Comments From Cornwall

by John de Rivaz


This file contains the text of a monthly column that appeared in The Immortalist, a magazine published by The Immortalist Society <>

Wherever possible source information has been given, and no additional information is usually available if you write in.

New blood test may help cancer detection.

Anti-depressant sales jump

Study links high-fat breakfasts to blood clotting

Exercise injuries up among U.S. elderly

Endangered creatures could save us, if we save them

Cystic fibrosis gene guards against typhoid

Plague protein may help treat arthritis

Scientists find switch that counterattacks HIV

Pressure chamber could ease stroke damage

Too many cancer patients have mastectomies

Cancer, osteoporosis drugs may prevent breast cancer

Vitamin C find could lead to more nutritious food

Sound of blood flow can indicate clogged arteries

Australian firm sneezes at common cold

Obesity will be hard to treat, experts say

Colon cancer gene discovery

Ischemia damaged limited by Alexion product

Scientists say they a step closer to asthma vaccine

Franco-British team crack tuberculosis gene code

Western U.S. States' Biotechnology Lead Threatened by Regulation

Bone Healing Drug May Help Strokes, Alzheimer's

New U.S. Rules Aim to Boost Organ Availability

Scientists Hope to Grow Organs Inside Human Body

Genetic Testing and Life Insurance

Researchers Link Alzheimer's to Vascular Disorders

Light Therapy May Help Alzheimer's Sleep Disorder

UK's PPL Therapeutics Clones Transgenic Lamb

Cloners of Dolly, Mice, Team Up to Make Pigs

Genes may be to blame for chronic Lyme effects

Elan And Scherer Announce Licence for Zydis® Formulation

Experimental drug may be shot in dark for gymnast

British study finds more reasons to drink red wine

U.S. scientists say drug may help cocaine addicts

Blood substitute test in trauma patients a success

Tamoxifen as Preventative - FDA to Speed up Approval

Common Cold Microbe May Have Role in Alzheimer's - Study

Sackcloth and Ashes Cryonics

Reducing Cholesterol and Breast Cancer

Study links Alzheimer's risk to father's age

Birds Hold New Clues About Human Memory

WHO Pinpoints Smoking As Huge Global Health Threat

Aspirin may help lower cancer risk


Limb Transplants - Body Transplants?

Glaxo Produce Flu Preventative

Scientists Isolate Immune System 'On/off Switch'

Drug Might Offer New Way to Diminish Stroke Damage

Protein Helps Plants Survive Deep Freeze

FDA Approves Pill to Help Fight Gum Disease

How Gene Can Predispose People to Alzheimer's

Virtual Reality Autopsy on the Internet

Common Virus May Be Key Factor in Heart Attacks

Reducing the Spread of Flu

Nanotechnology memory application

FDA Clears First Dental Device to Use Laser-Powered Water for Cutting Teeth

New margarine spread can lower cholesterol - study

Dolly cloners make deal with U.S. company

Brain plaque linked to cell death in Alzheimer's

Scientists use neutron beams on brain tumours

Cancer drug helps paralysed mice walk again

Internet revolution to sweep U.S. healthcare

Breast Cancer Prevention Drug Progress

New data show up to 100 U.S. E.coli deaths yearly

Colon cancer drug improves survival - studies

French doctors report breakthrough in hepatitis C

Doctors regenerate human brain cells

Gene marker could predict colon cancer, study finds

Gene therapy grows new blood vessels on heart

Tiny gene changes can mean big heart risk - studies

Positive results on arthritis drug reported

Drug Arava slows rheumatoid arthritis - study

FDA approves soy health labels on food

Alexion Provides Step Forward for Neuro Patients

'Magic bullet' virus kills tumors in mice - study

Self-diagnosis for recurrent urinary infection

Trust Funds

FDA advisers to consider first of new pain drugs

Brain rewires itself in deaf, blind people - study

Biotech companies face backlash if no ethical debate

Anti-Aging Medicine in Mainstream

New Version of Prozac may be targeted to obesity sufferers.

Cervical Screening Upgrade

Scientists Hunt Way to Rebuild Bone

BBC News Item on Genetic Screening

Further work on Diabetes and Obesity

I still say Exterminate the House Mites

Pharmaceutical Investment, with Hindsight and Foresight.

Study: Radical Heart Regimen Works

Heinz Touts Benefits of Ketchup

Making Surgery Safer

(Below Sent 18 February 1997)

The following was never printed:

Genetic treatment for Arthritis

BBC Radio news on 10 December 1996 reported on work at Pittsburgh University where researchers performed a gene therapy operation on a 68 year old woman. The surgery involved inserting a gene into her body which it is hoped will help her produce her own antidote to the disease. Professor Chris Evans, who is leading the research team, says the initial findings are promising. "If the results hold out, and we have another eight patients to treat in this manner, we hope that within two years we can go back to the clinic with more ambitious trials where we will introduce the anti-arthritic genes into the patients early in the disease process and leave them there and hope that this will affect the clinical outcome," he said on the radio.

Genetic view of Depressive Illness

The Financial Times of 19 December, 1996, described work by Klaus-Peter Lesch at the Wurzburg University, Germany, on serotonin transporter alleles. They found that people with the short from are more likely to suffer depressive illness. The study, published in Science (no refs given) was in conjunction with the US National Institutes of Health. A further study was published in Molecular Psychiatry was in conjunction with the SmithKline Beecham company.

Just having the short allele will not by itself make you a depressive, which is just was well as over 70% of people have it. However it contradicts pharmacologists' understanding of how anti-depressants work. Resolving the contradictions may give rise to the development of news products to help depressives, the article concluded.

A Catalytic Convertor for Cities

Many immortalists live in cities for various reasons, despite the fact that they are unhealthy places. Help is at hand from the Mitsubishi company, who have produced a paving slab that acts as a catalytic convertor to remove nitrogen oxides from the air. They are converted to nitric acid which is washed way by rainfall. Pavements (sidewalks) using the material will cost £65/m2 and remove 80% of the harmful oxides of nitrogen from the air. The article in The Financial Times of 19 December did not state what the normal cost of pavements are.

Discover magazine of January 1997 described work of Melvin Prueitt of Los Alamos National Laboratory who had developed a way of cleaning the air in cities. His invention consists of a 650ft tower made from fibreglass coated steel. At the top electrostatically charged water droplets humidify the air. At the droplets are charged, pollutants cling to them. This makes the air cooler and it sinks to the bottom where the pollutants would be washed away by the condensing water.

190 towers would be needed to clean los Angeles, Prueitt estimates.

Chaos Theory Used for Medicine

Also in The Financial Times of 19 December was an article describing how a subsidiary of BASK, Knoll, is exploring the use of Chaos Theory using research from the Max Plank Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, (Garching, Munich, Germany) to help with heart and circulatory disease. This could improve its drug selection process.

British Medical Journal Editorial Dampens Enthusiasm for Living Forever

"How can we live forever?" was the question asked in the editorial of British Medical Journal dated 21-28 December 1996, by Tom Kirkwood of the University of Manchester. He started by dismissing the discussion in the popular press, such as an article in New Scientist of 22 June 1996 entitled Death of Old Age by D. Concar, as wild optimism. However he did agree with an article in The Independent by M. Gladwell Heaven Can Wait in which the possibility of extending human lifespan to 200 years by genetic means was suggested. He quoted a scientific reference that suggested genetic influences are responsible for one fifth of the variance in lifespan. (J. Gerontol 1993;48 Longevity is Moderately Heritable in A Sample of Danish Twins, M. McGue and others)

Then he stated "At this point it should be said, loudly and clearly, that the primary goal of research on the biological basis of aging must be to enhance the quality of later years of life. If quality is not improved and increase in quantity might prove to be a Pyrrhic victory." I am sure that all immortalists would agree with this. Indeed many people turn away from immortalism as they have jumped, erroneously, to the conclusion that what we want is to remain alive at all costs, even if it is as a severed head connected to a collection of pumps and tubes to keep us alive.

Kirkwood then explains why searches for ageing clocks that can just be stopped is a futile exercise. No such clock would have any evolutionary advantage. He explains that ageing is a result of trade-offs. This is something that I have believed in intuitively for a long time. I think that ageing is the sum total of the side effects of processes that are necessary for life. That is not to say that will a bit of intelligence applied to the system the side effects cannot be worked around, but that there is no evolutionary advantage in this so evolution did not do it for us.

Kirkwood suggests that there is considerable scope for improving the body's maintenance systems, which can be achieved once we have genetic insights. However he says there is much hard work to be done before any results can be achieved. (With acknowledgements to Dr K. Monnington who pointed me to the url of this article.)

Population Growth Slows

A report to be published early in 1997 by the United Nations shows that the growth of the world's population has slowed, dramatically and unexpectedly. At the start of the 1990s, Earth's population had been growing by 90M people/yr, but the figure has now declined to 80M/yr. According to an article in New Scientist of 14 December 1995 the cause is a decline in fertility. This means that the populations of many countries will stabilise in the next century.

If in future the population actually declines, then maybe those who took the trouble to go into cryopreservation may not be regarded as selfish individualists, but far sighted humanitarian pioneers.

The Age of the Earth in relation to the Age of the Universe

In New Scientist Inside Science no 96, an insert in New Scientist of 14 December 1996, the topic is the formation of the Earth. The first page has an interesting graph which shows that the estimated time of the Big Bang was 10 x 109, whereas the Solar System was formed 4.5 x 109 years ago, and the Earth acquired its moon and began to cool 4.2 x 109 years ago. Life began 3.5 x 109 years ago. Thus life on the Earth is roughly a third of the age of the entire universe. (Of course the duration human life is not measurable on this scale.)

This suggests to be that there is a possibility that humanity is indeed the first thinking species in the universe, and searches for extra terrestrial intelligence will be fruitless. It had been hoped that finding such a species may give us a short cut to immortality, as giving humanity immortality (but not invulnerability) would be a good way to pacify it.

Prions Could Help Boost Body's Defences

Prions, the proteins believed to cause mad cow disease and CJD, could in their harmless form play a crucial role reinforcing the body's defences, according to an article in PA News. Jan 8, 1997

Researchers in Scotland now claim normal, harmless, prions (PrP) could play a key role in the immune system. A team at the Institute for Animal Health in Edinburgh compared ordinary mice with others that lacked the gene for making prions. Then they stimulated the immune systems of the mice and observed how many T-cells they produced. It was found that the normal mice produced up to twice as many T-cells as the ones lacking prions. The latter mice lacked the genes for making prions.

Moira Bruce, who led the research team, told New Scientist magazine: "This really does suggest that PrP has some some role in immune activation. It's the first time such a role has been suggested."

The researchers also found that in normal mice some T-cells carried PrP on their surfaces. When exposed to a chemical that caused the cells to divide, the amount of PrP increased. This provided support for the theory that certain cells in the immune system may help to spread the rogue prions to the brain.

An article by Hill, Zeidler, Ironside and Collinge in The Lancet Vol 349, 9045, 11 January. <">> examines the possibility of a pre-death test for CJD by examining tonsil tissue.

Tonsil tissue can be easily obtained by biopsy under local anaesthetic in most patients and complications are most unusual. Although many adults from the age group where this was fashionable will have had childhood tonsillectomy, lymphoreticular tissue may still be obtained from the lingual tonsillar remnants. As a result of the extreme resistance of prions to normal sterilisation procedures, current UK recommendations are that neurosurgical instruments from patients with CJD are destroyed. While infective titres of prions in tonsil may be much lower than in brain, similar precautions to avoid cross contamination and iatrogenic transmission of CJD would seem prudent at present. The development of a disposable tonsil-biopsy kit should be feasible.

The full text, with colour illustrations, and relevant references can also

be accessed on The Lancet Web site.

a useful addition to this thread in today's New York Times Magazine, pp 30-32.

A Market in Human Remains

An article in New York Times Magazine, Sun 12 Jan 1997 pp 30-32 described the apparently extensive grave-robbing in Kabul, Afghanistan, by children and adults selling human bones to bazaar merchants, who sell them mixed with various animal bones to middlemen who export thebones to Pakistan. The photographs amply confirm the text. The authors do not indicate how long this trade has been in existance, though their informants told them that they had only been involved for a short time and then only because of the rampant inflation.

A warning to cryonicists, I suppose, if there are times of extreme inflation and social unrest around cryonics centres, but I would imagine that if things were that bad the suspensions would have failed anyway by then.

UK Tax Officials Put Haemophiliacs at risk

An article in New Scientist dated 25 January 1996 said that UK tax officials are callously putting the lives of haemophiliacs at risk. Haemophiliacs are people with a blood disorder that bleed easily, and their condition can be treated by administration of a blood clotting protein. This comes in two forms, a natural form which has a risk of carrying blood borne viruses such as HIV (AIDS) or hepatitis, and an artificial form which carries no such risks. The artificial form is already one third more expensive.

However officials at the UK's Customs and Excise (who manage the assessment and collection of Value Added Tax) decided that the artificial, safe, form would also be subject the 17.5% VAT penalty, although the unsafe form is not. (All products made from blood are free of the penalty.) The manufacturers of the artificial form went to a VAT tribunal to try and get the ruling overturned, but the Customs and Excise lawyers were successful in defending their clients' claim to the penalty on patients' safety.

The article concluded that "pennypinching" hospitals will be reluctant to buy the safer form of the product. It strikes me as ridiculous if hospitals take this attitude as the Health Service is a government department, therefore the VAT is merely going around in circles anyway. Nevertheless, I think the actions of the officials concerned in this case are highly questionable on ethical grounds.

Gene Chip Promises Easy Diagnosis

Affymetrix, a company that floated its shares without making a cent in profit, has announced a chip that can be used for testing individuals' genes for disease and susceptibility to disease. 400,000 sequences are deposited on the chip and a flourescent fluid containing the patient's DNA is passed over it. If sequences match, relevant areas glow and this glow is reported on the accompanying computer to reveal what diseases are relevant. Within 8 to 10 years a hand held gene reader will be in routine use, and the results of tests will enable people to adjust their lifestyle to their genes' capability. Vulnerability to infectious diseases is genetic, said the article in The Daily Telegraph's computer supplement Connected dated 3 December 1996, and knowledge should lead to greater prevention.

British Government Drives out Pharmaceutical Investment

Merck, Sharpe & Dohme (MSD) said the UK's system for controlling drug prices is stifling the industry's development. In a renewed attack on the system, known as the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS), MSD managing director Vincent Lawton said Britain was "in danger of losing its position as the leading location for pharmaceutical companies to invest." Lawton said: "The PPRS is more than an administrative burden. It represents an unparalleled intrusion by government into how private companies conduct their affairs." Reuters 01/28/97)

Journalist Interest in Age Control Continues

The Sunday Times of 26 January carried a large feature article which considered the relationship between stress and ageing, suggested that permanently angry people (including those who bottle it up) lead shorter livers. However the body of the article gave a wide coverage of ageing control including the consumption of DHEA and Deprenyl. No mention was made of cryopreservation.

The matter of stress was part of a study at London University by Dr Eric Brunner, and it again brought up the point that lack of control over one's own life was a more damaging stress than simply being in control but also being time disadvantaged. Clerks had a high risk factor for a short life than their harassed managers, even though the clerks had an ordered existence with little pressure.

Another Sign of Progress

Warner Lambert shares jumped on 30 January 1996 after it said Rezulin tablets have been cleared for marketing by the FDA. A member of the thiazolidinedione class, also known as "insulin resistance reducers," Rezulin is the first anti-diabetes drug designed to target insulin resistance -- the underlying cause of type II diabetes. Rezulin is indicated for use in patients with type II diabetes currently on insulin whose hyperglycemia is inadequately controlled despite insulin therapy of over 30 units per day given as multiple injections. In a statement, the company said that in general, Rezulin is well tolerated. (Reuters 09:35 AM ET 01/30/97)

This is of particular interest as it shows how real progress is being made - not just a better palliative, but attacks on the root cause of this particular disease.

The Risks of Companion Animals

Pets, also known as companion animals, are known to confer psychological benefits on their human owners. However there may be some risk attached as well. Writing on the Internet Peter Cyrog, DVM <> suggested that Campy and Giardia may be present in pets with resistance to Metronidazole (Flagyl) but not Albendazole. Campylobacter has symptoms in people that are similar to what the public calls "stomach flu": vomiting and/or diarrhea, fever, malaise and headaches.

Brine Shrimp Suspensions

An article in New Scientist dated 8 February 1997 describes work by James Clegg, a comparative biochemist at the University of California's Marine Laboratory, Bodega Bay. When deprived of oxygen, brine shrimps shut down and enter a death-like state. When oxygen is restored, perhaps years later, they are restored to life. In harsh conditions, such as when a river dries up or the water loses all its dissolved oxygen, the shrimps form a cyst. Clegg found that when encysted, the shrimps used no energy to maintain their form. This is contra to all established ideas about the nature of life. He was unable to detect any form of energy release, even at 0.002% of normal. Accepted ideas suggest that cells need to process energy to make proteins and repair damage.

Clegg's brine shrimps were at room temperature, when one would expect proteins to deteriorate from random damage unless the organism expended energy for repairs. Using radioactively labelled proteins, he found no evidence of breakdown. The suggestion is made that there are "chaperone" proteins that bind to vulnerable proteins and prevent them from damage.

Intestinal Flora Change with Age

An article in New Scientist of 15 February detailed how intestinal flora changes with age. Babies are born with 1011 Escherichia coli per gram of faeces which falls to 107 soon after birth. This coincides with a rise of Bifidobacterium, which produces a natural antibiotic which exterminates the Escherichia coli. Unfortunately humans appear to have been designed to drive off the Bifidobacterium with advancing age and also produce a rise in Clostridium which can also cause diarrhoea.

Glenn Gibson and colleagues at the Institute of Food Research in Reading is trying to identify the natural antibiotic involved and find ways of making the Bifidobacterium thrive in the elderly. One option some people consider is to eat yogurts, but these researchers feel that they are unlikely to reach the large intestine undigested. Instead, Gibson favours supplementation with fructo-oligosaccharides, carbohydrates that are easily digested by Bifidobacteria but not by humans or harmful bacteria. 15 grams/day also result in the ousting of Clostridium. A normal diet only provides 4 to 5 grams a day, but Gibson suggests fortifying foods such as biscuits with fructo-oligosaccharides.

House Mites Ousted by Head and Shoulders

Head and Shoulders, the anti-dandruff shampoo recommended in Pearson and Shaw's Life Extension, is a weapon that people who are worried by house dust mites can use. New Scientist of 15 February 1997 described work by Charles Naspitz at the Federal University of Sâo Paulo found that the mites could live even in well shampooed hair. Asthma sufferers made antibodies to the mites which were in their hair, adding to their disease. However the anti-dandruff shampoos keep the mites at bay by removing the skin scales which are their source of food.

Why Antigeria Does Not Exist

Writing on the Internet, Don Ashley <dashley@TENET.EDU> says:

> Antigeria is a medical condition that I would like to have. It means

> perpetual youth. It is a term that I coined for lack of a better one.

It is a very interesting observation on the nature of the universe that such a condition does not occur in nature. All other natural processes have disease processes that attack them.

The fact that Antigeria does not exist in nature suggests to me that there is no internal time bomb designed to age and kill us. This fact suggests that ageing is probably some problem involved with side effects of otherwise beneficial processes. It is possible that complex system have a limited lifespan because there is some mathematical reason a large number of interlined control systems cannot be maintained indefinitely. Look how complex civilisations such as the Romans or the British Empire eventually crumble. Look how the legal system is now no longer delivering the justice that people expect of it. This could be due to over complexity of some form.

We will be able to correct some of the side effects due to the life in a human body, but not much. The real solution to ageing and death will be transfer into new bodies or otherwise artificial bodies that work on a different principle. In the meantime we should seek to stay in good health for as long as possible to get near the time when this is achievable, or alternatively use cryonics as a last ditch attempt to reach that time if all else fails.

Sent April 1997

Cancer Test Chip to be Introduced

An article in The Financial Times dated 16 February 1997 said that scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle under Professor Leroy Hood are to produce integrated circuits containing DNA to analyse blood samples to detect cancer. The first chip will be for prostate cancer. The Professor hopes to be able to differentiate between slow growing cancers that pose no immediate threat and those that require immediate surgical intervention. Within 10 to 15 years a multiple chip that can detect 150,000 different cancers will be the heart of a computer peripheral in doctors' offices.

Technology based on the common ink jet printer will be used to lay down the DNA on the chip, which is said to be cheaper and better than the photolithography usually used to make chips and proposed by Affymetrix, the California biotechnology company working in the same area. Some of Professor Hood's work is being sponsored by Darwin Molecular, a subsidiary of the UK company Chiroscience. Dr David Galas, of Darwin Molecular, says the cancer chip project is a bit speculative but perfectly achievable. These chips will enable diagnosis of many diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Stratifying diseases in the way this technology can will make targeted pharmaceuticals a much more effective treatment.

