He is expected to sign it.

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And from KVAL.com (Eugene, Oregon):

A bill to ban a chemical used in rigid plastic baby bottles and "sippy cups" has failed on a tie vote in the Oregon Senate.

Advocates of the bill say bisphenol A is a hormone disrupter that poses multiple health hazards for fetuses and young children, and the federal government has failed to regulate it.

Opponents say federal regulators haven't concluded the chemical is a hazard, and the measure could lead to a ban on the chemical in the plastic liners of baby formula cans.

Oregon canneries opposed a provision in the bill that would apply to cans, so it had been taken out.

Posted: 2/18/2010 11:38:00 AM

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Vitamin D, Miracle Drug: Is It Science, or Just Talk?

From The New York Times:

Imagine a treatment that could build bones, strengthen the immune system and lower the risks of illnesses like diabetes, heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Some research suggests that such a wonder treatment already exists. It’s vitamin D, a nutrient that the body makes from sunlight and that is also found in fish and fortified milk.

Yet despite the health potential of vitamin D, as many as half of all adults and children are said to have less than optimum levels and as many as 10 percent of children are highly deficient, according to a 2008 report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

As a result, doctors are increasingly testing their patients’ vitamin D levels and prescribing daily supplements to raise them.

Although numerous studies have been promising, there are scant data from randomized clinical trials. Little is known about what the ideal level of vitamin D really is, whether raising it can improve health, and what potential side effects are caused by high doses.

And since most of the data on vitamin D comes from observational research, it may be that high doses of the nutrient don’t really make people healthier, but that healthy people simply do the sorts of things that happen to raise vitamin D.

Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, a Harvard professor who is chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is leading a major study over the next five years that should provide answers to these questions and more. The nationwide clinical trial is recruiting 20,000 older adults, including men 60 and older and women 65 and older, to study whether high doses of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids from fish-oil supplements will lower risk for heart disease and cancer.

Dr. Manson said fish-oil supplements were included in the study because they are another promising treatment that suffers from a dearth of clinical trial evidence. In addition, both vitamin D and fish oil are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect, but each works through a different pathway in the body, so there may be an added health benefit in combining them.

Study participants will take 2,000 I.U.’s of vitamin D3, believed to be the form most easily used by the body. The study will use one-gram supplements of omega-3 fish oil, about 5 to 10 times the average daily intake.

The vitamin D dose is far higher than what has been used in other studies. The well-known Women’s Health Initiative study, for instance, tracked women taking 400 units of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium. The study found no overall benefit from the supplements, although women who consistently took their pills had a lower risk of hip fracture. Even so, many experts think 400 units is far too low for any additional health benefits.

Another study, of 1,200 women, looked at the effects of 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 1,000 units of vitamin D. Women who took both supplements showed a lower risk for breast cancer over the next four years, but the numbers of actual cases — seven breast cancers in the placebo group and four in the supplement group — were too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

Although consumers may be tempted to rush out and start taking 2,000 I.U.’s of vitamin D a day, doctors warn against it. Several recent studies of nutrients, including vitamins E and B, selenium and beta carotene, have proved disappointing — even suggesting that high doses do more harm than good, increasing risk for heart problems, diabetes and cancer, depending on the supplement.

Posted: 2/17/2010 2:07:00 PM

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DNA evidence leads to arrest in ’01 murder of Yeadon man

From The Delaware County Daily Times:

A DNA profile recovered from the grip of a handgun led to a Philadelphia man now facing charges in a 2001 homicide, a sudden twist that had the victim’s mother praising God, science and investigators.

Authorities had long identified Shawn Rubin Gallman as the man who had been visiting shooting victim Shawn Eric Hughes’ ex-girlfriend at her Parkview Court apartment just prior to the shooting the night of Oct. 1 more than eight years ago, according to the affidavit of probable cause for arrest.

Along with information from unnamed witnesses, investigators also had a Taurus .357-caliber six-shot revolver. The firearm was found near the scene where the injured Hughes crashed his car on Patricia Drive. Tests by a Pennsylvania State Police firearm and tool mark examiner indicated Taurus to be among several manufacturers whose products could have fired the single projectile later recovered from Hughes’ body.

On Tuesday, forensic scientist Katherine Cross from the National Medical Services gave Detective Sgt. David Splain the pivotal, warrant-supporting piece to the cold case puzzle: Results of a comparison of DNA originally recovered from the handgun to a known DNA profile of Gallman.

According to the arrest affidavit, tests conducted by Cross determined that “99.72 percent of the African-American population” could be excluded as being a contributor to the DNA profile on the handgun.

“Shawn Gallman could not be excluded,” the affidavit states.

Arrested Thursday night, Gallman, also known as Shawn Reid and Shawn Burton, 41, of the 2000 block of Stenton Avenue, was already in custody at the Joseph Coleman Center in Philadelphia.

He was arraigned Friday on first- and third-degree murder and related offenses and remanded without bail to the county prison.

Posted: 2/15/2010 1:03:00 PM

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Dry Cleaning Chemical 'Likely' Causes Cancer

From WebMD:

PERC is a chemical known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene. It's the solvent used by about 85% of U.S. dry cleaners, but is also used as a metal degreaser and in the production of many other chemicals.

PERC is found in the air, in drinking water, and in soil. It can be detected in most people's blood, as well as in breast milk. What's the risk?

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggested that PERC be classified as a "likely human carcinogen." Moreover, the EPA found that PERC's most dangerous noncancer toxicity is brain and nervous system damage -- and set safe exposure levels well below levels that cause such damage.

But rather than finalize the ruling, the EPA asked the prestigious National Academy of Sciences to review it's PERC risk analysis and to tell the EPA if it's system for analyzing chemical risk was correct.

Now the expert panel appointed by the National Academy of Sciences says the EPA was basically correct. The panel agreed that:
  • PERC is a "likely human carcinogen." This means that while there's no definitive proof that the chemical causes cancer in humans, there's strong evidence it does -- and there's proof that the chemical causes various cancers in animals.
  • PERC's most dangerous noncancer effect is nerve and brain damage. Safe exposure levels for drinking water and air quality should be set well above levels that can cause such damage.
  • The EPA's system for evaluating chemical risk is basically sound, although procedures for evaluating the strength of relevant studies need to be strengthened.
Posted: 2/11/2010 10:28:00 AM

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