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Potential diabetes drug target identified

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       HEALTH TIPS WEEKLY - Thursday, April 17, 2008 
             "News That Keeps You Healthy"   
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       Study: Gene variant increases asthma risk

CHICAGO, -- U.S. scientists say they've determined a tiny 
variation in a gene known as CHI3L1 increases one's suscept-
ibility to asthma and related medical conditions. University
of Chicago Medical Center researchers said the gene variant 
causes increased blood levels of YKL-40, a biomarker for 
asthma. A slightly different genetic variation lowers YKL-40
levels and protects against asthma, bronchial hyperrespons-
iveness and declines in lung function. Although the original
discovery came from a study of a genetically isolated popu-
lation, the Hutterites of South Dakota, the researchers were
able to confirm the same connections between the CHI3L1 var-
iations, YKL-40 levels and asthma susceptibility in three 
genetically diverse Caucasian populations from Chicago, Mad-
ison, Wis., and Freiberg, Germany. "This is exciting because
it connects asthma susceptibility to a whole new pathway at 
the protein and the genetic levels," said Professor Carole 
Ober, the study's author. "There is a good deal more we need
to find out about this connection, but now we know where to 
look." The findings are reported in the early online edition
of the New England Journal of Medicine in advance of the 
journal's April 17 issue.

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         Breast cancer trial starts with good news

ANN ARBOR, Mich., -- U.S. scientists have discovered more 
about a common cell-to-cell signaling system that has good 
implications for a breast cancer drug trial just beginning.
In the groundbreaking trial, University of Michigan Medical 
School researchers are combining chemotherapy with a drug 
that blocks the Notch signaling pathway that helps regulate 
fetal development and is active in most organ systems 
throughout a person's life. The aim is to use so-called 
Notch inhibitors to attack cancer stem cells. But a big con-
cern is that the Notch inhibitors, while helping destroy 
cancer stem cells, might also kill healthy stem cells crit-
ical to a patient's survival. However, a recent study cond-
ucted by UM Assistant Professor Ivan Maillard and colleagues
might allay those fears. The researchers showed that blood-
forming stem cells in mice survive when their Notch signal-
ing pathway is experimentally blocked. "Our data indicate 
that normal blood-forming stem cells should not be damaged 
by the Notch inhibitor drug being used in these patients," 
said Maillard. The research that included scientists from 
the University of Pennsylvania, the Swiss Institute for 
Experimental Cancer Research and the Harvard Medical School
appears in the journal Cell Stem Cell.


        Stem cells created from normal skin cells

STANFORD, Calif., -- U.S. scientists say they have devel-
oped a technique that turns normal skin cells into rare 
cancer stem cells. The Stanford University Medical Center 
researchers said cancer stem cells are thought to be the 
ones that drive a cancer, and are therefore the targets of 
any cancer therapy that must kill them in order to be effec-
tive. Understanding these cells has been a challenge, how-
ever, because they are rare, difficult to isolate and don't
grow well in the lab, said Dr. Howard Chang, an assistant 
professor and senior author of the study. "The upshot is 
that there may be a way to directly create cancer stem cells
in the lab so you don't always have to purify these rare 
cells from patients in order to study them directly," said 
Chang. He said the study also demonstrated that cancer stem 
cells are much more similar to the stem cells found in emb-
ryos, which can develop to form all tissue types, than they 
are to the more-restricted adult stem cells. That finding, 
said Chang, has important implications for understanding how
cells go awry when they become cancerous. The research app-
ears in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

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         Potential diabetes drug target identified

TORONTO, -- Canadian scientists said they have discovered a
novel signaling pathway between the gut, brain and liver 
that lowers blood sugar when it is activated. The scientists
at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, led by 
Dr. Tony Lam, used a rat model to discover that fats can 
activate a subset of nerves in the intestine, which then 
send a signal to the brain and subsequently to the liver to 
lower glucose production. "This is a new approach in devel-
oping more effective methods to lower glucose or blood sugar
levels in those who are obese or have diabetes," said Lam. 
"We already knew that the brain and liver can regulate blood
glucose levels, but the question has been, how do you thera-
peutically target either of these two organs without incurr-
ing side effects? "We may have found a way around this prob-
lem by suggesting that the gut can be the initial target 
instead," he added. "If new medicines can be developed that
stimulate this sensing mechanism in the gut, we may have an 
effective way of slowing down the body's production of sugar
 …,"said Lam. The research appears in the online issue of 
 the journal Science in advance of print publication.


         Minimally invasive surgery reduces risks

SAN FRANCISCO, -- U.S. medical scientists say a new study 
shows laparoscopic surgery reduces the risk of nosocomial 
infections by 52 percent when compared with open surgery.
Ethicon End-Surgery Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, con-
ducted a retrospective study of more than 11,000 patients 
undergoing one of three surgical procedures: hysterectomy, 
cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) and appendectomy. The 
researchers said they found laparoscopic surgery was associ-
ated with reduction of the risk of nosocomial (hospital 
acquired) infections during gallbladder removal by 66 per-
cent, and during hysterectomy by 52 percent compared with 
open surgery. The study showed the reduction rates of noso-
comial infections during laparoscopic appendectomy were not
statistically significant. "This study gives more definitive
evidence that laparoscopic surgery reduces the risk of noso-
comial infection compared to open surgery, which may lead to
improved patient care and potential reductions in costs to 
the healthcare system, " said Dr. Andrew Brill, director of 
minimally invasive gynecology at the California Pacific Med-
ical Center in San Francisco, one of the lead investigators 
of the study. The research appears in the journal Surgical 
Endoscopy.
        
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         Drug might become new leukemia treatment

SAN DIEGO, -- U.S. medical scientists have produced a drug 
to treat a rare class of blood diseases called myeloprolife-
rative disorders, including leukemia. Collaborative discov-
eries by stem cell researchers from the University of Cali-
fornia-San Diego, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Mayo
Clinic and a San Diego pharmaceutical company, TargeGen, 
moved the drug into clinical trials. A study led by Dr. Cat-
riona Jamieson, an assistant professor of medicine at the 
UCSD, found an inhibitor that can stop the over-prolifera-
tion of blood cells that result in problems with blood clot-
ting, heart attacks and, in some cases, leukemia. "As a 
clinician, I asked myself who is going to get this disease, 
and what can we do to stop its progression, instead of wait-
ing until it evolves into a deadly cancer?" said Jamieson. 
"This project has been so extraordinary, because a small 
pharmaceutical company took a big chance on a rare disease." 
The drug is currently being tested in human clinical trials 
at the UCSD's School of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic, the M.D. 
Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Michigan and at 
Stanford and Harvard Universities. The research is reported
in the journal Cancer Cell.
             
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