This is yet another boost for a pharmaceutical industry already reeling from the impact of advances in computerised chemistry. One stock market commentator said recently that the pharmaceutical stocks were changing in nature from safe investments for widows and orphans into go-go technological stocks. I have written in this column last year about the profound changes at Warner Lambert and similar companies, with several orders of magnitude increases in research capability forecast.

Atomic Scale Ruler

The Daily Telegraph reported in its Connections magazine on 28 January 1997 that researchers at Canada's national research council made a wafer of alternating layers of silicon and a darker germanium combination. Using an electron microscope, they counted the number of atoms of thickness of each layer. They can then use the wafer as a ruler for artifacts constructed out of individual atoms.

More on H.Pylori

It was only a short while ago that surgeons had us believing that their skills were the only solution to stomach ulcers. The revolution that has swept the medical profession takes another turn with a simple physician's test for the bacteria. Astra Merck Inc, a free-standing joint venture, owned equally by MERCK and ASTRA AB of Sweden, announced in March 1997 that HpChek, a whole-blood, one-step single-use physician's office test to confirm the presence of H. pylori in patients with active duodenal ulcer, has received FDA 510(K) clearance for improved performance claims. H. pylori is the bacterium believed to cause about 90 % of duodenal ulcers. Information supplied to the FDA included data from a 10-site independent study conducted to determine the test's overall accuracy when compared to other methodologies.

New Painkiller Without That Bleeding Side-Effect

A new painkiller with all the benefits of aspirin or ibuprofen but few of the side-effects could offer safer treatment for arthritis sufferers, one of Merck's top researchers said. Known as COX-2 inhibitors, they mimic the painkilling effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) without the bleeding and damage to the stomach and intestines. This discovery has sent a few drug companies racing to see if they can produce a drug that works only against COX-2.

Combinatorial Chemistry

Combinatorial chemistry is a technology used to generate tens of thousands of novel, small organic molecules that can be tested for biological activity. Under an agreement between Eli Lilly and Co and Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co Ltd have agreed to collaborate in the field of combinatorial chemistry. The transfer will be made through training at Sphinx Pharmaceuticals and ongoing consultations. Lilly acquired Sphinx Pharmaceuticals in 1994. Kyowa Hakko Kogyo, headquartered in Tokyo, is engaged in research, manufacturing and marketing activities covering a broad range of pharmaceutical, food and beverage, and chemical products. Lilly is a global research-based pharmaceutical corporation. Lilly said it will receive upfront fees, milestone payments and royalties on the first two products to reach the market that result from this collaboration. In exchange, Lilly will transfer proprietary combinatorial chemistry technology and expertise.

More on Telomerase

In March 1997 GERON CORP and PHARMACIA AND UPJOHN INC signed a definitive agreement to collaborate on discovery, development and marketing of a new class of anticancer drugs that inhibit telomerase, an enzyme that makes cancer cells immortal. Under the agreement, Pharmacia & Upjohn will pay Geron up to $58 million, including an aggregate equity investment of $10 million in Geron and research funding and milestone payments which are partly recoverable against future royalties. Geron will also receive royalties on sales and limited U.S. co-promotion rights.

Some Life Extensionists, on the other hand, are interested in telomerase for the reverse possibility - making cells live longer. Unfortunately it looks to me that whereas this obviously works, we as individuals do not live longer if our cells live longer - an attrition of cells is part of the way our bodies work. The problem of again is not the death of cells, but the reducing ability to replace them properly. I wouldn't have though it would be that hard to develop an improved method of accurate replacement, and that ought to be the direction of anti aging research, not messing around with telomerase. But that is just an ill informed opinion, only history will show whether it is correct.

With computers, the software is deleted from the RAM when you switch it off, and re-loaded when you put it back on again. If there are sector failures in the hard disk, then data or programs are lost. You can get round that by having a backup, but no matter how many backups you have, there is a finite possibility that one day all will fail. No suppose that nature has given us the equivalent of three levels of back-ups in our cell replacement system. That gives us an average lifespan of 75 years or so, with a maximum of 120. Suppose we could genetically engineer another level of backup? Surely that would push up these figures. There may be a price to pay for this extra level, but it could well be that it is a price that modern man could afford as compared to a man in his natural environment (equatorial Africa).

New Hope for Baldies

Dyad Pharmaceutical is developing a new therapy to prevent male pattern baldness. The company said its antisense drug is designed to block the enzyme that causes hair loss and that in cell culture its new therapy reduces by 75 % the amount of enzyme 5-aR2 that causes baldness. The company said that MERCK has completed a drug study in which a significant increase of hair follicles was seen in 48 % of test subjects. Since both drugs target the enzyme 5-aR2, Dyad believes that Merck's studies validates its approach to treating baldness. The company said, however, that its drug would eliminate undesirable side effects of the Merck drug.

Dyad also expects that its new therapy can be applied to enzyme 5-aR2 related diseases such as enlarged prostate, prostate cancer, and excessive hair growth.

I find it interesting to see again the link between male pattern baldness and more serious male diseases.

Natural Nanomotor Found

Japanese scientists announced in March 1997 that by delving inside a cell membrane they had found the world's tiniest natural motor.

They said the protein molecule F1-ATPase rotated with an incredible force, and they were able to videotape the motion. "We now show that a single molecule of F1-ATPase acts as a rotary motor, the smallest known, by direct observation of its motion,'' Masasuke Yoshida and colleagues at the Tokyo Institute of Technology wrote in a report in the science journal Nature.

The central rotor is just one nanometer (one-billionth of a meter) across, turning in a "barrel'' 10 nanometers across.

Other studies had indicated the protein might work as a rotor, but Yoshida's team proved it. They used a fluorescent filament, which they attached to the protein, to watch the motion.

"In the presence of ATP, the filament rotated for more than 100 revolutions in an anticlockwise direction,'' they wrote.

ATP or adenosine triphosphate carries chemical energy and is basic to cell metabolism -- the chemical changes that provide energy for movement and growth. The rotor is one component of cell metabolism. Steven Block, a molecular biologist at Princeton University, called the experiment ``elegant'' and proved that the protein was indeed the world's smallest rotary motor.

Before now, the smallest rotor was found in the flagellar motors of bacteria, which drive the little filaments that propel them along. These motors, many times the size of the one found by Yoshida, turn at speeds in excess of 1,000 hertz (cycles).

"Transposed into our own dimensions, if cars could drive at equivalent scale speeds, they would break the sound barrier,'' Block wrote in an accompanying commentary.

Ways of looking at things

I have been off cryonet for a while and have reada few weeks all at once, and under the influence of fast moving time, and apologise if someone else has made this point and I missed it.

All the talk about number systems and I didn't spot any mention of the significance of the introduction of zero. Without it much of modern mathematics would be impossible, I should have thought. The two systems of decimal and fractional notation sit side by side in uneasy coexistence. I know few of you are interested in the stock market, but they still get into a real tizz over share price quotations of a dollar or so, with sixty-fourths and other ratios being quoted rather than using decimals to get the desired level of accuracy.

I have often wondered whether there is an alternative system of numbering we haven't seen which is even better than ours. After all, there must have been plenty of bright Romans and Greeks who failed to discover the practical uses of zero. Maybe there is a numbering system that does not create surds. I doubt it, but then the Romans would have doubted there was a system that made division practicable.

A parallel is the view of the solar system - the geocentric model made calculations difficult before the heliocentric model was considered. Maybe the rejection of the heliocentric model was partially fuelled by the fact that making calculations easier demystified them and reduced the incomes and status of those that could do them.

Also there has been discussion of whether religious people can be persuaded as to the merits of cryopreservation. Maybe this is actually similar: a numbering system is just a way of looking at reality, and the way they look at reality just does not value themselves enough to make any form of preservation worthwhile.

The curious thing is, of course, that the preservation of individuals is a large part of human endeavour, with the medical profession and related social services. In the UK, the National Health Service is the country's largest employer, more than food production or manufacturing. Cryopreservation would seem a logical extension of this. Why is it then rejected so vehemently?

Hail the World's Smallest Spring

I am slightly dubious about this article as it appeared in New Scientist early in April, but as the edition was dated 12 not 1, I assume it is true. If not then obviously I am an April Fool. It concerns the work of an unlikely or unfortunately named Austrian, called Krautler who claims to have made a nanotechnological spring. The news magazine says that Bernard Kraulter of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, has made the world's smallest spring using molecules as components. He put a vitamin B12 molecule at either end of a chain of 12 carbon atoms, with cobalt atoms fastening the vitamin molecules to the chain.

In its relaxed form, the chain makes a regular zig-zag pattern. In the presence of water, however, it kinks and contracts and takes on an irregular pattern of humps and troughs. The spring can be made to relax again by adding cyclodextrin, which forms a molecular collar around the chain and shields it from the water. The researchers describe the result in The Journal of the American chemical Society vol 119, p 2313, according to New Scientist.

No mention was made of its possible use in a nanotechnologcial machine, merely as interesting chemistry and a possible aid to the study of the process of dissolving.

New Parkinsons' Treatment

Another early April issue of New Scientist give me cause for concern with names, this time of a protein apparently called sonic hedgehog. The 5 April issue described a protein by this singular name which is alleged to transform stem cells into dopamine producing neurons. It is made by a company called Ontogeny, from Massacheusetts, and is applied by injection. Doros Platika, president of Ontogeny, speculates that it may also be of use for stroke or injury related brain damage.

Ronald Lindsay, of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Tarrytown, New York, says he thinks the rationale for using sonic hedgehog makes sense, according to the news magazine.

Issue finished end June 1997

Gold Cluster Molecules

An article in The Financial Times dated 17 April discusses the use of gold molecules as elements in miniaturised circuits that depend on the behaviour of individual electrons for their properties. The molecules have a pure gold core of between 1 and 2 nanometres across, surrounded by a shell of hydrocarbon chains and sulphur atoms. The hydrocarbon chains can be modified to give them particular chemical properties so the molecules can be incorporated into bigger structures. For more information point your web browser to <>.

Biotime and Abbott in licensing pact

BioTime Inc signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Abbott Laboratories Inc for Hextend, BioTime's plasma expanding product, on 25 April 1997. Under terms of the deal, BioTime will get up to $40 million in licensing fees, including an upfront cash payment and future payments tied to U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval and other developments as well as payments based on net revenues from sales of the product, said Paul Segall, president and chief executive officer of BioTime. Segall said the company filed an 8K Securities and Exchange Commission filing which sets for the terms of the agreement. BioTime is currently conducting Phase III trials of the Hextend. Abbott will have the right to sell Hextend in the U.S. and Canada, the company said. The company said it expects to receive about $2.5 million of the total $40 million in the first 12 months.

The economics of nanotechnology

This subject has been discussed on <sci.nanotechnology> recently. I think we have a couple of good analogies for how the world will look when replicators and assemblers are commonplace. One is the computer software industry, and the other is the recorded music industry.

Both have products that cost negligible amounts to reproduce and substantial amounts to design. There is an uneasy coexistence between those who sell the product and those who copy it illegally. The facts are (although the relevant firm's legal departments may not be happy) that the companies go for people who reproduce the products in large quantities illegally for sale. They turn a blind eye for those who copy a CD onto a cassette to play in the car or give to a friend, or a piece of software for use on a second computer in the home. It would be uneconomic and very poor public relations to use the Nazi tactic of making examples of a few individuals of the latter category.

Initially nanoassemblers will be out of the public domain, but they are likely to end up there just as CD recorders have. When CDs first appeared you needed teams of people in funny clothes in special rooms to record them. Now it can be done with equipment costing a few hundred dollars. Lawyers and enforcement engineers will mess about and consume an appreciable portion of companies' profits in futile attempts to stop copying - recall all the attempts to stop tape recorders copying from vinyl records. Copyright paranoia is partially responsible for killing the digital audio tape system.

But eventually I predict that there will be an uneven stasis between a limited amount of illegal copying and legitimate purchase of nanoassembled products.

It is also, of course, possible that people will be able to design furniture and similar products and grow them themselves, using nanoassemblers controlled from a computer. An analogy I see here is computer programs like "Print Artist" where the unskilled user is given an enormous number of templates which can be put together in varying combinations to produce products previously sold by firms of printers. (leaflets, brochures, letterheads, business cards etc).

But looking at the present software market again, it is likely that Microsoft is the most copied manufacturer. Yet it is still the leader of the field and investors in its shares are doing very nicely indeed. Even if Bill Gates' infamous pack of lawyers could put every small copyright thief in a concentration camp and gas them (without public outcry etc) the upward effects on the profits would be small. It is a false assumption that they would have bought the work if they had not copied it. Most would have just gone without.

The current trend is for manufactured goods to be underpriced and services overpriced. In the UK, you can find colour televisions, computers, videos even camcorders in the homes of people on state benefit, whereas they cannot afford the services of a lawyer, doctor, dentist etc without additional state aid. Also they cannot afford to go away for a holiday or have a restaurant meal or go to the cinema or theatre. There is a cusp between those on state aid and those who earn a lot of money. In this cusp access to the service providing professions is closed, as practitioners in the fee earning professions typically charge ten to a hundred times the average wage.

Lack of professional help (and sometimes tax legislation designed to prevent people building capital as seen in previous decades) often means that people earning quite good wages (builders, time served tradesmen etc) do not have the advantages of richer people to accumulate capital. The provision of mass produced help of this nature in broadcast television and radio, video information cassettes and computer software has the potential to reduce this gap, and this process can be seen at work in the UK.

The trend to mass production of services is likely to continue, particularly in the medical professions. Nanotechnology will have a very profound effect indeed here, with nanorobots replacing human surgeons. "Nanopharmacists" could be the name given to nanorobots that deliver drugs to specific sites. Highly toxic molecules could be presented to tumours only, resulting in chemotherapy without killing the patient.

Eventually I see only the hyper rich having access to human professional services at all. The rest will receive some form of automated help at negligible cost. The human caring professional will probably only add a few percent more value to the application of an automated solution to a problem.

A growing area of employment today is enforcement. I don't just mean the police for or prison officers, but in inspectors enforcing a growing number of regulations. Law makers are pushing the costs on the regulated - if you want to run a saw mills (however small), you have to pay UKP900 a year for the inspector to call and see that you have a dust extractor fitted. This provides work and a good salary for inspectors. It is unfortunately likely that costly regulations will be applied to any nanotechnology industry based on assemblers and replicators. This could slew the world economy so that the bulk of the money circulating is regulation, and very little relates to actual product cost. Some commentators in the 1800s thought that the introduction of steam power would result in people being able to earn a living from a couple of day's a week work. This did not happen. The Victorians had few regulations to their lives compared with today. Cavet Emptor - buyer beware - was the order of the day, and the wealth circulating was tightly coupled to the material goods being made.

A decade ago commentators have made similar suggestions about the PC - "Accountants and lawyers will be out of work" they cried. The PC will decimate the thinking professions just as steam engines decimated "heavy lifting" jobs. With hindsight the PC had the opposite effect! With a PC in every home and office, the regulators could introduce much more complicated law and people can use their PCs for compliance . Value added tax owes its existence to the pocket calculator, for example. In addition, management of companies and government enterprises are beginning to use programming techniques to control and audit their workforce. Stress levels, particularly amongst people such as teachers, nurses and doctors, are at record levels. This is because they are being made to account for their actions more and more. The computer has made it possible for them to be required to provide masses of data for audits (data collection) that replaces professional trust. All this has to be done either in their own time or on top of their existing duties.

Once nanotechnology is a part of the world, it will save time and money in traditional manufacturing methods, but it will also produce new and as yet unimagined ways for people to waste time and money and increase stress, just as the calculator and computer have done before. That is unless enough people take a stand against growing regulation and realise that nothing can be made absolutely fair and safe. There will always be unfairness and suffering. With the increasing material wealth and medical control of disease that nanotechnology can bring, the amount of unfairness and suffering will be reduced. Increased regulation will slow this process, and my gut reaction is that increasing regulation will actually deny it to many people who could otherwise have benefited. Instead of reducing unfairness and suffering it could actually increase it.

Nanotechnology will come. It will have a profound effect on the economy. The effect will be to raise standards, and this will be most noticeable at the lower end of the economic ladder. (Compare the tvs videos etc in the homes of people on state benefit today with what such people would have had in the 1950s.) The only variable is *when* it will come, and this depends to a large extent on how bloody minded the regulators and their hangers on will be.

Passive Smoking and Ageing

The latest issue of The Right ANSR, the newsletter of the Association for Non Smokers' Rights, had some items on how passive smoking (breathing pother people's smoke) is life shortening. Unfortunately the newsletter does not give enough information to check up on the primary sources, but nevertheless it does suggest staying away from premises where you may be contaminated with other people's smoke is worthwhile for life extenders.

A Dr George Howard is credited with an unnamed report which demonstrates that passive smoking can cause silent strokes, (transient ischemic attacks, TIA). TIA happen when a blood clot temporarily stops blood flow to the brain. An earlier report showed that full stokes can also occur more frequently amongst active and passive smokers. Both sorts of smoking ar linked with thickening of the arteries leading to the brain, and a link has been found between second hand smoking and an increased risk of brain haemorrhages. Dr Howard has also taken part in studies which show that passive smoking increases the risk of death by heart disease.

If you parents smoked, they may have reduced the lifespan of your teeth, the newsletter says, citing work by "South African scientists". They did an analysis based on dental data from over 200 white upper middle class children. A 35% reduction in dental maturation was noted in the children of lung smokers. Lateness of teeth, the article says, means that they teeth eeare less well formed and are more prone to cavities.

Dr R.O. Nara, of the People's Dental Association, says that having false teeth can reduce your lifespan by 10%.

[ANSR, Melgund Terrace, Edinburgh, EH7 4BU, UK]

Controversial Cancer Treatment Taxol in the News Again

A combination of Merck and Co's osteoporosis treatment Fosomax with taxol showed promise in preventing the spread of cancer to the bone, a new study showed. In a study published in the May issue of Invasion and Metastases, Mark Stearns, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Allegheny University of Health Sciences, set out to determine if fortifying the bone using Fosamax would block bone metastases altogether. Fosomax, or alendronate, is used to treat osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and for the treatment of bone disorder Paget's disease. (Reuters 07:51 AM ET 05/01/97)

"Professor Death" Speaks

The Daily Mail of 17 March 1997 describes an unspecified article by Professor Alan Williams, 69, in The British Medical Journal. Williams, (Centre for health Economics at Your University) calls on his generation to exercise restraint in their demands on medical resources and accept the inevitability of death. However pensioners' groups condemned this attitude. Help the Aged said Williams' words would "strike horror into the hearts of the elderly and every caring person." Jack Thain (National Pensioners' Convention) said Professor Williams is showing signs of early dementia.

Professor Williams said that "I would not deny a younger person large benefits in order to provide small ones for me." This does make sense, especially from an economist. However I wonder what he would make of cryopreservation. The benefits are uncertain, but certainly they are not small.

Pharmaceutical Companies Make Headway Despite Regulation

An article in The Financial Times dated 24 April stated that the world's pharmaceutical industry was in good shape despite government health regulation and cutbacks. In 1996 there had been one of the industry's most profitable years for a while, and the markets were calm with no hostile takeover bids or mergers. Companies are making money the old fashioned way, the paper said, by selling goods as high profit margins. Most companies showed double digit growth, compared to an average of 8% for US companies as a whole.

As explanations for this the companies offer two.

One: the use of more effective drugs saves money in the long run - there is less need for services (nursing, surgery etc). Therefore cutbacks are in other areas of state run health services.

Two: Independent medical authorities are finding it more difficult to buy drugs as discount prices. The trend had been towards limiting the menu of available drugs in order to enable bulk buying. But now doctors and patients are rebelling against this. Although list prices did not rise this year, the prices did rise as a result of the ending of bulk discounting.

The companies have also been buying back their own shares (thus rising the value of those still in the hand of the public.) It could well be that the management are aware of the enormous increases in research efficiency, due to new technologies, and the prices in current markets do not reflect this.

Sales have changed too. When they read about a new product, doctors call the representatives

rather than the other way round. Specialities of medicine, such as Alzheimer's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Schizophrenia that previously had no drug treatment are now becoming treatable that way. Therefore there are whole new cohorts of potential customers.

Australian Escapes Autopsy

Police in Melborne were called to the scene when a man was reported running down the street naked. They let him go when they discovered that he had just escaped from a mortuary where the coroner had just pronounced him dead and they were about to cut him up. [radio news item]

Artificial Virus Used to Deliver Pharmaceuticals

Biovector Therapeutics of Toulouse is a French company that plans to introduce a method of delivering drugs and vaccines by manufacturing look-alikes of viruses. A synthetic core is used to replace the genetic core of natural viruses. It is coated with proteins as with a real virus. By choosing a protein that affects the body, the virus like particles become a drug delivery method. An early product will be an influenza vaccine nasal spray.

