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Race is a factor in cancer therapy

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       HEALTH TIPS WEEKLY - Thursday, January 24, 2008 
             "News That Keeps You Healthy"   
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          New technique may protect against viruses

KINGSTON, Ontario, -- Canadian immunologists have discovered
how to manipulate the immune system to increase its power to
protect the body from successive viral infections. Queen's 
University researchers say their discovery could help the 
immune system fight off cancer, influenza and viruses such 
as the human immunodeficiency virus. The study suggests tak-
ing components of a virus and indirectly activating specific
populations of T cells -- the body's virus-killing cells. 
The viral components are introduced through a process known 
as "cross priming" whereby virus molecules are engulfed by 
immune cells to activate killer T cells. "With this mechan-
ism in mind, we can develop better tools to make more suc-
cessful and effective vaccines," said Professor Sam Basta, 
the principal investigator of the study. The researchers 
plan to build on their findings by next studying which 
immune cells do a better job of protecting the body while 
using the new technique. "The answer to this question is 
like having the Holy Grail of immunotherapy and vaccine de-
sign within our grasp," Basta said. 

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          Study looks at heart pump for children

HOUSTON, -- Texas Children's Hospital in Houston will lead a
12-hospital, 36-month clinical trial of a German-manufact-
ured pediatric heart pump. Dr. Charles Fraser Jr., chief of 
the hospital's pediatric and congenital heart surgery unit, 
will serve as the National Principal Investigator for the 
study of the Berlin Heart EXCOR (extra corporeal) Ventric-
ular Device. The study will involve 10 U. S. and two Canad-
ian hospitals that will collect and report data to the U. S.
Food and Drug Administration on the safety and probable ben-
efit of the pediatric heart pump. The pump, which comes in 
graduated sizes to fit newborns to teenagers, is the only 
pediatric heart pump that provides medium-to-long-term mech-
anical circulatory support for children awaiting heart tran-
splantations. The device was approved in Germany and Europe 
in 1972. "The Berlin Heart is especially attractive as an 
option for circulatory support in babies and small children 
awaiting heart transplantation," Fraser said. "A particular 
advantage is that children can get up, walk around and be 
kids again while they are recovering and waiting for a donor
heart." Other children's hospitals participating in the 
study are in Little Rock, Ark.; Boston; Milwaukee; Indian-
apolis; St. Louis; Seattle; Birmingham, Ala.; Edmonton, 
Ontario, and Toronto.

         Study finds waning T-cells cause diabetes

MONTREAL,-- Canadian researchers have discovered specialized
T-cells lose their effectiveness over time in some people, 
leading to the onset of type 1 diabetes. T-cells suppress 
and regulate the body's immune responses, but in diabetes 
mellitus, or type 1 diabetes, the body's own immune system 
attacks and destroys insulin-producing islet cells in the 
pancreas. Patients must thereafter inject insulin daily. 
"The genetic and cellular mechanisms by which the immune 
system goes out of control and destroys the islets has been 
an enigma and an area of great interest over the last few 
decades," said Dr. Ciriaco Piccirillo of McGill University, 
one of the study's authors. "For the last several years, 
it's been postulated that non-functional regulatory T-cells 
are the critical mechanism, and this study proves it." The 
research was conducted on mice that were genetically engi-
neered to model human diabetes. Piccirillo and colleagues 
discovered the functional potency of T-cells in the mice 
declined with age, leaving autoimmune responses in the pan-
creas unchecked. Piccirillo said that finding could lead to 
the development of immune system-based therapies for a range
of diseases. 


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        Sensor samples air to find cause of asthma

ATLANTA, -- U.S. researchers developed a sensor system that 
continually monitors air around people prone to asthma att-
acks to identify causes of the respiratory illness. "We are 
investigating whether we can go back after an asthma attack 
and see what was going on environmentally when the attack 
started," said Charlene Bayer, a Georgia Tech Research Inst-
itute principal scientist. The new sensors, worn in the 
pockets of a vest, measure airborne formaldehyde, carbon 
dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, relative hum-
idity and total volatile organic compounds. Some of the or-
ganic compounds are emitted as gases from products such as 
paints, cleaning supplies, pesticide formulations, building 
materials and furnishings, office equipment and craft mater-
ials. Bayer hopes to develop a smaller, more sensitive sen-
sor system, test the current vest in population studies of 
asthmatic children and develop software to process data as 
it is collected. "With this system we can determine what 
children are exposed to at home, at school and outside where
they play," said Bayer. "Chances are there are some over-
reaching compounds that seem to trigger asthma attacks in 
more children."

        Birth complications add schizophrenia risk

BETHESDA, Md., -- U.S. scientists have identified four genes
that interact with serious obstetric complications to in-
crease the risk for schizophrenia. National Institute of 
Mental Health researchers in Bethesda, Md., examined 13 
genes believed to play a role in the development of schizo-
phrenia. All of the genes also play a role in supplying 
blood to the brain, or are influenced by hypoxia -- a cond-
ition in which insufficient oxygen is present for proper 
cellular functioning. A subset of individuals tested had 
experienced at least one serious obstetric complication, 
many having the potential to lead to hypoxia. The resear-
chers determined individuals who had four specific genetic 
variations, and who also had experienced at least one seri-
ous obstetric complication, were significantly more likely 
to develop schizophrenia as adults. 

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         Study: Race is a factor in cancer therapy

DAVIS, Calif., -- U.S. cancer scientists have found signif-
icant racial and ethnic differences in the treatment and 
survival of patients suffering soft-tissue sarcomas. Resear-
chers said their study marks the first time racial and eth-
nic disparities have been found involving people with soft-
tissue sarcomas -- rare but dangerous cancers in muscle, fat
or other body tissue. While surgery is the standard treat-
ment, amputation is seldom necessary since radiation can 
preserve limbs in most cases. However, the research showed 
that is not the case for all patients. Dr. Steve Martinez of
the University of California-Davis Cancer Center and Dr. -
Anthony Robbins of the California Cancer Registry identified
4,636 whites, 663 blacks, 696 Hispanics and 411 Asians 
treated for soft-tissue cancers between 1988 and 2003. They 
found black patients had significantly lower rates of surg-
eries, the highest rates of amputations and a 39 percent 
higher death rate related to their disease than whites. Asi-
ans were most likely to undergo limb-sparing procedures, 
while Hispanics had higher rates of amputation compared with
whites. "We need to take a close look at the factors that 
lead to worse results for one population when compared to 
others," Martinez said.

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