Mr Emile Loria, chief executive, expects the company to be valued at $163m when it is floated on the UK stock market. [Financial Times, 15 May 1997]

Micro Chip Fabricators Make Micro Machines

An article in The Sunday Times of 11 May 1997 said that a new factory of micro machines is proposed by Louisiana State University. They will be small enough to fir inside a human body. The parts are carved using a high powered x-ray machine. The paper incorrectly described this is nanotechnology. (Which is the use of atoms and molecules as moving parts in machines.)

The proposal uses processes developed by Motorola, the semiconductor manufacturer. The Vancouver based machine company Memstek is involved in the new factory, which is based at Louisiana State University. Typical gear wheels will be a few microns wide, but larger objects such as levers measuring a few millimetres can be made. Early machines will be automatic blood pumps for patients needing regular medication, and also machines for blood and NDA testing.

Production will be of the order of a million gear wheels per week. The machines are easy to break or lose, or are in situations where they can only be used once. Therefore fabrication costs have to be low. This is the first commercial venture in this field, and production is scheduled to begin next year.

The God Gene

In a letter to New Scientist which was published on 17 May 1997, Stephen Moreton, of Cheshire, suggested that natural selection may have given advantages to humans who had a sense of religion. He says it has been known that neurological disorders such as temporal lobe epilepsy can cause "hyper-religiosity". St Paul, Joan of Arc, Mohammed and others are cited as examples. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered that if one twin is deeply religious, the other is too. (Waller et al 1990 Psychological Science vol 1 p138). This says nothing about the truth or otherwise of religious belief, but it does suggest that a propensity for religious belief can be hard-wired, genetically, into the brain, and had a selective advantage in the past.

Irrational beliefs are not entirely independent of intelligence and education. The more intelligent you are the less likely you are to believe in religion. (B.P. Beckwith Free Enquiry, 1986 vol 6 p 46).

Comments: The use of cryopreservation with the intent of reanimation in the future does not rely on repeatable experiments that shows the process to work. Instead it relies on extrapolation of existing progress and knowledge of the way the universe works. Therefore it is neither science nor religion, but something in between.

Religion does not rely on extrapolation for existing knowledge, indeed it often goes in the opposite direction. If you extrapolate back to the character of God by reading The Bible you do not get an all seeing, all benevolent father figure. If you extrapolate back to the character of God by studying evolution and the nature of life, again you find a sadistic brute. (The cute little foxes tear the cuddly little bunnies to pieces and eat them alive.)

The scientific method does not have a place for faith in anything, even progress itself. Most (but not all) scientists do not have enough faith in the scientific method ever to produce a technology capable of reviving cryopreserved people.

Cryonicists are using extrapolation (an anathema of religion) and faith (an anathema of science). No wonder they are so small in number!

Is Heart Disease Infectious?

German researchers have successfully cultured a bacterium Chlamydia Pneumoniae found in the arteries of patients with heart disease. Approximately half the human population has been contaminated with this bacterium by the time they are 20 years old. A leading epidemiologist, Thomas Grayson from the University of Washington, is quoted in New Scientist (7 June 1997) as stating that the link between infection and heart disease is overwhelming. Mathias Maas, of the University of Lubeck in Germany said that they have shown the bacterium is present, but they have not proved that contamination is actually the cause of heart disease.

I would comment that this sounds like a very plausible scenario and it is possible that heart disease can be reduced substantially if a way of exterminating this bacterium can be found. Obviously some people's genes protect them better than others. It would seem a reasonable experiment to produce a drug that can exterminate the bacterium and then do trials to see if people who have been decontaminated have a lower probability of heart attack. However, of course, this may not help the older sectors of the population. It would also be useful to determine the ways is which people contaminate each other and see if anything can be done to reduce this, such as inoculation.

New Thoughts on Obesity Control

Pete Clifton, of the Laboratory of experiments psychology at the University of Sussex, is one of a growing number of scientists who think that there are a number of systems in parallel that control our food intake and body weight. (Financial Times 7 June 1997). Details of these systems are emerging from work on genetically engineered mice. For example, one such strain lacks a gene that encodes a hormone called leptin, which is produced by fat storage cells in the body.

Together with colleagues in San Francisco and the UK start up drug company Cereberus he plans a drug that acts on the 2C receptor for serotonin. Such a drug might work because another genetically engineered mouse without 2C receptors overeats even when given appetite-reducing serotonergic drugs.

An End to Vomiting?

Nausea and vomiting are the exact opposite to sex and orgasm. They are the ultimate misery. Indeed many people would rather die than experience these side effects of cancer therapies, according to an article in New Scientist of 14 June 1997, page 25.

The article also noted that whereas nausea and vomiting can be seen as a way of eliminating poisons and educating sufferers not to eat such poisons again, not all species have this "ability" and these species survive perfectly well. Rats, mice and rabbits for example cannot experience this antitheses of orgasm. They side step poisoning by "bate shyness" - they take just a tiny bit of a new food, and if it makes them feel off colour they never go near it again. Vomiting species, on the other hand, wolf down any berries or other offering that looks appealing, tossing caution to the wind.

However evolution (or our creator) now looks to be in for a nasty shock. Robert Naylor, of Bradford University, and Paul Andrews, of St George's Hospital Medical School, have made a study of present anti nausea and motion sickness drugs and found them all lacking. They are not the final answers, says Andrews. There is a new set of drugs, however, called NK1 receptor antagonists. These have blocked all forms of nausea and vomiting in animal tests, where due to chemotherapy drugs or motion sickness. Drug companies have a security clampdown on tests they are doing, and the commercial implications are enormous. However many trials are said to be near fruition. There is a difficulty with animal tests - you cannot ask the animal if it feels nauseous.

Companies said to be involved in the tests include Glaxo, Pfizer, and Merck. However for business reasons the results of the first clinical trials on humans may not be made public. (I would comment that the companies don't want the free market (black market, bootleg) problems that rose with similar products a year or so back once the news was out.)

More on <">> A reference for further reading was also given:

Towards Understanding the aetiology and pathopysiology of the emetic reflex. Novel approaches to antiemetic drugs. C. Bountra and others Oncology vol 53 (supplement) p.102

Physiology of chemotherapy induced emesis and anti emetic therapy C. Veyrat-Follet and others Drugs vol 53 p 206 (!997)

Issue finished end August 1997

New Osteoporosis Preventative Treatment

In a special letter to shareholders, Eli Lilley and Company's chief executive officer Randall J. Tobias said the company had presented phase III clinical data regarding Raloxifene. This novel compound is currently under study for the prevention of osteoporosis.

The trials suggest that raloxifene may offer a new choice of therapy for preserving the health of postmenopausal women. It is being studied for its selective ability to produce similar benefits in the skeleton and cardiovascular system to estrogen, whilst blocking estrogen's undesirable effects in the breast and uterus.

The company is on track for its 1997 regulatory submissions in the US and globally.

Tooth delay Banished

The Germany company Siemens is one of the world's leading supplier of equipment for dental surgeons. According to an article in New Scientist dated 12 July 1997 it has now developed a device called CEREC-2 which will revolutionise the false teeth and crown market. Costing UKP30,000, it uses computer technology to laser scan the mouth. In just 20 minutes, a patient can receive a perfectly fitting crown or denture from a computer controlled milling machine. This is not much longer than a conventional filling.

On the basis that a dental surgeon cost the health service of the order of UKP100/hr, this equipment will save 40 minutes per crown, ie UKP60/crown. On this basis, it will have paid for itself after 500 patients have been treated, and thereafter produce substantial savings.

The treatment will also be much more acceptable to patients. There will be no need for impressions to be taken, and no need for temporary crowns or dentures and their removal a fortnight later. Temporary crowns often either fall out early or are removed with difficulty when the permanent one is ready. The New Scientist referred to the old way as requiring "several painful sessions" and requiring "considerable skill on the part of the surgeon."

You May be the One to Find the Aliens!

The Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence has been a matter for interest to immortalists. It has been argued that a good way to reduce the risk from warlike races is to give them the secret of immortality. With so much to lose, it will be less likely that they will go to war.

Personally I have the hunch that there is little or no intelligent life out there. Earth is about half the age of the universe, and the universe is young in terms of collapsing or limited time models. In addition, intelligence may be very rare. Most of the period during which life existed on Earth did not produce intelligence. But there is no harm in looking for extraterrestial radio signals. An article in New Scientist dated 12 July 1997 said that the latest search at Arecibo produces so much data that the SETI program does not have enough resources to analyse it.

Internet surfers are therefore being sent packets of data for analysis on otherwise idle computers, and the results are emailed back. Each volunteer will be give an analysis program that automatically processes the data for a few hours or days before returning the result to the sender. If 50,000 volunteers can be found, then the search will rival all other SETI projects without the need for expensive supercomputers.

The program comes with a SETI screensaver illustrating the search process, and the faint but tantalising possibility of being the first to discover alien being from another world. The program is called "SETI@home" and is due to launch in the spring of 1998.

Molecular Storage Chemical Found

An article in New Scientist dated 19 July 1997 described a newly discovered chemical that can switch state reversibly. Vincenzo Balzani at the University of Bologna and Fernando Pina of the New University of Lisbon are using a salt called 4'-methoxyflavylium perchlorate to make a miniature molecular memory. The salt turns from colourless to yellow on exposure to light without being affected by the light once converted. It can be changed back by heating or making the solution more acidic. The compound is believed to be the first that can be restored by changing temperature or acidity. The researchers think that it could be 20 years before the effect could be created in a solid state version such as a film or ordered array of molecules. However the possibility remains that nanotechnologists could use individual molecules as memory devices.

UK Hospital in link with Biotime

Biotime, the public company headed by Paul Segal, launched European clinical trials of Hextend, its proprietary blood plasma volume expander, at Middlesex Hospital in London on Thursday 17 July 1997. The study, which uses human volunteers, is expected to be completed this quarter, Biotime said in a statement. Results from the European trials will be used to help design multinational trials aimed at expanding indications for Hextend and obtaining regulatory approval in Europe. Hextend is in Phase III clinical trials in the United States. It is being used to replace blood volume during surgery. The double-blinded, randomized trials are nearly three-quarters complete.

After a roller coaster rideover the past few months, the share price closed at 31 1/4 on the day of the news.

Where Lawyers and Politicians Kill People to Make Money

Yvan Bozzonetti wrote on the Internet (slightly edited)

> With the French or German laws, mere freezing is better than imposed mere

> rotting. So the choice is mere freezing in most cases. If that may be

> upgraded to full cryonics, so much the better. But mere freezing may be

> sufficient for uploading. I think uploading is very difficult to forbid

> and less remunerative for lawyers, its use as a last possibility may

> help to unlock the law and get some changes made.

> You have a fundamental point here. People often look at the wrong set of options when they make choices for other people.

Mr A may have the choice of straight freezing or rotting, but the cryonics person will say to him: "Do not chose straight freezing, chose proper cryonics instead". The cryonics person completely misses the fact that the choice of proper cryonics is not available to Mr A unless he makes changes in his life that he is unwilling or unable to make.

Many people are not willing to make certain changes to their lives in the hope that cryonics will work. What is the point of living in a way they don't like if they are throwing away the only life they have? Cryonics is not a religion, it does not offer "sure and certain knowledge" of a cryonic life hereafter. It would be just as fraudulent as religion if it did, and unlike religion it does not have support of most lawyers and politicians.

However such people can make some movement towards cryonics, such as a long distance membership of an organisation. This clearly offers some probability of success compared with the option of doing nothing.

In the case of countries such as Germany, France and Canada's British Columbia lawyers and politicians, for their own personal gain (fee and wage income, plus notoriety) have made it impossible for anyone even to chose long distance membership of a cryonics organisation. People in those countries may not even be able to chose straight freezing as an option, but if they could, then clearly this would be better than nothing.

Although the chances of winning a lottery are nearly the same whether you enter or not, they are not exactly the same. My gut reaction is to put the chances of cryonics working for some people higher than the chances of a particular individual winning a lottery.

I wonder if the solution may lie in these moves:

Someone living in a country where citizens are denied the freedom to chose cryonics could leave directions that he be "buried" in and according to the customs of another country. Of course he would chose a country, such as the USA, which allows its citizens the freedom to chose cryonics. Therefore according to the laws of the death enforcing country he is merely contracting to have his "remains" exported to the USA. Once there, of course, the receiving funeral director has the contract to suspend. But this is under US law, not the law of the death-land.

New Skin Care Product

A retailer's dream is a new skin care process developed by Australia's national research organisation, CSIRO. This product is said to have miraculous results that revert as soon as it is no longer used. Cells quickly recover their youthful appearance when treated with b alanyl histidine, also known as Beta Alistine. However in true horror film style, they age rapidly when treatment stops. It increases the number of times cells can divide and helps prevent cross linking, boosts immune defences, quenches free radicals, and scavenges toxic heavy metals.

Beta Peptide Foundation, Sydney, Australia have launched a range of products using Beta Allistine as the main ingredient. Tel 296634500 [Financial Times 7 August 1997]

New Advance in the War on Bacteria

Health authorities around the world find it convenient to concentrate the sick into huge hospital complexes. Each complex serves substantial proportions of their nation's population. Although this may be administratively convenient, it has proved scientifically unwise. These complexes have proved to be idea areas for new bacteria to evolve that are resistant to modern antibiotic drugs. Here in the UK more and more "cottage hospitals" are being closed and patients are made to travel further and further to big cities, despite public protest and unrest.

Those that are protesting are about to lose one of their arguments. Innovir Laboratories specialise in EGS oligozymnes that have been used by scientists at Yale University to remove the part of bacteria that makes them resistant to antibiotics. It appears that bacteria can evolve as much as they like, but they won't get past this. Innovir Laboratories [US tel 2122491100 fax 212 2494513. Source Financial Times 7 August 1997]

Helicobacter Pylori's Genome on the Internet

Helicobacter Pylori is the bacterium that is now generally accepted to cause stomach ulcers after dramatic moves by a maverick Australian doctor. Treatment with an antibiotic rather than surgery is shown to be the more effective. Researchers at the Institute for Genomic Research at Rockville, Maryland have worked out its complete gene sequence and posted it on the Internet. They hope this will enable researchers to find new mays of combatting this infection, which about 50% of the human population have given to each other. (I assume that not everyone who is harboring the infection gets symptoms.) Find this and other genomes on <> (not tiger). [Source Financial Times 7 August 1997]

Old Musicians May Die, but They do not Decompose

An article in New Scientist of 9 August 1997 describes the use of computers to compose in the style of specified composers, and specifically the such a program by David Cope. The program does not produce an excellent result every time, but symphonies have been written that are perfectly acceptable even if they are not the greatest works of the composer concerned. Certainly the computer program, available free on the Internet, can write music better than most humans. <>. Unfortunately the program is written for the Macintosh, but I do not expect it will be that long before it is compiled for the PC.

At present a human is still required to delete unworthy compositions by the system, but as with chess playing programs, the quality will undoubtedly improve with time.

Of course, music composition is only one "output" of a human. Maybe humans work on the basis of random noise plus stimuli go though a neural net and give the output. It seems that if we could record every sensory input to a human and every reaction or output, we could then create the neural net that converts one to the other. Music is possibly an interesting subset with which to test this hypothesis, although prose or possibly speech could also be tried. [The program in the New Scientist article is not an adaptive network as far as I know, it works by an ordinary sequence of instructions looking for patterns in the samples of music supplied by the user.]

The program is worrying to some people who think that music is some sort of sublime human achievement resulting from "character forming" influences. A computer program has "no model of life experiences, no sense of itself, has never heard a note of music and has no trace in it of where I think music comes from" says Douglas Hofstadter a cognitive scientist at Indiana University. The fact that a computer running on an ordinary Macintosh computer can produce high quality music is attracting a lot of attention from people involved in artificial intelligence. However this may have missed the fact that the program does require samples of a composer in order to work. However Cope has experimented with getting his program to compose its own music. He uses a method of evolution. He deliberately selects outputs that would normally be discarded as being uncharacteristic of a dead composer and then feeds them in as input. A few cycles of this produces an individual style.

The program has churned out more music for its creator than any single person could listen to within a natural lifetime. And as copies are being given away free on the Internet the amount of music that must be being produced worldwide is obviously a lot more than this. It would seem that there is no longer any need to employ someone to write or even perform music for films or commercials. But I would suspect that there will always be people who have a need for "the real thing" and therefore patronage for human composers and performers.

Diabetes May Be Catching

If you have appropriate genes, you could catch type-1 diabetes, according to an article in New Scientist of 9 August 1977. Bernard Conrad of the University of Geneva and colleagues decided to investigate a virus that is found in diabetics. They discovered that it is a retrovirus (one that converts itself from RNA to DNA when it enters cells and incorporates itself into host genes, other examples are AIDS and herpes). They confirmed that RNA sequences of the virus appear in the plasma of diabetics patients and not healthy individuals. They are now working on discovering the mechanism by which the virus was designed to cause diabetes. There are no firm results yet, but they think it is by controlling T-cells, and that the viruses can be directly transmitted between people.

There is also speculation that other transmissible retroviruses may be responsible for diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease. An Anglo-French team have reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences vol 94, p7583 July 1997 another retrovirus to be the cause of multiple sclerosis. Jeremy Garson, of University College London medical School, a member of this team, says that the study of the link between auto immune diseases and infective retroviruses is set to snowball. This has wide implications for the control, prevention and treatment of these diseases.

Regular readers of this column will know that I have made a hunch guess some years back that many of these diseases of aging could be due to infections acquired during life. It was just a hunch. It is however gratifying to see that people with relevant and thorough education behind them are now proving it scientifically.

An interesting link to this is another aspect of modern society - people are blaming things like power lines, mobile phones and other technology for many incurable diseases of old age. They observe that these diseases are increasing. They put blame on technology. But maybe the answer is far simpler. It is increasing mobility that is making the probability of infection with retroviruses that is causing the diseases to increase.

I recall reading another item whose reference I have regretfully lost. That is that leukaemia clusters around nuclear power stations are not due to radiation but to infections received from migrant workers who come to previously remote and poor areas from which the local people seldom travel in order to build the power stations.

If you can get a virus infection in your twenties that seems "just like another cold" but later leads to diabetes, MS or arthritis forty years later, who is going to correlate the events? Maybe screening for viruses already doing their thing slowly, and exterminating them pharmacologically, will become an important part of everyone's health regime in the future. Also people with say arthritis will not be given surgery to replace their bones with plastic, like some old house with rotten wooden window frames. Instead they will be given drugs to remove the viruses and then maybe the body's own systems will regrow damaged joints.

New Uses for Liquid Nitrogen

Some years ago I asked for ideas as to new uses for liquid nitrogen. My idea was to have a conventional need for the product that could be used to keep cryonics dewars frozen in the back room. Things have moved on since then and the need for such secrecy may have passed. However one of the risk for cryonics is that the provision of liquid nitrogen as a cheap chemical may fail. Therefore we do need for there to be many conventional uses for it so that a viable LN2 economy can be maintained. I had also speculated whether the energy difference between cold LN2 and the surroundings could drive a heat engine, ie the temperature difference between LN2 and the ambient used to produce rotational energy.

Most people think of a heat engine as operating between a hot body and the ambient, but all that is needed is a temperature difference between hot and cold. Therefore cold can be below ambient. The cold of LN2 is in fact an energy storage mechanism, just like the charge in a secondary battery of cells or pressure in a compressed air tank or angular momentum in a flywheel.

An article in the Financial Times of 14 August 1997 says that engineers at the University of Washington <> have built a prototype of a car engine that runs of liquid nitrogen. A specially designed heat exchanger prevents the build up of frost as the liquid nitrogen boils to produce nitrogen gas at pressure to drive an engine. Previous attempts to build an LN2 vehicle had failed because of frost build up impeding the heat flow.

At present, the prototype only does a half a mile to a gallon of LN2, but the researchers think they can get 3 mi/gal eventually. However even this will make for big fuel tanks for the sort of range people expect from cars. The really big advantage of LN2 is that it will not catch fire like fuels designed to be burned to produce heat above ambient. Of course, like the acid in the batteries of electric cars, it can cause burns. But any form of propulsion must carry some risk as energy must be stored somewhere. If an LN2 vehicle crashed with another vehicle, then any escaping nitrogen gas would suppress any resulting fire.

Telomerase Gene Cloned

Shares of biotech company GERON CORP more than doubled on Friday, 16 August (the day of a big stock market crash) after the company revealed it has successfully cloned a gene that could potentially aid the fights against cancer and old age. Late Thursday Geron said it had successfully cloned the gene for the human telomerase catalytic protein. Telomerase is an "immortalizing enzyme" that allows cancer cells to reproduce endlessly unlike other normal human cells, except reproductive cell, which have finite life spans.

Geron said it had sucessfully cloned the gene for the human telomerase catalytic protein. Telomerase is an "immortalizing enzyme" that allows cancer cells to reproduce endlessly unlike other normal human cells -- except reproductive cells -- which have finite life spans. Geron hopes that by fully understanding this enzyme it can develop a telomerase blocker which could be used to effectively treat cancer.

Since telomerase is not normally present in normal cell the treatment is hoped to have fewer side-effects than existing cancer therapies. The second potential breakthrough is that since telomerase is not present in normal cells it could be used to combat ageing-related diseases. Geron's partner in the project is the University of Colorado, Boulder. "The cloning of the active centre of telomerase is a major milestone that sets the stage for more fully understanding the molecular genetics of aging and cancer," said Nobel Laureate Dr. Thomas Cech, professor at the university.

Ronald Eastman, chief executive of Geron, said the cloning will allow the company to discover drugs that will block telomerase in cancer patients and also build diagostic tools. "We now are in a better position to idetify drugs that will block telomerase," Eastman said in an interview.

Telomerase is turned on in the late stages of cancer and causes the cells to divide indefinitely. That infinite replication is a major contributor to cancer being a killer. "Telomerase can be found in every cancer that has been studied," Eastman said. "This has therapeutic potential in perhaps all cancers." "Telmoerase is very specific to cancer cells. A cancer therapy typically has severe side-effects because not only are you killing cancer cells but you are killing normal cells as a result," he said. Because telomerase is specific to cancer cells if it is blocked it is less likely to damage normal cells and therefore have diminished side effects. "We believe this is very important both scientifically .. and commercially because it puts us in a stranger position to identify important drugs," Eastman said. Geron plans to develop a drug treatment ready for clinical trials within the one to three years. Then the drug would need to go through the rigours of the regulatory approval process which could take many more years whilst millions of people suffer cancer surgery,. My comment is that people should be offered the choice, and warned that there is a risk of the unknown with using the new drug instead of conventional surgery or chemotherapy.

"It's a very significant discovery but we still have a great deal of work ahead of us to get to the marketplace where we can start addressing our most important customer, the patient with cancer," Eastman said. My guess is that a free or "black" market may develop ahead of the authorities, depending on how easy it is to make the new products. Also there will be products claiming to be "similar in action" or whatever to the new processes.

Issue finished end October 1997

Another appropriate cancer treatment appears

More good news for those who are aware that cancer is a cellular disease, not something that can be dealt with by macro scale action (surgery):

Immunogen Inc. said on 20 August 1997 that its majority-owned subsidiary Apoptosis Technology Inc has received a patent covering a specific small peptide domain that has the potential to selectively eliminate cancer cells. Immunogen said it and Apoptosis intend to use the domain covered in the patent, as well as analog molecules which mimic its action, in the development of drugs that enable programmed cell death to occur specifically in cancer cells. The rationale is based on recent research demonstrating that human cells have an intrinsic suicide program, called apoptosis, one function of which is to eliminate abnormal cells which can grow into cancer cells. This apoptosis program is dysfunctional in cancer cells, which proliferate unchecked. The GD peptide domain covered in this patent is the critical region in a family of proteins that regulate apoptosis.

Use of DNA for "bottom up" nanotechnology.

Researchers at the Universities of California at Berkeley, and Northwestern University in Evanstown, Illinois are using strands of DNA to create nanoscale constructions, according to a feature article in New Scientist dated 6 September 1997. Especially designed strands of DNA can hold particles together. Gold particles are particularly useful, and an experimental system has been designed by Chad Mirkin and Robert Letsinger at Evanstown that can act as a sensor for the presence of other DNA, eg cancer or disease particles. Mirkin has proposed making nanoscale lightguides for optical computers of the future using the process. Gangs of DNA "workers" will construct intricate lattices of particles. When the particles are al;l in place, the workers will simply be washed away.

At Berkeley, Paul Alivastos are using the technique to manipulate insulating, semiconducting and conducting materials. The process allows designed sequences of particles, which he hopes to make into electronic circuits. He describes the building of working circuits as speculative, but not fantasy. "That's going to take some time to develop." he says.

Sage Might Help Treat Alzheimer's

Sage has properties which could be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers at King's College in London found that a compound extracted from essential oil of the herb blocked the activity of an enzyme linked to the degenerative brain disease. Blocking the enzyme stops the breakdown of one of the chemical messengers in the brain.

Blocking the enzyme stops the breakdown of one of the chemical messengers in the brain. Low levels of the chemical, acetyl choline, lead to the loss of short-term memory, the first sign of the disease

"A long as 400 years ago, English herbalists were reporting that sage was good for improving the memory. Our research may explain why," Dr. Peter Houghton told a pharmacology conference in Scarborough.

Sage, which has also been proven to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, may also be useful in other aspects of Alzheimer's, he said. But, as usual with such news, Houghton warned that it was too early to say whether eating large quantities of the herb would help to prevent the disease.

He said the most common type of sage used in cooking, salvia officinalis, contains a compound called thujone which can be toxic in large quantities.

He used a different type of sage in his research which does not contain thujone.

Houghton said his team planned to carry out further research into sage oil extracts and its compounds.

Four Infants At Boston Hospital Killed by Bacteria

A virulent strain of a common bacteria is being blamed for the deaths of four babies in the neonatal intensive care unit of Boston's Children's Hospital, The Boston Globe reported Monday, 15 September 1997. The hospital closed its neonatal unit Aug. 29 as doctors and state health officials investigate what caused the outbreak, the newspaper reported. The critically ill children, who suffered a variety of problems prior to their deaths, died of an overwhelming bloodstream infection caused by the bacterium known as Pseudomonas, The Globe reported.

Again this sheds doubt on the concept of concentrating people susceptible to infection, but at the moment medical technology does not lend itself to being applied to a dispersed population.

U.S. Survey Says Heart Disease Threat Underrated

More concern about cancer than heart disease exists among the U.S. populace, even though heart disease is the bigger killer, a poll released found in September. The American Academy of Family Physicians, which released the survey, said it would mount a campaign to address the issue. The survey found that 26 percent of men and 30 percent of women rated cancer as the single most important health problem they might face in the future. Twenty-two percent of males and 14 percent of females listed heart disease as the worst threat.

I think that it is not so much the cancer that is feared, but the treatment thereof. Another possibility is that people can accept the concept of a part, such as the heart, wearing out. However cancer is their bodies turning against themselves, or "eating" themselves. It is a more "disgusting" disease.

Schizophrenia Drug User-friendly, Helps Dementia

A new generation of schizophrenia drugs could revolutionize treatment of the disease, alleviating side effects and helping to control aggressive behaviour resulting from dementia. Belgium's Janssen Pharmaceutica said over four million patients had been treated with its drug Risperdal (risperidone). Researchers have found that Risperdal's effectiveness meant it has overtaken haloperidol as the new benchmark antipsychotic. Compared with haloperidol, Risperdal appeared to improve a broader range of symptoms.

U.S. Doctors Are Overprescribing Antibiotics

Doctors routinely prescribe antibiotics for people with colds even though the drugs do no good and may increase the risk that future bacterial infections become resistant to the drugs, researchers said in September. Most colds, upper respiratory tract infections and cases of bronchitis are caused by viruses and taking antibiotics provides "little or no benefit," researcher Ralph Gonzales wrote. In 1992, patients with these ailments who went to the doctor accounted for 12 million drug prescriptions, or about one in five of prescriptions.

It seems to me that there is urgent need for a quick and simple test that can determine whether a cold is viral or bacterial so that an appropriate remedy can be applied. No doubt technology will come up with something eventually.

Gene Found That Causes Blindness in Older People

Late September, Researchers said they had found a gene involved in macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older people, and that the discovery could lead to developing a test for the condition and possible prevention. "Hopefully, this information will also lead to new strategies to prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD)," said Michael Dean of the National Cancer Institute and one of the researchers. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans and in the elderly in other industrialized countries.

Schizophrenia Drug User-friendly, Helps Dementia

A new generation of schizophrenia drugs could revolutionize treatment of the disease, alleviating side effects and helping to control aggressive behaviour resulting from dementia, experts say. Belgium's Janssen Pharmaceutica said over four million patients had been treated with its drug Risperdal (risperidone). Researchers have found that Risperdal's effectiveness meant it has overtaken haloperidol as the new benchmark antipsychotic. Compared with haloperidol, Risperdal appeared to improve a broader range of symptoms. [There was considerable coverage of the bad effects of Haloperidol in Longevity Report a few years ago because one of its readers had been prescribed the drug.]

New Drug to Treat Parkinson's Disease

Shares in the UK company Smithkline Beecham PLC gained after the company received approval for a new drug to treat Parkinson's Disease, dealers said. The FDA approved SmithKline's Requip drug, which is used for treating the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease at both early and advanced stages. "The drug is part of a new product roll-out including new drugs for high blood pressure and heart disease, which will contribute significantly to profits in several years time," one analyst said.

It is possible that life extensionists may get interested in the effects of this drug, given that the Parkinson's drugs L_Dopa and Deprenyl are said to be useful in this respect.

Concentrating Children Makes Them More Likely to Get Asthma

Regular readers will know that I follow the arguments that concentrating sick people in large hospitals is an excellent way to spread infectious diseases. This item that appeared late in September 1997 is relevant:

LONDON (Reuter) - Toddlers who attend day care or nursery school are twice as likely to develop asthma, Norwegian researchers said. They studied 2,196 children aged between seven and 17 and found more asthma sufferers among the students who had attended day care before the age of three.

This suggests to me that children who are genetically susceptible actually acquire asthma as an infection, which may produce no symptoms in the average person. In their report, presented to the European Respiratory Society conference in Berlin, they said the same children were also more likely to have airway infections. "One possible reason for the increased asthma prevalence in children attending day care is the indoor environment they are exposed to. This may include indoor allergens such as pet dander and exposure due to building characteristics," Dr Wenche

I comment that it could also mean that if a person is subjected to a long assault of respiratory diseases, asthma could result. This would be similar to diseases that result from repeated injury to an external part of the body in work or sport.

Nystad, head of the research team, said in a statement released in London. "Further research to understand the reasons behind the increased risk of asthma is vital to enable improved management and control of these effects."

In a separate study, Scottish doctors told the conference that the disease is becoming more severe in children and is still going undiagnosed. The rate of diagnosis had increased from 10.3 percent in 1989 to 19.5 percent in 1994 according to the study in Aberdeen, Scotland, but many children with severe symptoms were still not treated for the disease.

I would add my comments that the infection mechanism by which asthma spreads could apply to many other diseases previously thought not to be infectious, especially those of the elderly. It is known that diseases of the elderly run in families, and maybe taking to kids to see grandpa in hospital is not such a good idea from the physical health point of view.

Invasive Diagnosis Carries TB Risk

I have expressed concern about invasive diagnosis over the years (although obviously in some cases it is unavoidable.)

U.S. studies show TB transmitted by dirty equipment, according a a Reuters report issued from Chicago late September. Several cases of tuberculosis have been linked to contamination in a common hospital diagnostic device, a bronchoscope.

In one case a rare strain of TB may have been transmitted to three people in South Carolina in 1995 by a bronchoscope, a device used to examine the airways of the lungs, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

A second case, also involving a contaminated bronchoscope, spread the disease to one patient at another, unidentified hospital, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said. Both studies were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in the last week in September 1997 and both said the hospitals did not adequately clean and disinfect bronchoscopes after use. "The key message is that hospitals and clinics cannot afford to trivialize the importance of routine and thorough cleaning of reusable parts of the bronchoscope," the editorial said.

Authorities Wake up to Selenium's Boosting Effect on the Immune System

The original newsheading to this report shows the begrudging nature of the authorities attitude to indisputable results now appearing about the use of vitamins and minerals : "Selenium level linked to AIDS death - US scientists". Anyone casually reading just headings may be forgiven for thinking that the consumption may cause or exacerbate the disease.

In a study of 125 HIV-infected men and women published in the Sept. 30 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, researchers found that HIV-1 infected patients with selenium deficiency were 19.9 times more likely to die of the AIDS virus than people with adequate selenium levels.

"In HIV infection, as it progresses, a percentage (of patients) become selenium deficient. Once they become selenium deficient, this predisposes them to early mortality from HIV," Dr. Marianna Baum, director of the Center for Disease Prevention at the University of Miami School of Medicine, who led the researchers, told Reuters. The researchers also found that while other nutrients -- vitamins A, B-12, and zinc -- affect AIDS survival, their deficiency poses a substantially lower risk of mortality than that of selenium. Baum said the link between selenium and mortality could be due to selenium's anti-oxidant function or action in gene regulation that might affect replication of HIV. "In selenium deficiency the HIV virus reproduces faster," she said. Baum said the NIH has approved and is considering for funding a study to see whether taking extra selenium can slow the progress of AIDS. But she said merely prescribing supplements would be too simple. "A caution has to be exercised in supplementing oneself," she said. "Selenium in large amounts can be toxic. Minerals in general are difficult for the body to excrete and they accumulate in the body and become toxic."

Researcher makes DNA fingerprint from single cell

A British pathologist has developed a new method of obtaining DNA fingerprints from a single cell which could revolutionize forensic science. The discovery by Ian Findlay of the University of Leeds is thought to mean forensic scientists may soon be able to identify criminals by examining a fleck of dandruff, a smudged fingerprint, a strand of hair or a single sperm cell. The short tandem repeat profiling that he developed with the Birmingham Forensic Science Service could help police go back to unsolved crimes to collect new evidence that would have been useless a decade or more ago.

Except that it, comments that have appeared from the and other in The Immortalist about DNA testing. It has been conjectured that DNA "fingerprints" are not unique, and that DNA testing at random does not provide conclusive proof of guilt. However DNA testing coupled with other evidence can give credence to the other evidence.

More About Superbugs

Vaccinations are the best way to protect against many of the new "superbugs" that resist antibiotics but people are not bothering to get the shots, experts have said. They also said health workers were passing on flu infections to the weak and elderly, who can die from them, and recommended that all health care workers get flu vaccinations. "In the next six months approximately half a million Americans are going to be hospitalized and approximately 20,000 to 40,000 will die," said Greg Poland, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn, in September..

Cholesterol's Role in Strokes

Levels of so-called ``good"cholesterol -- the kind that removes artery-clogging fat from the blood -- may be as important to stroke risk as the "bad" kind, researchers said. They found that men who already had heart disease had up to twice the risk of suffering a stroke if their levels of "good" cholesterol were low, even if their ``bad" cholesterol levels were normal. The report, in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, said their findings indicated that many men at risk of stroke were not getting the right treatment or advice. High density lipoprotein (HDL) -- the so-called "good" cholesterol -- carries fat away from the arteries, stopping it from being deposited on artery walls. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) does the opposite, depositing fat onto artery walls, and so is called "bad" cholesterol. Timothy Wilt and colleagues at the Minneapolis Veteran's Administration Medical Center used ultrasound to look at the arteries of 202 men, who were mostly white and had an average age of 64. More than 60 percent of them had early signs of atherosclerosis -- the fatty deposits that mark heart disease. More than 90 percent of them had thickened artery walls, which means they were at risk of stroke. "For every 0.3 of a millimeter increase in wall thickness, there's a 20 percent increase in stroke risk," Wilt said in a statement. But many of the men were not being treated or advised about their heart disease because most doctors look at LDL, not at HDL. "Right now the focus is on whether LDL is too high, and if so, we treat it," Wilt said. "But we don't know what to do if the HDL is low. Diet and exercise, as well as several drugs, can greatly improve overall cholesterol levels. A second study in the same journal found that nearly 4 out of 10 stroke patients did not know the signs and symptoms of their disease. The people we interviewed had just had a stroke and only a small percentage could identify signs or symptoms, which was surprising," said Rashmi Kothari of the University of Cincinnati, who worked on the study. "What's even more disturbing is that those people at the highest risk knew even less. Symptoms of stroke include sudden weakness or a numb feeling in the face, arm, leg or side of the body, loss of speech or understanding, sudden, severe headaches with no known cause, sudden dimness or loss of vision, or sudden dizziness.

Establishment Scientists Warn that Fountain of Youth not For Those Presently Living

The journal Science contained an article at the end of October warning that the fountain of youth is still a ways off, research shows. Any hope of a fountain of youth to stop people from getting older is a long way off, with science just beginning to understand the complex genetic, physical and hormonal causes of aging, experts said. But experts reviewing aging research in this issue of Science said there were interesting targets for study, including genes involved in Alzheimer's disease, the hormone DHEA and the role of exercise in keeping people young.

Steven Lamberts and colleagues at Erasmus University in the Netherlands said the controversial hormone DHEA -- sold in health food stores as an elixir of youth -- was worth further study. They noted that levels of DHEA -- a precursor of "male" hormones in both men and women -- were much lower in older people. One study in adults showed taking DHEA tablets ``induced a remarkable increase in perceived physical and physiological well-being in both sexes without having an effect on libido." Other studies on rats showed giving them DHEA could prevent obesity and diabetes. But they said much more study was needed.

I would comment that as far as I know only the Life Extension Foundation (who carry advertisements for DHEA in their magazine) advise that people who do not have access to regular blood tests should not take DHEA. It is not that DHEA is in any way harmful to most people, but if you have certain medical problems, DHEA can exacerbate them. If one organisation promoting DHEA gives this advice, then what does that say about others who do not?

Other experts are looking at genetic effects on aging. Caleb Finch of the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California and Rudolph Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown said genes were only responsible for about 35 percent of the variability of life-span. Even in identical twins outside factors are responsible for 65 percent of the differences in age at death, they said. "An instructive example is the ten-fold difference in lifespans of female worker bees, which have rapid senescence (aging) and lifespans of months, whereas queens of the same genotype show much slower senescence during lifespans of many active years of egg production," they wrote. The difference -- what the bees were fed as juveniles. They said it was conceivable that genetic engineering experiments could transfer genes from one species to another to alter lifespan. "However, it seems unlikely that a few genes determine the 25-fold difference in lifespans between rodent sand humans," they wrote. One interesting genetic candidate was the apolipoprotein(apoE) gene, mutations of which are linked with Alzheimer's dementia. One version of this gene does seem to be linked with long life, although many more studies are needed, Finch and Tanzi wrote. Worm studies also pointed to the clock gene, known as clk.Nematodes with a certain mutation live up to five times longer.

For those who do not want to wait, Lamberts's team said exercise can be key to preventing the frailty that aging brings. "Loss of muscle strength is an important factor in the process of frailty," they wrote in their review of published studies. One study in a home for the elderly showed a sedentary lifestyle greatly contributed to this. "Supervised resistance exercise training doubled muscle strength and significantly increased gait velocity and stair-climbing power," they wrote. The three-times a week exercise program was not difficult."This demonstrates that frailty in the elderly is not an irreversible effect of aging and disease and can be reduced and perhaps even prevented," they concluded.

Maybe, though, what the muscles gain the joints lose. Even with exercise, a lot of further research needs to be done, in my view. There are many youngish people about with worn out knees through dancing, tennis and similar activities. A retiring female athlete (late 30s) interviewed on television once said she had the joints of a 60 year old.

More on Diagnostic Testing

One of the most stress generating procedures of the medical profession is "sending for tests". The patient is kept waiting in anxiety for weeks on end, and the delay in onset of treatment can also reduce the benefits thereof. Therefore anything that allows testing in the doctor's surgery or even the home is of multiple benefit. If a visit to the doctors is not so stressful, then people will go more often and conditions detected earlier - something that doctors are always mentioning.

Immunomatrix, a privately-held Maryland biotechnology company focussing on rapid diagnostic testing, and Polaroid Corporation (NYSE: PRD), the leader in instant imaging, have formed a strategic alliance to develop and manufacture instant diagnostic tests for the doctor's office, home market, and clinical laboratory. These tests, using Immunomatrix and Polaroid technologies, will provide the physician with accurate results within a matter of minutes. The initial products to be developed with this new alliance will focus on those tests where rapid diagnostic results will allow medical personnel to initiate therapy at the earliest possible time. Dr. Allan Weinstein, CEO and President of Immunomatrix, stated, "The opportunity to combine Immunomatrix's unique and patented rapid diagnostic system with Polaroid's long standing capability in imaging and detection will create products that will be user friendly and be leading edge in the diagnostic industry. These tests will have increased sensitivity, give immediate results and be cost effective." Dr. Len Polizzotto, Vice President of New Ventures for Polaroid, added "These new diagnostic tests will utilize Polaroid's high speed, black and white integral instant film. Partnering with an innovative leading edge company like Immunomatrix will create very competitive products that will fill a significant market need." Immunomatrix is an innovation-driven healthcare company with corporate headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The company is involved in research and development related to diagnostic testing, genetics and pharmaceutical products. The company believes that its technology represents a significant breakthrough in the diagnostic marketplace. Its products will be marketed on a worldwide basis in conjunction with several of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. Polaroid Corporation, with sales of $2.3 billion, is the worldwide leader in instant imaging. Polaroid supplies instant photographic cameras and films, digital imaging hardware and software, medical diagnostic imaging media, graphics imaging systems, polarizers, and holographic films to markets worldwide.

Chemistry Labs on a Chip

An article in New Scientist of 25 October 1997 described how Orchard Biocomputer of Princetown, New Jersey has produced something call the Chemtel chip which will do for chemistry what the silicon chip has done for electronics. The chip contains 144 chambers, each one capable of sustaining a chemical reaction. The chip is a labyrinth of channels, valves, pumps and reaction chambers. It is a complete chemical lab that has been shrunk and vitrified into a slab of glass. There are no moving parts - the chemicals are moved around by electrical charge.

The lack of moving parts - robotic arms etc - makes the chemtel chip unique and in advance of competitors. It frees chemists from the drudgery of their job and enables them to perform many more experiments in unit time.

Pharmaceutical companies will be able to use the chips to synthesise and screen new compounds against targets, such as cells or receptors linked with disease. Already Smith Kline Beecham is working with Orchid to generate vast microscopic libraries of compounds for screening.

The Old Establishment View on Ulcers is Slow to Go

Patients and doctors alike are failing to get the message that ulcers are caused by a bacteria and not stress and are easily cured with antibiotics, government doctors said late October.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a national campaign to educate people about studies about ten years old studies showing that ulcers -- a lifelong condition that is not only painful but sometimes deadly -- are caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacterium.

"In a national survey conducted in 1997, only 27 percent of respondents correctly thought that a bacterial infection caused ulcers," the CDC said in a statement. Nearly 60 percent thought stress was the cause, and 17 percent blamed spicy foods. The CDC said people needed to know the truth. "I think we need to get up and shout at this point because there is good news," Dr. Frank Hamilton, chief of digestive diseases at the NIH, told a news briefing.

The CDC has been saying since 1994 that helicobacter causes ulcers but doctors are still treating ulcer patients with acid blockers and other drugs that treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause, and even resorting to surgery!

Dr. Amnon Sonnenberg, a professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico, said switching to antibiotic treatment would save big money. Peptic ulcers affect about 10 percent of the U.S. population and cost the economy $14 billion in 1993, he said. More than 6,000 people died directly from peptic ulcers in 1992, with ulcers contributing to another 9,600 deaths.

Nearly 13,000 people died from stomach cancer, which can be caused by ulcers and which has been strongly linked with helicobacter.

While a two-week course of the antibiotic clarithromycin was expensive at first, it saved money in the long run, Sonnenberg said. Surgery cost $15,000 and up to $18,000 over 15 years of follow-up, acid blockers and other such drugs cost $10,000 over 15 years, but antibiotics cost $200 for a course of treatment. "It's not only the government that would save," Sonnenberg said. "The patient would experience less pain, less hospitalization and fewer work days lost to ulcer disease."

A simple blood or breath test can detect helicobacter. Hamilton said the NIH was also studying whether a vaccine could be developed that would be useful in preventing infection. A vaccine would help answer global worries about bacteria that develop resistance to antibiotics. He said agencies were also doing research to see if people with other gastric diseases -- such as dyspepsia, or chronic indigestion -- could be helped by using antibiotics.

He said there was no current evidence to justify screening the whole U.S. population for helicobacter, but more research was being done to make sure. As much as 50 percent of the population is probably infected, but only about one in five people develops ulcers.

Scientists are still not sure how helicobacter is transmitted. Oral-to-oral contact, as when a parent kisses a child, is one possibility, as is contact with vomit. There are other questions too. "Why do certain ethnic groups develop the disease process?" Hamilton asked, noting that among Alaskan natives up to 75 percent of 10-to-15-year-olds were infected, as well as 45 percent of U.S. Hispanics and up to 40 percent of blacks. Poverty and close living conditions in childhood are linked with infection by the bacterium, which uses its flagella, a kind of little tail, to help it dig into stomach tissue. It then secretes enzymes that damage the tissue.

Cryonic Suspension and the World Wide Web

In The October 25 issue of New Scientist there is an article about Afterlife <>, an organisation that provides web space in perpetuity. It claims to be planning to ensure that the materials put on the web by a deceased person remain there forever and are updated to reflect changing Internet technical standards. Obviously a fee is required that is big enough to provide trust funds in perpetuity to pay the costs involved.

Obviously the chances of continuing the web presence for ever (or the life of technological man) are finite, ie it is not certain to work. However this may be a good way of cryonicists documenting their suspensions, offering acknowledgements to officials who have helped the suspension on its way, or "outing" officials who have done the opposite. A name and address on a website may not make officials quake in their boots and decide not to try and stop a suspension, but a few posted up there may make for some interesting moves in the inevitable future conflicts that will arise in some suspensions.

As cryonic suspension becomes more widespread a blacklist of officials, departments and other obstacle raisers could help future suspendees planning their suspensions. Also, most people doing something of a controversial nature are more likely to be cautious if it is done publically. [Cryonics is controversial, so is stopping it.]

Blow to Vomit Therapies for Cancer

Scientists are close to testing a genetically engineered "magic bullet" that could treat half of the most common cancers, New Scientist magazine said (29 Oct 1997). Early laboratory tests have shown the "bullets," which destroy the tumours by injecting them with a toxin, were effective in treating adenocarcinomas found in lung, ovary, prostate, colon and breast cancers. Regulators may allow clinical trials with colon cancer sufferers to begin within the next 15 months.

A magic bullet is a treatment that targets the cancerous cells without harming any of the healthy cells around them, unlike chemotherapy which is characterised by making patients vomit and weakening them to face many opportunistic infections.

Genetic Engineering Hope for Diabetics

Tiny worms could hold vital clues for the development of new treatments for diabetes, a disease that afflicts up to 135 million people. Doctors at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have discovered an important insight into how lack of insulin causes diabetes, and that gene mutations in worms allow them to survive without the hormone that controls human metabolism and blood sugar levels. Similar human genes may be unregulated or defective in diabetics and could be the underlying cause of the disease. Scientists say the genes weren't before suspected in insulin signalling.

Test for Risk of Osteoporosis Launched in Britain

A new test that will allow doctors to identify people at risk of developing osteoporosis was launched in Britain on 30 October 1997. The palm-sized Osteosal device, developed by Cortecs Diagnostics, measures one of the major biochemical markers of the disease in urine to determine the one in three post menopausal women likely to be afflicted with brittle bone disease. Osteoporosis results from the loss of bone density which is accelerated in middle-aged and elderly women and some men. An estimated 25 million Americans are afflicted.

Mail Order Drugs Get Overheated

New Scientist dated 1 November 1997 reports on page 29 that the US Pharmacopeia has done some tests on mail order pharmaceuticals. 180 packages with temperature and humidity sensors were mailed to various points in the US. Fewer ninety percent of the packages were heated beyond the 25C maximum, and twenty six percent were heated to 40C or more.

It seems there could be a case for vitamin suppliers to include temperature sensors with packages, and get customers to complain to the mail companies when the limits are exceeded. If your vitamins are a darker colour than usual it could be that they have been partially burned in the mail!

Weight Gain Found to Raise Risk of Breast Cancer

Women who gain a lot of weight as adults nearly double their risk of breast cancer later in life, a study at Harvard University said in November 1997. The study confirmed earlier research linking excess fat with breast cancer, but did not clarify whether susceptibility to the disease was caused by the body's reaction to weight gain, lack of physical activity or other factors. The latest research showed postmenopausal women who did not undergo hormone replacement therapy and who had gained more than 44 pounds after the age of 18 nearly doubled their risk of breast cancer.

Dhea May Not Be 'Fountain of Youth' Hormone

A hormone supplement marketed as a "fountain of youth" is probably no wonder drug, an expert has argued. DHEA, the precursor to a number of hormones, is being sold to counter aging, immune system dysfunction and depression. But research shows that doctors still do not understand how it might work, and animal tests showing remarkable effects might not apply to people, Richard Miller of the University of Michigan said in an editorial in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in November 1997.

UNESCO Unveils Guidelines for Limiting Genetic Research

UNESCO unveiled a draft of the first international declaration setting out ethical guidelines for genetic research on 5 November 1997, banning any practice that could harm human rights and dignity or lead to discrimination. The Declaration on the Human Genome is intended as the equivalent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for that essential part of human beings invisible to the naked eye - the 100,000 genes present in each of the 23 pairs of chromosomes in every cell that make each person unique.

Researchers Closer to Test for Mad Cow Disease

Researcher Bruno Oesch (Zurich) <> said his team has discovered an antibody for the mutated prion brain protein that causes the brain-wasting illness. Until now, cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in animals or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans could only be confirmed by examining brain tissue cut out of victims' heads after death. In Nature for week ending 7 November 1997 Oesch and colleagues describe the antibody that can be used to diagnose prion diseases at an early stage, and maybe even test foods for contamination. The antibody will even distinguish between CJD and BSE. [Financial Times 6 November 1997]

Parents Can Choose Sex of Children, Doctor Says

A French scientist said on 5 November he had devised a method to allow parents to choose the sex of their children. Patrick Schoun, based in southern France, has devised a natural gender selection program called Selnas which he says guarantees parents the baby of their choice. The method is based on determining the alternating polarity of the membrane of the woman's ovum. When the ovum is positively charged it attracts sperm with the 'x' (girl) chromosome and when it is negatively charged it attracts the 'y' (boy) chromosome.

I don't think this is new - if it does work it could lead to a predominance of males in some cultures, with disastrous social consequences for the future.

Scientists in Breakthrough to Replace Brain Cells

British scientists have discovered a method of replacing damaged brain cells which could offer hope to millions of sufferers of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London found that rats which suffered brain damage from simulated heart attacks recovered completely if they were injected with embryonic brain cells from mice. The implanted brain cells, called neuroepithelial stem cells or NESCs, found their way to the damaged brain cells and took over their functions. Rats which earlier had total amnesia and memory and learning problems were able to perform complex tasks after the cell implants.

Professor Jeffrey Gray, one of the researchers, said tests on humans could begin in three years and a therapy to restore neurological and cognitive functions resulting from brain disorders could be available in less than a decade. "The long-term implications are extremely favourable," he said in an interview.

In addition to being pleased by the recovery of the brain-damaged rats, he said he was surprised that the injected cells moved to the damaged sites. But he added the usual proviso that much would depend on further tests on animals for different medical conditions before any human trials could begin.

If the animal studies were successful, he said, the technique could help patients suffering from brain damage from heart attacks, strokes and Huntington's disease, a hereditary illness characterised by dementia. Gray, Dr. John Sinden and Dr. Helen Hodges, who worked as a team on the 12-year-study which was published in the journal Neuroscience, used mouse brain cells on the rats because they were easy to reproduce.

They were able to grow millions of foetal brain stem cells in the laboratory by injecting the mouse brain cells with a cancer gene that switched on below the body temperature. Researchers will be able to grow the cells in the laboratory and keep them refrigerated until they are needed. Gray said the same method would be used for the human trials but he believed only one human foetal cell would provide millions of NESCs under laboratory conditions for the implants. The technique is not a brain transplant, he said, but a replacement for damaged brain cells. He likened it to repairing a tear in a finely woven carpet with a complicated pattern to restore it to its previous condition.

Gray and his team have set up a research and development company which will specialise in the repair of the damaged brain.

U.S. FDA Makes Drug Information Available on Web

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in November that it was making more information available on the Internet's World Wide Web, including a Freedom of Information "reading room." It said information about warnings to drug companies, medical device reports and other documents would now be available at its website at Previously journalists, consumers and health workers had to resort to time-consuming paperwork to get such information, made available through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Cold Virus Blamed for Heart Inflammation

I have often speculated as to whether the cold viruses that people so readily pass between each other can have more sinister effects later. Now, it is thought that a virus that causes infections such as the common cold may be responsible for a potentially deadly inflammation of the heart. In November 1997, researchers said they had found evidence that an adenovirus caused viral myocarditis. Previously doctors thought another virus, the Coxsackie B virus, was solely responsible. "Our results suggest that adenovirus is a causative agent in a significant proportion of the adult cases of viral myocarditis that we studied," said Dr. Robert McCarthy of Johns Hopkins University.

Doctors to Test New Plaque Buster Heart Drug

Doctors in Scotland will begin trials In December 1997 on a new plaque-buster heart drug designed to suppress cholesterol and clear clogged arteries, New Scientist magazine said in its issue dated 15 November 1997. Heart disease, the commonest cause of death worldwide, is caused by a build-up of plaque which narrows the vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle. Unlike most drugs that treat the disease by trying to reduce cholesterol levels, the new treatment eliminates inflammation in the endothelial cells that line the artery walls of the heart.

Researchers Report Surprising Cholesterol Findings

Heart researchers released surprising results that indicate drugs to lower cholesterol can save the lives of many people now going untreated and some who do not think they are at risk. Many of the studies were large and across general populations, and indicated that some people who were not currently getting drug treatment to lower their cholesterol perhaps should. Cornell University researchers found the cholesterol-lowering drug Mevacor reduced the risk of "first coronary events," such as heart attacks, by 36%.

New Technique Will Let Doctors Peek At Strokes

New imaging techniques will soon let doctors peek inside the body and see what happens during a stroke. A conference of the American Heart Association was told in November 1997 that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses magnetic fields to create images of the body's internal structures, could be used to watch a stroke in progress. This could lead to new diagnostic techniques that warn patients in advance of a stroke, Dr. Valentin Fuster, incoming president of the American Heart Association, said.

New enzyme linked to death defying cancer cells

Israeli scientists said Wednesday they had found a new type of enzyme linked cancer cells' ability to replicate and spread to other organs in the body. Although it is only one of many factors involved in the development of the killer disease, the scientists said that if further tests were successful it could have long-term applications for diagnosis or in gene therapy. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, writing in the scientific journal Nature, said the DAP kinase, or enzyme, regulated the death and growth of cancer cells.

Doctors crack fiber code in colon cancer

Medical experts said on 18 November they have discovered how fibre in the diet helps prevent colon cancer. The finding, by researchers at Bristol University in south-western England, could have important implications for preventing the second biggest cancer killer in western countries and may lead to more effective treatments.

Professor Chris Paraskeva and Dr Angela Hague and a team of scientists at the Brunham Institute in California have discovered that a substance called butyrate, which is produced when fibre is broken down by the large bowel, can shut down agene called Bcl-2 that causes colon tumours to develop. "The butyrate reduces the expression of the Bcl-2 gene and at the same time it is able to introduce cell suicide,'' he told a news conference. Bcl-2 produces a protein that prevents mutated or cancerous cells from committing suicide, or programmed cell death called apoptosis, which regulates cell numbers in the body. "The gene would normally cause bowel cancer cells to grow because it is powerful enough to override the body's natural defences which normally cause faulty cells to commit suicide before cancer develops,'' said Hague. When defective cells do not recognise apoptosis signals they proliferate uncontrollably and cause tumours. In bowel cancer the Bcl-2 gene for some reason stays switched on permanently. "We think it may be the butyrate which is protective,''said Paraskeva, explaining that it seems to stop Bcl-2 from preventing apoptosis. The Bristol team emphasised that Bcl-2 is probably one of many factors which work together to produce colon cancer. But by understanding how tumours become resistant to signals to self-destruct and how these cell-suicide pathways can be reactivated is not only important in prevention of bowel cancer but could also help researchers target new treatments and cures. Benign tumours also produce the Bcl-2 gene, making it a marker or warning sign of a possible cancer. Paraskeva said a diet high in various kinds of fibre -- from fruits, vegetables and cereals --- processes foods more quickly through the body and provides butyrate to counteract Bcl-2.

Professor Gordon McVie, the director general of the Cancer Research Campaign which funded the research, said that surgery for bowel cancer in Britain fails in 63% of cases and "a good half of bowel cancers are linked to diet.''

Human lifespan has risen 30 years this century

People around the world are living almost 30 years longer now than at the start of the century, mainly due to the successful fight against infectious diseases, the director of the United Nations Population

Division said . The average global life expectancy is now around 80, Joseph Chamie said. In the developing world, life expectancy has more than doubled this century to about 70. "Over the

20th century a silent and wonderful revolution has been taking place all over the world," Chamie said from a health symposium in Brussels.

U.S. FDA considers osteoporosis drug

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel started hearings on speedy approval for a new osteoporosis drug, Eli Lilly and Co.'s, Evista. The drug, known generically as raloxifene, is the first of a new class of drugs that fight thinning bones and which might also help protect older women against heart disease. It is expected to sell well, partly because of the size of the osteoporosis market. Osteoporosis affects about 25 million Americans, mostly older women during or after menopause. Approval of Evista is expected.

FDA reform aims to speed drug, device approval

The Food and Drug Administration bill signed into law by President Clinton aims to speed up approval of drugs and medical devices. Congress worked on FDA legislation for several years, and this bill reflects numerous compromises between Republicans and Democrats. It has broad industry support and many patient advocacy groups praise its provisions for making new drugs available more swiftly to seriously ill people.

Genetic Engineering for Diabetes

California researchers said they had used genetic engineering to turn ordinary saliva glands into insulin pumps, and said their method had successfully treated diabetes in rats. They hoped their completely novel approach to gene therapy could transform the way diseases from diabetes to dwarfism and even some forms of cancer were treated. Researchers inserted genes into the salivary glands of rats to make them produce insulin and secrete it in the saliva. They did the same trick with growth hormone.

Researchers may have found Achilles heel of cancer

Cancer researchers may have found the Achilles heel of malignant tumours - a treatment that kills cells by blocking their blood supply but without triggering resistance to the drugs involved. The discovery that mice respond well to anti-angiogenic therapy that knocks out resistant tumours by targeting blood cells could herald a new era of cancer treatment. "It is the first time one has been able to repeatedly treat tumours in animals and not have the tumors develop resistance against the drugs," Dr Judah Folkman, of the Dana Farber Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass., said.

Hong Kong steps up fight against killer ``bird flu''

Hong Kong authorities sought more overseas experts to investigate the deadly``bird flu'' virus that is thought to have killed two people in the territory. Health officials also said they had found an anti-viral drugthey believe can help fight the H5N1 strain of influenza, which is usually confined to chickens. ``We have been told by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, U.S., that they would send two tothree more experts to Hong Kong,'' a health department spokesman told Reuters. Two CDC experts were already in Hong Kong, advising health officials how to cope with the disease. The spokesman said the government had enough stock of an anti-viral drug, Amandatine, which helps contain the H5N1strain. ``Our doctors believe the drug can battle the flu. And we have adequate stock of the anti-viral drug,'' the spokesman said. The virus was first contracted by a three-year-old boy who died in May from ailments including pneumonia, respiratory disease and inflammation of the brain. A man also died earlier this year after catching the ``bird flu'' and a 13-year-old girl is in critical condition in a hospital. Another victim, a two-year-old boy who was hospitalised with fever in November, later fully recovered. Initial findings did not show the four cases shared a common source, nor was the virus transmitted by one victim to another, a senior Hong Kong health official said. Meanwhile, a dozen relatives of victims and medical staff who have treated patients have come down with flu-like symptoms and have been tested to see if they have contracted the flu. International experts said similar viruses in the past had crossed over from animal species, including birds and pigs. Spreading rapidly among humans, who have no immunity to them, they can lead to global flu epidemics. The outbreak of the virus in Hong Kong has caused widespread concern. Japan's Agriculture Ministry has said it might ban poultry imports, which account for about 30 percent of Japan's total chicken consumption. In 1996, Japan imported 550,000 tonnes of poultry.

British doctors treat stomach bug in bid to beat cancer

Researchers launched a national trial in Britain to see whether treating a common stomach infection could help to prevent cancer. Helicobacter pylori, a stomach bacterium, is associated with up to 55 percent of stomach cancers. Studies have shown that people with the bug are about four or five times more likely to develop stomach cancer. Researchers hope that by treating the bacterium they can cut the risk of stomach cancer. ``This is an exciting study because we do not know whether screening for, and eradicating, H pylori in healthy adults willreduce people's risk of stomach cancer and possibly otherdiseases,'' Prof. Nicholas Wald of the Wolfson Institute ofPreventive Medicine at St. Bartholomew's and The Royal London School of Medicine said in a statement. ``If it does, we could potentially prevent up to 55 percent of all stomach cancer cases in Britain by just a week's course of antibiotics,'' he added. The scientists will recruit about 56,000 people into the five-year trial that will be conducted throughout Britain. Blood samples from half the group will be screened and if they test positive for the bacteria they will be given antibiotics. Blood from the other half will not be screened and will act as a control group. After 15 years both groups will be followed up to see if they develop cancer. ``If the trial is successful, it may have far-reaching implications for the discovery and treatment of other infections associated with cancer,'' said Prof. Gordon McVie, director-general of the Cancer Research Campaign. Stomach cancer is the second most common cancer in the world. Five-year survival rates are low because of late diagnosis. Experts believe H pylori, which is also linked to ulcers and gastric lymphoma, a blood cancer that develops in the stomach, infects most people during childhood.

House Calls

A study in New England Journal of Medicine of 18 December confirms what patients have known for years: house calls by doctors are becoming a scarce commodity. Doctors Gregg Meyer and Robert Gibbons of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda reported the number of house calls by doctors for which Medicare was billed declined 31% between 1988 and 1993, and had dropped another 12% by 1996. By comparison, the rate of house calls is 11 times higher in Britain. They also found the patients who did get house calls in the U.S. tended to be the sickest, often near the end of their lives.

Once can see the arguments. A physician's time is wasted travelling. On the other hand, a sick person made to attend a doctor's office can acquire additional infections as well as spread his own. In addition, the journey can add to the time he takes to recover.

It could well be that the rate of house calls is higher in Britain because the centrally funded health service realised that it is in fact cheaper to do it this way - the extra expense from the US system is caused by the longer period to recovery and because of cross infections.

Risks of Invasive Diagnosis

The number of patients in Ireland believed to have received a blood product possibly contaminated with CJD, a human form of mad cow disease, rose to 467on 16 December 1997 from an initial estimate of 268. Between July and November, nine Irish hospitals had been given a British-manufactured blood product contaminated by a donor who later died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a fatal degenerative brain disease. A total of 320 doses of the contaminated batch of Amerscan Pulmonate Two, a dye used by radiologists to diagnose lung disease, was distributed to the Irish hospitals.

It is possible that some of these patients may have tested negative in the procedure, but will still perish through dementia.

Hospital Test Suspected of Causing Mad Cow Disease in Humans

Hong Kong officials said 23 January 1998 that a medical test might have contaminated 111 hospital patients with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease, and that seven of the patients had since perished. But Doctor Ko Wing-man, said it was not yet clear if CJD had killed the seven. He said it would have been "almost impossible" for CJD to be responsible for the deaths because the incubation period lasts a number of years. Ko said two lots of chemicals suspected of being contaminated with a protein that could cause CJD had been used on 111 patients in six public hospitals in Hong Kong from July to December last year with heart and lung diseases.

Viruses in 'overcoats' pave way for biofactories

Plants infected with special "overcoat-wearing" viruses could become factories for important proteins such as antibodies, hormones and enzymes, Britain's New Scientist magazine reported. The genetically modified plants could also be used to clean up contaminated stretches of land, the magazine said. It said Scottish scientists had managed to attach proteins to the protein coats of viruses. By infecting plants with these viruses, the researchers are able to produce great volumes of the vital proteins, which remain biologically active while still attached to the virus.

A Humanized Monoclonal Antibody to Treat Patients Suffering Rheumatoid Arthritis

ALEXION PHARMACEUTICALS INC. said it filed an investigational new drug (IND) application with the FDA, asking permission to start clinical trials of its anti-arthritis drug Alexion's C5 complement inhibitor, 5G1.1, is a humanized monoclonal antibody to treat patients suffering rheumatoid arthritis. Preclinical studies showed the C5 inhibitor substantially prevented the incidence of arthritis and ameliorated inflammation and swelling in patients already suffering arthritis, the company said..

Protecting Bone Marrow From the Toxic Effects of Cancer

Chemotherapy Researchers have reported success in early tests of a genetic technique to protect bone marrow from the toxic effects of cancer chemotherapy, the Journal of Clinical Oncology said. The researchers removed bone marrow from advanced cancer patients, added the MDR (Multiple Drug Resistance) gene and re-infused the cells into the patients, the journal reported in its January 1998 edition. The MDR gene, found at low levels in normal bone narrow cells, produces a protein which reduces the lethal effects of several powerful chemotherapy drugs. The protein flushes the drugs out of the cells before they can do their usual damage.

Eating Fish Prevents Sudden Heart Attack - Study

Middle-aged men who eat a weekly meal of "fatty" fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel or shellfish cut in half their risk of suffering a sudden, deadly heart attack, a study said. Researchers in Boston studied 11 years worth of data on the dietary habits and health of 20,551 male physicians, aged 40 to 84 years, and found that those who ate seafood containing the n-3 fatty acid at least once a week had a 52% lower risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those who ate fish less than once a month. Approximately 250,000 sudden cardiac deaths occur in the U.S. yearly, and more than half the victims did not have any previous history of heart disease.

Stress Can Affect Breast Cancer, Study Finds

The stress of being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer can affect a woman's immune system, researchers reported. The effects were so clear that they could make a woman susceptible to illness caused by the chemotherapy and radiation treatment that often comes after surgery, they said. The findings lend weight to age-old beliefs that a person's attitude to cancer can affect their survival

and recovery. Psychologist Barbara Andersen and colleagues at Ohio State University studied 166 women aged 31 to 84 who had recently undergone breast cancer surgery.

A gel to Dissolve Tooth Decay

Dentists' drills in Sweden could soon be replaced by a gel that painlessly dissolves decay, New Scientist magazine said. Medi Team, a company based in Gothenburg, Sweden, claims its new gel called Carisolv will eliminate the pain of drilling and injections and cause less damage and bleeding to healthy tissue. "To treat a decayed tooth, a dentist opens two small vials. One contains a red gel with three amino acids - glutamine, leucine and lysine - and the other a weak solution of sodium hypochlorite," the magazine said. The dentist mixes the two vials and applies a few drops to the decayed tooth. It dissolves the decay and the dentist fills the tooth in the normal way.

Study Links Secondhand Smoke to Artery Damage

Exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke contributes significantly to atherosclerosis, the hardening and thickening of artery walls that is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to a study. The report from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., also reaffirmed previous findings that smokers themselves suffer the same risk, adding that the effects of heavy smoking may be cumulative and irreversible in terms of artery damage.

The Wake Forest study involved 10,914 middle-aged adults who were examined for the impact of both smoking and exposure to smoke.

New Research Sheds Light on the Body's Clock

Jet lag? Winter blahs? Maybe all you need is a little light - on the back of your knee, researchers said Friday. A team at Cornell University in White Plains, N.Y., said they had found that shining light on the skin could re-set the body's internal clock. They chose the back of the knee because it was easy to reach and away from the eyes, which is where many scientists had believed circadian rhythm was determined. What could be a key is the hormone melatonin, which is known to regulate body rhythms. It is secreted as night falls - or as light dims - and it can be used to help overcome jet lag, they said.

Telomere Report

Telomeres - the tiny strands of DNA that seem to hold the secrets of youth and age - may also explain why older people are more likely to develop cancer, British researchers. Telomeres sit at the

ends of chromosomes and protect them from fraying. Scientists already know they shorten each time a cell divides and that the loss is associated with aging. U.S. researchers caused a "fountain of youth" sensation when they announced they could extend the life of human cells by using an enzyme - telomerase - to make telomeres grow back.

Warner Lambert ncreases Research Spend yet Again

WARNER LAMBERT CO told analysts in a conference call it expected its research and development spending to increase 18 percent to 20 percent in 1998, Mehta Partners analyst Steve Lisi told Reuters. "It means the company is serious about the future," Lisi said, adding the company spent $672 million on R&D in 1997. The Morris Plains, N.J., drugmaker met Wall Street expectations with basic per-share earnings of $0.87, a 38 percent leap from the 1996 quarter fueled by strong sales of cholesterol drug Lipitor and Type 2 diabetes drug Rezulin launched in early 1997. It said 1997 sales of Lipitor reached $865 million, while those of Rezulin were $420 million -- making both among the most successful drug launches in the history of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.

New Breast Cancer Test May Reduce Need for Surgery

British researchers said they had developed a new scanning technique that could lead to less surgery for women with breast cancer. Using special antibodies that attach themselves to cancerous cells, and a tiny amount of radioactivity, the test can determine whether malignant cells have reached the lymph nodes under the armpit and are more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Up until now, the only sure way of knowing if nodes had become malignant was to remove them in a painful operation and examine them in a laboratory.

U.K Doctors Probe Vitamin D Uses in Cancer Cases

British researchers believe that vitamin D and its derivatives can help to reduce cancer cell growth and could be useful in treating breast cancer. The vitamin, which helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorous, is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Two British studies, funded by the Association for International Cancer Research, have shown it may have a role to play in cancer treatments.

Britain Proposes Life Sentence for Passing on AIDS

People who deliberately pass on the AIDS virus or other life-threatening illnesses could be given life jail sentences under proposals unveiled by the British government Wednesday. The Home Office (interior ministry) published a consultation paper aimed at updating British laws to cope with incidents in which people have been stabbed with syringes containing the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. Infections such as salmonella and legionnaires' disease could also be covered under a law that could impose a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the intentional transmission of serious illnesses.

Ultrasound Transmitter May Improve Hearing - Doctor

A Japanese researcher suggested Friday that an ultrasound transmitter could help profoundly deaf people hear. Dr. Hiroshi Hosoi of the Kinki University School of Medicine in Osaka used a brain-imaging technique called magnetoencephalography to see if the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes hearing, responds to ultrasound. He tested 53 profoundly deaf people and found that 28 could detect ultrasonic stimuli and 11 could differentiate the ultrasound modulated by different speech signals. Ultrasound uses sound frequency well above the limit of the human ear.

Child Nutrition Vital in Cancer Prevention - Study

Children who eat high calorie diets with lots of fatty foods increase the risk of developing cancer later in life, British doctors. The benefits of a balanced diet - with plenty of fruits and vegetables - in preventing cancer are well documented. But Stephen Frankel, of the University of Bristol in southwest England, showed that how much a child eats is just as important. Using data from a 1937 study which recorded the diets of 3,834 youngsters, he traced them through to adulthood and found that children with the highest calorie diet had a 20% increased risk of dying from cancer.

New Osteoporosis Drug

New prescriptions written for Evista, a recently launched ELI LILLY and Co drug to prevent osteoporosis, totaled 6,544 in the week ended February 20, 1998 compared to 6,451 new prescriptions in the previous week, reported healthcare information firm IMS America. Given that the February 20 business week was shortened to four days by Washington's Birthday, ABN AMRO Chicago Corp pharmaceuticals industry analyst James Keeney said he was satisfied with Evista's weekly sales performance.

Infectious Diseases Big Threat - Surgeon-general

Infectious diseases remain a major threat to the United States and the rest of the world, and it will take global efforts to keep ahead of them, Surgeon-General Dr. David Satcher said. Satcher used his first appearance before Congress since his Senate confirmation to praise U.S. leadership in fighting infectious diseases and urge continued support of such international efforts. Testifying before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Satcher said two-thirds of all children who die under the age of five in the developing world die from infectious diseases. But the developed world, including the United States, also was still at risk.

French Health Authorities Discover New Disease

A new disease distinguished by persistent muscle pains, fatigue and a low fever has been discovered in France, health officials said. Officials of the national public health network said doctors had identified about 20 cases of the mysterious, yet unnamed, new malady dating as far back as 1993 and were still searching for its cause. They believe it results from infection by a micro-organism similar to mycobacterium tuberculosis, the germ which causes tuberculosis. The typical patient was 40 to 50 years old and had a history of frequent hospital stays, chronic disease or poor hygiene, the officials said

New Ultrasound May Detect Heart Attacks and Cancer

Two researchers at the Mayo Clinic said on 2 April 1998 they have pioneered a new ultrasound technique that can detect early signs of heart disease and breast cancer. Mostafa Fatemi, one of the scientists who developed the method, said sound vibrations produced by ultrasound were recorded acoustically and converted into an image. This allowed the scientists to identify early stages of calcium buildups in the arteries, an early sign of heart disease, and tiny tumors in the breasts. The technique could eliminate the need for X-rays and other expensive medical procedures needed to catch early signs of disease, Fatemi said.

Study Links Uncooked Hamburgers to Food Poisoning

British doctors advised people not to eat rare or uncooked hamburgers because of the risk of infection from the strain of E. coli bacteria that causes a potentially deadly form of food poisoning. Britain's Public Health Service Laboratories, which monitors the control and prevention of infectious diseases, issued the warning after investigating more than 85 cases of E. coli 0157 in England and Wales during a 1994-1996 study. It said people eating in restaurants should be prepared to send uncooked meat back. They should also be aware that cold, cooked meats were also linked to the bacteria.

Drug Can Reduce Breast Cancer Risk 45% - Trial

The breast cancer drug tamoxifen reduces breast cancer cases by 45% in women considered at high risk of the disease, researchers said.. The National Cancer Institute said it had stopped a study on the effects of the drug more than a year early because of the dramatic findings. It said women who had been taking dummy pills as part of the trial would be given a chance to take tamoxifen instead..In the trial of more than 13,000 healthy women, there were 85 cases of invasive breast cancer among the more than 6,600 who got tamoxifen as opposed to 154 cases in the equal number of women who did not get the drug..

Longevity Report Now Available Almost in its Entirety on the Word Wide Web

Almost the entire content of Longevity Report is now available on the world wide web. All issues that were in electronic format are now converted to html format (less illustrations to save space) and are accessible from a general contents page <lr.htm.>I also have CDs or floppy version available to anyone not on the Internet who wishes to purchase one. You will need a web browser to read it, but these are freely available on computer magazine cover disks.. The contents page also includes links to the complete set of my Funeral Service Journal articles and other columns I have run, including this one.

Sent 11 June 1998

New blood test may help cancer detection.

A sensitive new blood test could help doctors detect cancer early and could also help them track the disease, Texas researchers. The test can detect a single cancerous cell in one milliliter of blood - less than a teaspoonful, Jonathan Uhr and colleagues at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said. Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they said their test homes in on epithelial cells - the cells that line the surfaces of organs and blood vessels. There is growing evidence that epithelial cells are shed into the blood during cancer, and that this could be one way that cancer spreads through the body.

Anti-depressant sales jump

The British swallowed $435 million worth of anti-depressant tablets in the 12 months to the end of January, a jump of 23% from a year earlier, market researchers IMS Global Services said Tuesday. The British overtook the French, who took $424 million of pills, up 12% in local currency terms. The rise in UK consumption of drugs such as Eli Lilly and Co.'s Prozac and SmithKline Beecham Plc's Paxil/Seroxat was well ahead of the overall growth rate in the world's leading markets of 14% to $7 billion. IMS said sales of the drugs in the U.S. jumped 21%, while in Europe overall growth was 14%.

Study links high-fat breakfasts to blood clotting

Even a simple breakfast of toast and margarine may be too fatty for the body to handle and it could be there are no "good" fats in a high-fat diet, Dutch researchers said. A single high-fat meal can cause elevations in a blood-clotting factor known as Factor VIIa, which has been associated with heart attacks, they wrote in a report in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Louise Mennen and colleagues in the Netherlands, said it did not matter what kinds of fats people ate - all fat was bad.

Exercise injuries up among U.S. elderly

More elderly Americans are getting injured while exercising, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 28 April 1998. The number of those injured while exercising rose 54% between 1990 and 1996, from 34,400 to 53,000 a year, the commission said. For the most energetic activities, such as aerobics and weight training, the number of injuries rose even more steeply - 173% - and for the first time people over 65 injured themselves while snowboarding and roller-blading. The number of Americans aged 65 and older grew 8% over the 6-year period.

Endangered creatures could save us, if we save them

When bears hibernate, levels of sugar and fat in their blood are similar to those in humans with diabetes, yet they burn 4,000 calories a day - as much as a human athlete. Hibernating bears stop eating, drinking and eliminating waste but they continue to build bone and grow lean muscle mass. Females give birth to and nurse cubs and, contrary to popular belief, bears are not even hungry when they emerge after months of slumber. Dr. Ralph Nelson of the University of Illinois thinks his studies of bear metabolism can offer new therapies for human disease from diabetes to obesity and ways for astronauts to deal with long stints cooped up in spacecraft.

Cystic fibrosis gene guards against typhoid

Cystic fibrosis may be one of the most common hereditary diseases because carriers of the faulty gene have an enhanced natural resistance to typhoid, U.S. doctors said. The finding could explain why the defective gene is passed on to subsequent generations and may help in the search to develop a vaccine against the chronic lung disease. "Defective genes are usually not maintained from generation to generation unless they offer some kind of survival advantage. It now appears that a likely benefit of carrying one defective cystic fibrosis gene is better resistance to typhoid fever," said Dr. Gerald Pier, of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Plague protein may help treat arthritis

The bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages could help ease the pain of patients suffering from arthritis. Researchers at the British defense ministry's Porton Down laboratories have discovered that a key protein called V antigen, which helps the plague bacterium yersinia pestis infect the body, can relieve the inflammation of arthritis patients. "Yersinia pestis is immunosuppressive, and that's how it establishes itself in the body," said researcher Jim Hill.

Scientists find switch that counterattacks HIV

Researchers said they had found a chemical signal that acts as a "master switch" to turn on the body's immune defenses against the AIDS virus and other invaders. Knowing more about this mechanism could help efforts to develop a vaccine against HIV, Dr. Richard Kornbluth and colleagues at the University of California San Diego said. "This is potentially important information to incorporate in efforts to design an HIV vaccine, giving us a focus for boosting the body's own natural response system at the earliest possible stage of HIV infection, in order to prevent the destruction of the immune system," Kornbluth said in a statement.

Pressure chamber could ease stroke damage

Putting stroke victims into a pressure chamber pumped full of oxygen could help prevent brain damage, U.S. researchers. They said a study showed "hyperbaric oxygen treatment" could give doctors a precious extra hour to help a stroke victim. "If we can take one day off the hospital stay, one week off the nursing home and one week off the physical therapy, the savings are in the billions," said Dr. Richard Neubauer, director of the Ocean Hyperbaric Center.

Could this have some relevance to understanding of the processes needed for the for reanimation of cryopreserved people? It is obviously not a simple way to do it, but it may shed light on the mechanisms involved with damage to brains when blood flow stops.

Too many cancer patients have mastectomies

Too many women with early stage breast cancer have their breasts removed even though many could be treated without having a mastectomy, researchers said Monday 18 May 1998. A study of almost 18,000 women found that fewer than half, 44%, were treated in a way that would save their breasts - despite guidelines from the National Cancer Institute stating that 75% of women with early stage breast cancer do not need mastectomies. Results of the study, which tracked the treatment of breast cancer patients in more than 800 U.S. hospitals in 1994, were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago.

Cancer, osteoporosis drugs may prevent breast cancer

Women who have a high risk of breast cancer may have two drugs to choose from to prevent the disease - one a cancer drug and one a drug originally designed for osteoporosis, researchers said Monday 18 May 1998. They said both tamoxifen and raloxifene work to prevent breast cancer in certain woman. The news about raloxifene leaked out ahead of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, but this was the first presentation of the details.

Vitamin C find could lead to more nutritious food

Scientists may soon be able to engineer plants genetically to produce more vitamin C, increasing their nutritional value, thanks to a discovery by British researchers. Nicholas Smirnoff and scientists at the University of Exeter have unravelled the biosynthetic pathway, or key, to how plants produce the vitamin known for its anti-cancer properties and ability to boost the immune system to help ward off colds and flu. "In the long run it means, if people so wish, that we can genetically engineer plants to have altered vitamin C content and that has potential benefits in both nutrition and for the ability of plants to withstand various kinds of environmental stresses that would normally reduce crop yield," the lecturer in plant biochemistry said.

Sound of blood flow can indicate clogged arteries

American researchers have patented a machine that can diagnose high cholesterol levels and early signs of heart problems by monitoring the sound of blood flowing through clogged arteries. The device, developed by Michael Savic and a team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, N.Y., analyses echoes from an ultrasound beam directed at the carotid artery in the neck that carries blood to the brain. Early tests on 20 patients have proved promising.

Australian firm sneezes at common cold

A small Australian company hopes to do what only quacks have done down the centuries - peddle a "cure" for the common cold. But unlike history's promoters of vile potions and elixirs, Biota Holdings is being taken seriously. Biota, in partnership with British drugs giant Glaxo Wellcome, has already developed a "cure" for influenza after 14 years of research. The drug Relenza is expected to be commercially released first in Australia next year. In trials it was shown not only to vaccinate against flu but kill the virus after infection. Biota now has the common cold in its sights.

Obesity will be hard to treat, experts say

Americans are fat, getting fatter - and may not be able to do anything about it, experts said Thursday. And it will take serious social and possibly even legislative changes to save the next generation from being even more obese. Writing in the journal Science, nutritionist James Hill of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and John Peters at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati said it was not enough to tell people to eat less and exercise more. Obesity has been declared a global epidemic by the World Health Organization, but it is worst in the U.S., where 54% of the adults are overweight.

Colon cancer gene discovery

Sugen Inc. said on 1 June 1998 it had found another gene involved in colon cancer. The gene, which they named Aurora2, is overactive in more than 50 percent of colon cancer cases. Sugen said it and British-based collaborator Zeneca Group Plc hope to develop new gene-based treatments for colon cancer based on their discovery. Writing in the journal of the European Molecular Biology Organisation, researchers at Sugen said they had both identified and traced the function of the Aurora2 gene in colorectal cancer, the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Ischemia damaged limited by Alexion product

Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s C5 Inhibitor blocks heart muscle damage associated with heart attacks, a paper to be published in the Journal of the American Heart Association will report, the company said. In particular, C5 Inhibitor reduced the death of heart muscle cells, cell self-destruction and inflammatory tissue damage during myocardial ischemia/reperfusion (MI/R) in an animal heart-attack model, according to a report to appear in the AHA's journal Circulation. Myocardial ischemia causes heart muscle damage in patients during heart attack, angioplasty and cardiopulmonary bypass surgery.

Scientists say they a step closer to asthma vaccine

Scientists are a step closer to developing a vaccine against asthma for children. The key to an effective vaccine against the disease that afflicts 150 million people worldwide is a mutant protein found in a respiratory virus that is thought to be the cause of about one third of asthma cases. "The discovery has taken us a step closer to producing a vaccine. It is a major advance in understanding how the disease is caused,'' Peter Openshaw, of Imperial College School of Medicine in London, said Wednesday. The scientists studied the respiratory syncytial virus(RSV), and a substance it produces called the G protein that disrupts the immune system and causes cells in the lungs to become inflamed and produce mucus. During their research, reported in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the scientists tested several mutant G proteins and discovered that only a small portion of the protein altered the immune system in mice. By leaving out that portion they found they could protect the mice from infection without causing inflammation. Two vaccines, including one with a weakened strain of the virus, could be ready for testing in a few years. Openshaw said knowing how the G protein works increases the scientific knowledge about the natural immune system and could help to explain why an earlier RSV vaccine that was tested on children in the 1960s made them sicker. Asthma, one of the fastest growing diseases in the world, results from a narrowing of the airways within the lungs. Although it can develop at any age, it often starts in childhood. Men are twice as likely to develop the disease before the age of 15, while women usually get it in their late teens.

Franco-British team crack tuberculosis gene code

A Franco-British team of scientists has cracked the genetic code of tuberculosis, an infectious lung disease that kills more people each year than malaria and AIDS combined.

The team has deciphered the entire 4,000-gene sequence, or genome, of the TB bacillus, which should speed the development of new drugs and vaccines against the chronic airborne ailment that has defied scientists' best efforts at eradication.

"I think it will be a landmark in the history of tuberculosis research,'' Dr Stewart Cole, one of the researchers, said in a telephone interview.

"We've identified all the genes and predicted what quite a few of them are doing, so it opens up thousands and thousands of new areas for people to do research in."

It took the scientists from the Pasteur Institute in France and Britain's Sanger Centre more than two years to complete the joint project, financed by the Wellcome Trust and reported in the science journal Nature on Wednesday. Tuberculosis is not the first disease to be decoded. Scientists have already mapped out the genome for Lyme disease and other bacteria, but the TB bacillus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is the most sophisticated sequencing achievement and one that could have far-reaching implications for public health.

"I personally think it is the most important one to date," Cole said, adding that sequencing the genome for malaria, another infectious killer, would have similar significance. Douglas Young, a microbiologist at Imperial College School of Medicine in London, said the history of the disease, together with the clues to conquering it, were hidden in the genome. "Thanks to Cole et al, we now have the sequence of every potential drug target and of every antigen we many wish to include in a vaccine," he said in a commentary in Nature. One third of the world's population is infected with the TB bacillus. Three million people die of the disease each year. It is particularly dangerous for HIV sufferers because each disease speeds the progress of the other. TB accounts for nearly one-third of AIDS deaths worldwide.

Such is the scale of the epidemic that the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that between 1998 and 2020, nearly one billion more people will be infected, 200 million people will become ill and 70 million will die unless controls are strengthened.

New drug-resistant strains are emerging and, in spite of the best efforts of the WHO, the disease has reached epidemic proportions in many poor countries. After being nearly wiped out, it is re-emerging in some rich countries.

"With the globalisation of communities people are moving around the world more easily and more frequently. There is an increasing likelihood that Westerners will get infected if they visit developing countries and this will be imported inadvertently," Cole said.

The ground-breaking project removes much of the laborious preparatory work for other scientists and pharmaceutical firms, allowing them to focus better on their research.

"It will certainly lead to drug companies and vaccine designers taking more interest in the subject because they have all this free data there at their disposal," Cole said. "If they've got some clever ideas they can just apply them now."

The following comments were sent on 21 August 1998:

Western U.S. States' Biotechnology Lead Threatened by Regulation

The western United States' lead in biotechnology, which will change the way science fights disease, grows crops and cleans the environment, could be in jeopardy through well-meaning but misdirected. There are thousands of small biotech companies and labs employing high-paid workers dotted throughout California, Colorado, Utah, Washington and other western states, according to the Center for the New West, a Denver think tank. In 1998 genetic privacy legislation was introduced in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Washington. Such laws could make it hard for researchers to preform a broad array of crucial experiments to share information or collaborate with colleagues.

Bone Healing Drug May Help Strokes, Alzheimer's

A drug that helps to heal broken bones has turned out to repair brains as well, New Scientist magazine said on Wednesday 17 June. The growth protein may speed the recovery of stroke victims, and might even restore some of the memory loss of Alzheimer's disease, the weekly magazine said. A study of osteogenic protein-1 (OP-1), a man-made bone growth agent that repairs several types of damaged tissues, showed it helped rats to regain lost movement in their limbs after a stroke, it said. ``It works by rewiring the connections around the damaged brain cells. There is also a chance that the protein may be able to improve memory in Alzheimer's patients.'' Creative Bio Molecules of Massachusetts developed the protein to bridge the gaps between broken bones but the company also discovered that it could stimulate the growth of dendrites, projections on brain nerve cells that receive signals to control the movement of impulses. Marc Charette of Creative Bio Molecules and colleagues at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital induced strokes in rats and injected the protein into their brains to test their reactions. The researchers measured how easily the rats could place their limbs on a nearby platform. The rodents given OP-1recovered faster than the animals that didn't receive the protein. Higher doses of the protein also induced a quicker recovery. ``The region of the brain that is damaged dies, but the protein rewires the circuitry around the damage, through tissue surviving the stroke,'' Charette told the magazine. He added that OP-1 is the first protein that seems to repair dendrites, which are destroyed by Alzheimer's disease. Creative Bio Molecules, which collaborated with the medical technology company Stryker Corp on OP-1, is testing mice to see whether the protein can improve memory. Charette said if animal tests are completed successfully clinical trials of the protein could be possible in a year's time.

New U.S. Rules Aim to Boost Organ Availability

New rules aimed at making more organs available for transplants will make hospitals report all deaths to an organ procurement organization, the Health and Human Services Department said Wednesday. The regulations, to be published in final form this week, may increase organ donation by up to 20% over the next two years, the health agency said. "Organ donations save lives. But in too many cases today, we are missing opportunities to save people simply because families are never contacted and donation is never even considered as an option," Health Secretary Donna Shalala said.

Scientists Hope to Grow Organs Inside Human Body

Scientists are taking the first steps to see if organs - like a heart or a liver - can be grown inside the human body using a new tissue replacement technique, a bio-engineering company said Tuesday. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Childrens' Hospital of Boston were granted three patents covering the growth of new organs and tissue within the body. The patents are licensed to La Jolla, Calif. based Advanced Tissue Sciences Inc., which owns related patents. The company said the technology has already been used to grow new livers in rats and dogs and also to generate new heart muscles in animals with diseased hearts.

Genetic Testing and Life Insurance

An article appeared on the Internet newsgroup <sci.cryonics> early in July on the subject of life insurance and genetic testing, recommending that genetic testing be made illegal. This was my response:

Genetic testing for assessing lifespan really shows a problem with life insurance, not with genetic testing.

People already accept medical examinations and other privacy invading events if they want life insurance at the best possible price. The relationship between insurance doctor and client is very odd, yet it is accepted. He asks intimate questions and performs intimate examination, not with the object of helping the patient as with a normal doctor, but of seeking out weakness with which to cause the patient hardship if he finds it.

Insurance relies on a large pool of people who do not make claims providing the money for those who do make claims. The no claimers also provide high professional fees for those administering the system. (With whole life policies, I regard a claim as one where the payout is early and does not match the premiums paid in. Normally if the client lives an expected lifespan, he would have amassed far more money by well managed direct investment than by buying whole life insurance.)

Market forces try to push premiums as low as possible, and to make policies as user friendly as possible. There are "no-medical" policies available, and there are also "all risks" policies available (eg you are *not* barred from travelling by air other than as a fare paying passenger on a government recognised airline). However these are more expensive than policies where medicals are required and you agree not to engage in dangerous hobbies, sports and pursuits. This is for the simple reason that people who refuse a medical may well know they are at a greater risk of being short lived and people who engage in dangerous sports etc have a greater risk of death.

It is accepted that if you pass a medical then you pay a smaller premium. If that medical includes genetic testing, then those who pass that as well can pay an even smaller premium.

The real problem is that if everyone is tightly categorised, there will be a rump of risky clients who cannot join a big enough pool of people who will provide the claim-free premiums. Ignoring accident and technological advance, one may soon almost be in the position of being able to predict the date on which one will die. Many years ago I said that that is the ultimate end of the line for life insurance medicals.

Life insurance then would just become a savings tool - you know you are going to live another x years and want $y for beneficiaries at the end, therefore allowing for z% growth save so much a month. The remaining risks would be accidental death or living longer as a result of medical advance. The former can be insured for separately as a personal accident policy, and the latter would simply mean that you had deprived yourself of more money than you needed in the early years of your life (when you need it most).

One possible solution would be to ban insurance companies from asking anything - medicals of any sort are illegal. But what could happen then is that many clients would themselves seek medicals (including genetics) and if they are not at risk take a personal accident policy plus savings, or if they are at risk take insurance. Therefore most of those in insurance are a drain on the company and there are few providing funds. The result is that life insurance as a concept collapses.

Many would want to keep the status quo - allow limited medicals. But if they are limited, where do you set the limit? The same argument as above applies. The same "moral and ethical" objections to insurance medicals apply as apply against genetic testing. It is hypocritical to have one without the other. People could take genetic tests (and hide their tracks if the insurance companies have the right to ask whether they have taken a test) and self select to the detriment of insurance.

I think life insurance is doomed. It is a legal construct that is falling to the advance of technology.

Researchers Link Alzheimer's to Vascular Disorders

New research shows that Alzheimer's disease may be tied to vascular disorders, including high blood pressure and heart disease, findings presented at a major international conference on the disease show. "Two years ago nobody thought there was a relationship between Alzheimer's and vascular disease," Dr. Ingmar Skoog told the 6th International Conference on Alzheimer's in Amsterdam. But Skoog said that several studies had since been mounted into a possible link. "Hypertension does seem to have a relationship with Alzheimer's disease in the brain," Skoog said, adding that several vascular risk factors may have ties to the disease.

Light Therapy May Help Alzheimer's Sleep Disorder

Exposure to light may help sufferers of Alzheimer's disease regain sleep-cycle rhythms and may reduce the need for institutional care, researchers said on 22 July. Data from Dutch and Japanese studies released at the Sixth International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease showed that patients who received two hours of bright light therapy for a month registered improvements in sleep and in body temperature. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour. People afflicted with Alzheimer's often suffer disturbances in circadian rhythm, which affects body functions such as sleep cycles, temperature, alertness and hormone production.

UK's PPL Therapeutics Clones Transgenic Lamb

British biotechnology company PPL Therapeutics Plc announced the cloning of a transgenic lambs, carrying a new human protein, extra cellular superoxide dismutase (EC SOD). The East Friesian lambs were born at PPL's farm in East Lothian, Scotland and were developed from an East Friesian somatic cell line imported frozen from PPL's sheep farm in New Zealand. The imported fetal fibroblast cells were genetically modified to include the human EC SOD gene, then transferred by nuclear transfer technology, to unfertilized eggs.

Cloners of Dolly, Mice, Team Up to Make Pigs

Companies backing researchers who created Dolly the sheep and 50 cloned mice teamed up in a business deal to try to clone pigs. They said they wanted to use new cloning technology to try to make genetically engineered pigs whose organs could be used for transplants in people. The new business deal pairs two very controversial technologies - cloning, and the use of animal organs in humans. PPL Therapeutics Plc, set up to exploit technology developed by scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, announced the tie-up with ProBio America, a Honolulu-based company working with the team at the University of Hawaii that said Wednesday they had cloned mice.

Genes may be to blame for chronic Lyme effects

Researchers said 30 June they had found out why some people infected with Lyme disease go on to develop a chronic form of arthritis - their bodies contain a protein that looks like the Lyme bug. Their immune systems mistakenly turn against this protein, causing pain and inflammation of the joints - usually the knee, researchers wrote in a report in the journal Science. Each year, about 16,000 Americans become infected with Lyme disease, caused by spiral-shaped bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi.

I cannot help but wonder whether many auto-immune conditions of unknown origin may be due to a similar cause. Maybe some asthma sufferers, for example owe their condition to someone who gave them a cold whose virus happened to resemble a protein in their bodies. Whether knowledge of this cause can lead to a cure, only the future will tell ...

Elan And Scherer Announce Licence for Zydis® Formulation

Elan Corporation, plc (NYSE: ELN) and R.P. Scherer Corporation (NYSE: SHR) announced that they had entered into a license and supply agreement through their affiliates Athena Neurosciences, Inc. and Scherer DDS, respectively. The agreement provides Elan with an exclusive license in North America, U.K., Ireland and certain other countries to market a novel patented formulation of selegiline utilizing Scherer's proprietary Zydis® technology.

Selegiline is currently marketed in the U.S. and many other countries as an adjunctive treatment for Parkinson's disease, principally in conventional tablet or capsule forms. Zydis selegiline is a fast-dissolving dosage form designed for oral administration. Clinical studies indicate that this novel formulation may permit a significant reduction in the dose of selegiline. Zydis selegiline will be manufactured by Scherer for Elan which will market the product through Athena in the U.S. and through its affiliates outside the U.S. Commercial terms of the license agreement, which was signed in December, 1996 were not disclosed.

Scherer's chairman and chief executive officer, Alex Erdeljan commented that "This agreement with Elan validates our investment in our Zydis technology which provides for the enhanced delivery of established, as well as novel, therapeutic agents. We believe that Zydis selegiline's enhanced bioavailability and absorption profile will offer advantages to patients". Zydis-formulated product melt instantly on contact with moisture offering a highly convenient way to administer medication orally and provide an important differentiation for pharmaceutical products.

Elan's president and chief operating officer, John Groom, noted that Zydis selegiline is the second advanced stage neurological product acquired by Elan and will further broaden Elan's franchise of products for the treatment of Parkinson's disease marketed through its Athena salesforce.

Elan Corporation, plc is a leading worldwide drug delivery company with innovative drug absorption technologies designed to improve patient care in a cost-effective manner. Its principal research and manufacturing facilities are in Ireland, and through its subsidiaries in the United States and Israel. Athena, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elan, discovers, develops and markets products to be used primarily for the treatment and diagnosis of central nervous system diseases and disorders.

R.P. Scherer Corporation, an international developer and manufacturer of drug delivery systems, is the world's largest producer of soft gelatin capsules ("softgels"). The company is currently developing and commercializing a variety of advanced drug delivery systems. The company's proprietary drug delivery systems improve the efficacy of drugs by regulating the dosage so as to ease the administration, increase absorption, enhance bioavailability and control the time and place of release. Scherer operates a global network of 19 facilities in 12 countries.

Experimental drug may be shot in dark for gymnast

Doctors admit it is a shot in the dark and that they may never know whether an experimental new drug has actually helped a paralysed Chinese gymnast. But they are thrilled to have received government permission to throw the drug, GM-1 ganglioside, or Sygen, into the mix of therapies they are giving 17-year-old Sang Lan in an effort to give her back the use of her legs. The Chinese vaulting champion fractured her neck when she fell during a warm-up routine at the Goodwill Games in New York this month. Her spinal cord was badly damaged. Anxious doctors sought, and got, permission from the FDA to use the drug, which is adapted from a naturally occurring body chemical but which is not yet approved for use in the USA.

British study finds more reasons to drink red wine

British researchers said in August 1998 they had found more evidence that red wine, as opposed to other forms of alcohol, can protect against heart disease. They said they had detailed information on how substances in red wine can act as antioxidants, which can help stop fat from sticking to artery walls and clogging them up. Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they said red wine in its natural form worked best, but capsules containing these substances, known as polyphenols, also worked to a degree.

U.S. scientists say drug may help cocaine addicts

An epilepsy drug shows promise as the first pharmaceutical treatment for cocaine addiction and possibly other dependencies such as nicotine and morphine, U.S. scientists announced in August 1998. The scientists said experiments on rats and baboons indicated that the drug prevented the "high" and other effects of cocaine in much the same way it prevents an epileptic seizure, by altering the way brain cells communicate with each other. The drug, Vigabatrin, has been available in Europe for more than a decade for treating epilepsy, but approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was not expected until October.

Blood substitute test in trauma patients a success

A blood substitute was found to be just as effective as donated blood in providing life-sustaining oxygen to organs and tissues in the first direct comparison of seriously injured, bleeding trauma patients, according to a study reported. The August issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons reported that 44 trauma patients received either the blood substitute known as PolyHeme or donated red blood cells to replace the blood they were losing. PolyHeme, made from the hemoglobin in unused human donor blood, was developed by Northfield Laboratories Inc., of Evanston, Ill.

Tamoxifen as Preventative - FDA to Speed up Approval

Zeneca Group PLC expects the FDA to grant speedy approval for the use of tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer in women at increased risk of the disease. "This is the first ever filing for the prevention of cancer," CEO Sir David Barnes told a news conference early in August 1998. The FDA has arranged an advisory committee hearing on September 2, and we expect rapid approval thereafter." A large-scale U.S. trial of tamoxifen, which Zeneca developed and markets as Nolvadex, was halted earlierin 1998 after it found women taking it were 45% less likely to develop the disease.

Common Cold Microbe May Have Role in Alzheimer's - Study

A common form of bacteria, often causing complications of the virus born infection known as the common cold, could be linked to Alzheimer's disease, biologists said in August. Therefore passing on colds could have far more serious implications than anyone could have imagined.

The organism called Chlamydia pneumoniae was found in the brains of 17 Alzheimer victims out of a total 19 that were examined. Infection was particularly noticeable in regions of the brain showing damage typical of Alzheimer's, the researchers said.

By contrast, the biologists from Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia, Detroit's Wayne State University and Johns Hopkins University discovered the bacteria in the brain of only one out of 19 people who had died from other diseases.

Researchers said the findings could shed light on the cause of inflammation which separate studies have found in the brains of victims of Alzheimer's disease, a form of dementia that usually strikes elderly people and leads to forgetfulness, disorientation and confusion. There is no known cure.

``What we have here is an organism that can get inside (brain) cells and can potentially trigger them to cause inflammation,'' said Brian Balin, an Allegheny University neurobiologist who helped lead the three-year study.

Researchers, describing the bacteria as a possible new risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, said they hoped their efforts would lead to the development of effective new treatments for people who suffer from the disease.

Alzheimer's disease is expected to afflict nearly five million people in the United States alone by 2000, and experts say the number of American sufferers could jump to 14.5 million by the middle of the next century.

Because Alzheimer patients require costly and intensive care, the disease could pose a financial nightmare for the federal government's ailing Medicare insurance program for the elderly in coming decades unless a cure can be found.

Early in 1997, British researchers at the University of Manchester presented evidence linking Alzheimer's to the herpes virus that causes the common cold-sore. That discovery raised hopes that a vaccination might someday be found.

Results of the U.S. study appeared in this month's issue of the journal, Medical Microbiology and Immunology.

Chlamydia pneumoniae is a form of bacteria associated with a wide range of common respiratory ailments from sinusitis to bronchitis and pneumonia.

But people often can be infected from childhood without apparent ill-effects. In fact, the bacteria are so common that they are believed to infect as much as 70 percent of populations in some parts of the world, including the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Scandanavia.

Alan Hudson, a microbiologist at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, said researchers began to suspect Chlamydia after hearing reports of a link between Alzheimer's and atherosclerosis, in which the bacteria was believed to play a role.

Atherosclerosis, a condition which leads to cardiovascular disease and strokes, is marked by inflammation and a buildup of fatty substances in the blood vessels.

Research found Chlamydia in the brain's glial cells, which support nerve cells and function like an immune system in the brain. When infected, they cause inflammation.

Balin said a main goal of the research team now was to figure out how Chlamydia bacteria slipped from the respiratory system to the brain.

A possible route would be the olfactory system, which presents a physical connection between the brain and the respiratory system. Researchers noted that the region of the brain associated with the sense of smell is often affected by Alzheimer's disease. This re-enforces the idea that spreading colds could also be spreading Alzheimers'.

But of course most people have been given a cold at some time in their lives, and yet not all people get Alzheimer's symptoms. I speculate here that there may be people who have a genetic makeup that prevents the bacteria that opportunistically infect people with viral colds from passing into their brains. Unless those people opposed to genetic engineering get their way, it may be possible for a genetic therapy to be developed that gives everybody this protection.

Sent 18 October, 1998

Sackcloth and Ashes Cryonics

There has been some recent suggestion that people signed up for cryonics should give up 90% of the luxury in their lives in order to support the movement financially. This suggestion has come from the ranks of the movement, not the leaders, I hasten to say.

This approach has been tried and failed with much bigger groups than the 700 or so people in the world who are signed up for cryopreservation.

The biggest example I know of is the British Labour Party who preached a similar sermon for most of this century (with the aim of abolishing poverty) and who finally rejected it before the last election. It does sometimes work in relatively brief periods of intense struggle, such as in Britain during the last world war. But the struggle for a solution to the problem of ageing and death is not one that is going to be solved with a big explosion after 5 years intensive effort.

The only example I know of where these methods can work is a with a cult with a charismatic leader. Somehow the leader can persuade his flock that they should live in sackcloth and ashes and give him everything (sometimes a proportion of everything) they own. He drives about in a stretched limousine whilst his flock huddle in a barn waiting for whatever cataclysmic event he has lead them to beleive in.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have survived and the group has prospered for decades despite the fact that cataclysms for which their members wait never happen. We know from "The Bible" that in Roman times Jews were focussing their lives on the anticipation of the arrival of a Messiah that would change the world. Only those that supported the church would benefit. Apparently someone turned up with a case for being that messiah that convinced a lot of the world for 2,000 years afterwards. But guess what - at the time he was rejected, so that the process of anticipation and collection of tithes could continue.

In the last few decades, pollution, global warming and asteroid impact have taken on the role of being concepts to raise money for research or give justification for regulation. This is slightly more diffuse than cults, but the idea is at least similar even if it contains a greater level of rationality.

I am sure that if cryonics got a public image of urging its members to give up their lives' fun (or even 90% of it) to support the movement it would attract a lot more detractors than it does now. I know, for example, eating out is a waste of money, but if you want to be a part, even a small part, of the world around you then this is what you do.

I know of no one in the movement, and I am sure that there *is* no one in the movement, who totally and certainly believes that

a) cryopreservation will work as a concept

b) every specified individual who is cryopreserved will be reanimated.

Therefore to live in a hovel in sackcloth and ashes in order to promote cryonics, by whatever method, could be throwing the one and only life you'll ever get in pursuit of an impossible dream. By all means sign up, and support cryonics by whatever means you chose. Think something out and work on it, *don't be too ambitious*, and if it takes years or decades without any obvious result, then stick with it even if those around you think you are doing nothing.

Magnesium supplements lower blood pressure in study

Magnesium supplements have a small but clear effect on lowering blood pressure, Japanese researchers said in August. Their findings add to a steadily growing body of evidence that some people with high blood pressure may need not only to cut salt, but to add other minerals to their diet. Dr. Yuhei Kawano and colleagues at the National Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, Japan tested 60 men and women with high blood pressure. They were given magnesium supplements for eight weeks, and then taken off them for eight weeks.

Dental Pharmacology: Saliva Booster

Saliva protects teeth in two ways: it fosters an alkaline environment that neutralises the acids that cause decay, and it contains minerals that restore lost enamel. According to New Scientist dated 9 September 1998, scientists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Long Island, have developed a compound of amino acids and calcium that dental researcher Israel Kleinberg claims mimics saliva's cavity-fighting capabilities.

The idea is to use the compound, dubbed Cavistat, as a supplement in toothpaste-and maybe even sweets and chewing gum, subject of course to the usual regulatory tests and delays.

Alzheimer's May Be Preventable, Expert Says

Alzheimer's disease is not an inevitable part of aging but a specific disease which could be prevented, a leading scientist said. Professor David Smith, an Oxford University pharmacologist, told a news conference that the focus on Alzheimer's, a form of dementia that strikes 1 in 10 elderly people, must be switched to prevention from alleviation. "It is a strongly age-linked disease but our work has shown that it is not an inevitable part of aging," he said at the annual British Association science festival.

Laser Imaging May Help Prevent Infant Brain Damage

Laser imaging may soon help doctors to prevent brain damage in infants starved of oxygen during birth, a British researcher said in September. Dr. Jeremy Hebden, of University College in London, told the British Association science conference that the technique will allow doctors to see how much oxygen is distributed in the brains of newborns. Birth asphyxia, caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood or if blood does not reach the brain, can shrivel the organ and cause permanent damage. About 2% of all children have serious handicaps and 5.3% are due to brain asphyxia. "If we can diagnose that this has happened in those babies soon, there are means of treating them to avoid permanent damage," Hebden said.

A technology of help to cryonics?

Reducing Cholesterol and Breast Cancer

A new drug against brittle bone disease that has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and may help to prevent breast cancer was launched in Britain. ELI LILLY's Evista is a non-hormone treatment for spinal fractures in post-menopausal women at high risk of osteoporosis, a serious condition that causes bones to become porous and break easily. About 50% of women past child-bearing age are at risk of developing osteroporosis. Eli Lilly received European Commission approval to market Evista in 15 European Union member countries in August 1998. It will become available in other nations in the coming year.

Cancer researchers said they had the strongest evidence yet that taking the cancer drug tamoxifen can prevent breast cancer. Healthy women at the highest risk of developing breast cancer had their risk cut in half by taking tamoxifen every day, according to a review of results from a clinical trial that were first published in April. The drug, produced by a subsidiary of Britain's ZENECA GROUP PLC, is already the most commonly used drug against breast cancer.

The FDA is considering whether to approve tamoxifen, sold under the name Nolvadex, for use in preventing breast cancer in women considered at high risk.

Study links Alzheimer's risk to father's age

The offspring of older men may have an increased chance of developing Alzheimer's disease. Researchers in Germany suspect that DNA damage that builds up with age can be passed on from older fathers to their children which could raise their chances of developing the progressive degenerative brain disorder. Lars Bertram, of the Technical University of Munich, and his colleagues studied 206 people with Alzheimer's disease and discovered that patients who were least likely to have an inherited risk had fathers who were older than those of the higher genetic risk group or healthy people.

Eli Lilly said a new study showed its anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa was effective in improving psychosis and behavioural disturbances in patients with Alzheimer's disease. The study, to be presented at the 3rd Congress of the European Federation of Neurological Sciences, is one of the first to examine the management of psychosis in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Lilly said that Zyprexa, which has the generic name olanzapine, "demonstrated significantly superior efficacy in reducing agitation, delusions and hallucinations compared to placebo without the adverse side-effect profile associated with other anti-psychotic agents."

Birds Hold New Clues About Human Memory

Scientists said that a species of bird can remember things in a way once thought to be uniquely human. The discovery that scrub jays have so-called episodic memory could help scientists solve the problem of how human memory is formed and stored. In a study published in the science journal Nature, Nicola Clayton of the University of California at Davis and Anthony Dickinson of Cambridge University in Britain showed that scrub jays remember what food they stored, and when and where they hid it - three criteria for episodic memory.

WHO Pinpoints Smoking As Huge Global Health Threat

World Health Organization director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland said smoking was potentially the biggest global health threat and called for a total advertising ban on tobacco products. "Smoking is probably the most important cause of death in Europe," Brundtland told a news conference at WHO's Copenhagen-based regional office for Europe. "By the year 2010 tobacco is going to be the biggest disease burden globally," she said. WHO estimates that tobacco use is responsible for 1.2 million deaths per year, 14% of all mortalities in the body's 51-nation European region.

Aspirin may help lower cancer risk

Aspirin may significantly suppress genetic mutations that lead to some types of colon cancer, concludes new test-tube research deemed promising enough that scientists are anxious to test the pills in hundreds of at-risk people. Previous studies have suggested aspirin might help prevent colon cancer, but the protective effect seemed small for the average person, and nobody knew why it would work. Now, a team of U.S. and German researchers has examined a severe, inherited type of colon cancer and found that in test tubes, aspirin suppressed the genetic mutations that cause some tumors. In proceedings at the National Academy of Sciences, scientists said Aspirin essentially pushed genetically unstable cells to commit cellular suicide instead of reproducing.


A new class of antibiotics now in final human trials launches a fresh attack against so-called superbugs that resist conventional drugs, researchers said Friday. The drugs strike the bacteria in a unique way that doctors hope will make it harder for the bugs to ever develop resistance. But doctors warn that people will still have to be prudent with antibiotics. Teams of researchers at an American Society of Microbiology meeting in San Diego told of experiments with linezolid, the first of a new class of antibiotics known as oxazolidinones. They said it works well in pill or intravenous form, curing more than 90% of infections.

Limb Transplants - Body Transplants?

A doctor who helped perform the world's first arm and hand transplant predicted that a second such operation may take place in two months. "This is the first transplant of a limb...short of doing anything like a head transplant, I think this is quite advanced," said Professor Nadey Hakim. "I don't believe a head transplant is going to happen but some people are talking about it," he added in a telephone interview from France. Hakim, the head of transplantation at St. Mary's Hospital in London, was one of eight doctors who performed the surgery on New Zealand businessman Clint Hallam, who lost his arm in a circular saw accident 14 years ago.

Glaxo Produce Flu Preventative

An experimental nose spray that seems to help ease the misery of flu symptoms also may prevent some people from getting sick at all. They said the drug zanamivir, made under the name Relenza by Glaxo Wellcome Plc., can reduce flu risk by 67percent. "The drug was extremely effective in preventing influenza,"Dr. Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan said in telephone interview ahead of a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in San Diego. Relenza was tested on 1,107 college students in Michigan and Missouri last year just before an outbreak of influenza A to gauge its preventative effects. Students who took the drug for 28 days reduced their risk of getting flu by 67 percent, and reduced the chance of suffering from flu with a fever by 84 percent. Overall, 11 of those patients taking the drug, or two percent, fell ill, while the 34 people, or six percent, who did not take the drug caught the flu. Monto said the particular strain of influenza that was being spread was resistant to available vaccines but Relenza worked as a preventive measure nevertheless. The phase III clinical trials of Relenza are the last step before seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. While vaccines are easily available, flu still kills between 10,000 and 40,000 Americans each year. Many people do not get vaccinated, and the vaccines fail in about 30 percent of people. Vaccines also take about two weeks to work. "Some people will choose not to get vaccinated and they might want to take an antiviral drug during the period when the flu virus is circulating," Monto said. "Some others forget to get vaccinated but they can get prevention with a drug like zanamivir right in the middle of the flu season." Zanamivir targets an enzyme in the virus called neuraminidase which is virtually the same in all common strains of influenza. Neuraminidase allows the virus to replicate and spread. The drug binds to the enzyme, effectively clogging up its action so the virus cannot infect new cells. Another experimental drug, GS4104, jointly developed by F.Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. <ROCZG> and Gilead Sciences Inc.<GILD>, targets the same enzyme. Studies presented at the same meeting showed that GS4104works against the virus itself, not just the symptoms of flu. It can cut the number of days a person is sick by about a third. Zanamivir has also been shown to shorten the misery by about a day. Every year up to 40 million Americans catch flu, which can last for between six and 10 days. Researchers estimate the annual health care costs of treating the flu in the United States is more than $10 billion. A cure for the flu, which infects the respiratory tract causing fever, muscle aches, lethargy, fatigue and headaches, has eluded doctors. One problem is that it mutates into new strains and becomes resistant to drugs. There are two other anti-flu drugs already on the market, amantadine (made by several companies) and rimantadine, made by Forest Pharmaceuticals. All the drugs fight influenza A, the most common form of the flu. No drugs are approved to treat influenza B, which causes about one-third of all flu cases.

I would comment that this is a superb product (assuming it works). If someone in a group (family, office club or whatever) comes in with flu, the others could use it to protect themselves. If I didn't already have Glaxo shares, I would now plan buy on any market weakness. (After I wrote that they went up on rumours of a merger with Smith Kline Beacham.)

Scientists Isolate Immune System 'On/off Switch'

Scientists have isolated a gene which they believe acts as an on/off switch for the body's immune system, promising new ways of treating conditions ranging from cancer to Crohn's Disease, the British company behind the breakthrough said. Researchers at the U.S. arm of Chiroscience Group Plc are also close to locating a second gene which could reverse bone wasting caused by osteoporosis, a condition which affects millions of people over 60 and leads to more than one million fractures in the U.S. every year. Research and Development Director Robert Jackson said uncovering the gene which regulates the body's immune response could one day lead to development of a whole new range of drugs. "Sometimes you want to turn it off and sometimes you want to turn it on,'' Jackson told Reuters. Turning the immune system on or up could help in conditions like AIDS and cancer, where the body's efforts to fight off tumours are currently too weak. "If we could strengthen that, we could develop drugs to help the body react to tumours,'' Jackson said. But switching it off or down might be useful in a range of diseases caused by an overly fierce immune response -- such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, psoriasis, Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis and allergy. Gene-based research at the former Darwin Molecular business in Seattle, Washington, which Chiroscience bought in 1996, is also close to locating a mutant gene which may offer a way of reversing the effects of osteoporosis for the first time. Scientists are studying around 100 people and their families in South Africa with extremely strong bones caused by a mutant gene which causes bone density to increase as people age -- the exact opposite of osteoporosis. "We are close to identifying a unique bone structure gene for osteoporosis,'' Chief Executive Officer John Padfield told Reuters. "All other treatments try to stop bone loss getting worse. What our gene appears to do is increase bone density very substantially -- if this turns out to be true when we test a drug, that would be a revolutionary treatment for osteoporosis.'' The company announced the discoveries as part of a day-long update on its research and development activities.

Shares in Chiroscience were up seven percent or 17 1/2 pence in early afternoon trading in London on the day this was announced. Chiroscience said it will also work with the small British genome company Gemini Research, which has built up a database of genetic information based on identical twins. The two companies are to look for mutant genes linked to obesity. The shares don't move much, but are currently trading at the lower end of their range, with the market (Oct 13th)

Drug Might Offer New Way to Diminish Stroke Damage

Researchers said on Monday they may have found a new way to minimize the brain damage inflicted by a stroke. They said one experimental drug cut stroke damage in mice by more than 50 percent, and said other drugs that attack similar targets might also work well. Neurobiologist Ed Furshpan and colleagues at Harvard Medical School know that one way to reduce the brain damage caused by a stroke is to stop cells from dying. There are two kinds of stroke -- ischemic and haemorrhagic. In an ischemic stroke a blood clot cuts off blood to the brain. Some brain cells die instantly, while others die later. Furshpan's team was looking for ways to stop the more gradual die-off of cells, and knew that a chemical called glutamate is released by dying cells and can trigger the deaths of other cells. So something that blocks this action should help. The Harvard group, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said they used an experimental drug known as PD098058, which acts against a chemical known as ERK, which acts as a kind of gatekeeper regulating other"excitotoxic" chemicals such as glutamate. They found the drug, made by Parke-Davis, a division of Warner-Lambert Co. <WLA>, can protect against the destructive action of glutamate.

Alessandro Alessandrini, who worked on the study, noted that the drug was given before or very soon after the strokes were induced in the mice. "So it might not be a good inhibitor once stroke is in progress," he said in a statement. But the researchers said their findings showed a new chemical pathway involved in stroke and said other drugs might be developed that work to stop cells from dying. Researchers know that the brain damage after a brain injury such as a blow or a stroke develops slowly, sometimes over weeks, as cells die off in response to the damage. A study published in July found that some of the chemicals in marijuana may protect the brain such damage. The chemicals, known as cannabinoids, also can block the effects of glutamate.

Protein Helps Plants Survive Deep Freeze

The discovery of a protein that allows plants to survive freezing temperatures could lead to genetically altered crops able to withstand cold weather, researchers. In a study published in the journal Science, a team of scientists in Britain identified an antifreeze protein in a carrot plant that blocks deadly ice crystals from forming. The team isolated the protein and then spliced the gene into the cold-sensitive tobacco plant, which normally cannot resist freezing, said Peter Lillford, a food scientist at Unilever Research who worked on the study.

FDA Approves Pill to Help Fight Gum Disease

The drug, which suppresses a destructive enzyme, is "a whole new concept,'' one doctor said. Millions of Americans with advanced gum disease are about to get the first pill to fight the leading cause of tooth loss.

The government's approval of the pill, called Periostat, will not end the scraping away of hardened plaque that patients now endure, but the pill did significantly improve their gums in tests -- and might make dental visits less painful.

"This is a whole new concept" in treating gum disease, said Dr. Sebastian Ciancio, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology, who studied Periostat at the State University of New York, Buffalo. "For the first time, we have a drug that . . . helps the body begin to heal."

Until now, periodontal treatments have focused just on attacking the bacteria that cause gum disease.

But scientists at SUNY's Stony Brook campus accidentally discovered that bacteria are not the whole problem. The mouth reacts to the germs with inflammation that literally breaks down the gums and eventually the bones that hold teeth in place.

Periostat, made by CollaGenex Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Newtown, Bucks County, suppresses the enzyme responsible for that breakdown, so the pill -- together with scraping away hardened bacteria -- helps to slow, or perhaps even halt, gum disease.

Finding that enzyme's role "was the eureka discovery," recalled the lead researcher, Dr. Lorne Golub. Using Periostat daily, "it looks like we've arrested the disease in cases where patients were told by their dentists that they were probably going to lose their teeth," Golub said.

CollaGenex announced the Food and Drug Administration's approval of Periostat yesterday, and said the pill -- available by prescription only -- would be on pharmacy shelves within two months.

A price has not been set, but a spokeswoman said treatment would cost $1 to $4 a day.

The American Dental Association greeted the pill "with guarded optimism," said Dr. Dan Myer, its associate scientific director.

Dental surgeons want more detailed studies of the drug's long-term effects, and patients still must properly brush and fight the bacteria that cause gum disease, he stressed. But Periostat "does have the promise of slowing down the disease," he said.

Half of all Americans have gingivitis, a gum inflammation often controlled with proper brushing and flossing. In at least 20 million people, the problem advances to serious periodontal disease, in which gums pull away from the root of teeth and underlying bone is destroyed.

Dentists use special instruments to regularly scrape off plaque, bacteria that harden below the gum's surface, in a painful procedure called "scaling and planing." Dentists also prescribe topical antibiotics.

Golub discovered that antibiotics sprayed onto the gums of rats both attacked germs and suppressed the enzyme collagenase, the substance that destroys gum tissue. Wondering whether that was just an extra effect of antibiotics or clinically important, Golub studied specially bred germ-free rats -- so rare they cost $70 each -- and found that suppressing collagenase was a new and separate way to attack gum disease.

A weakened form of the antibiotic doxycycline -- so weak that it does not attack bacteria but does target collagenase -- seemed to work best. CollaGenex named the pill Periostat and studied it in 800 patients. In one pivotal study, patients who took Periostat after standard plaque-scraping had their gums reattach to teeth 52 percent better than patients who had plaque removal alone. Periostat patients also had 67 percent more improvement in the depth of gum loss. Nobody knows how long patients should take Periostat, something scientists continue to study. Their chief concern is whether chronic use could contribute to the threat of antibiotic resistance, but a study of 100 patients who took Periostat for a year concluded that the pill was too weak to attack germs and thus was not a threat, Ciancio said.

How Gene Can Predispose People to Alzheimer's

Scientists said they might have worked out how a gene mutation can make certain people more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease than others. Researchers know that presenilin-1 (PS-1) is one of several genes involved in the development of the early-onset Alzheimer's disease that runs in families, but they do not know exactly how. "We're proposing one potential mechanism by which it would work," said Bruce Yankner, of Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts. He and his colleagues have shown that PS-1 stabilizes a signaling protein in the brain, called beta-catenin, that is involved in cell death or apoptosis.

Virtual Reality Autopsy on the Internet

Aspiring pathlogists can now hone their medical skills by performing a virtual reality autopsy on the Internet. Instead of a pathologist's knife, medical students can use a computer mouse to perform the virtual post mortem on the autopsy website created by staff and students at Leicester University in central England. "As far as we know this is the first virtual autopsy website,'' Dr Kevin West, a pathologist at the university, said. The website includes seven cases with information that would be available to a pathologist carrying out a real examination to establish the cause of death. Students can click and get the patient's history, such as his age, symptoms, what drugs he had been taking and any other relevant information. A dictionary also explains any unfamiliar medical terms and drugs. There are also investigations and findings of examinations. "The student, at any time, can guess the cause of death but we presume they will go as far as the autopsy,'' said West. To discourage voyeurs whole body images and faces are not used. Each case includes a body outline which students can use to choose which part of the anatomy they want to examine. West said some people might find the experience unpleasant but it is tame compared with some Internet images. "The images are not too bad. I don't think anyone will be grossly offended,"' he added. By clicking on the specific body part -- lung, body, heart, head -- students can examine tissue from that area. Then they can go to the causes of death list. "When they click to select the cause of death there will be a list which includes the right one, some near misses and some red herrings,'' West said. "If they choose something completely wrong they will get a slight rebuke for being so far away....Students are told if they get the right answer.'' The idea for the Internet site came from a student who approached members of the pathology department about a way to use his computing skills to improve his knowledge of pathology.

The virtual autopsy is designed for medical undergraduates in early training but anyone can try it on <>

Sent 21 December, 1998

Common Virus May Be Key Factor in Heart Attacks

A virus that infects more than half of all Americans may be a factor contributing to hardening of the arteries, the most common cause of heart disease, a U.S. research report released 12 November 1998 said. Preliminary research on animals linked cytomegalovirus (CMV) with atherosclerosis and suggested that the process begins early in childhood, said Dr. Archana Chatterjee of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Research scheduled to be presented at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America suggests the dormant CMV infection may play a role along with better-known risk factors in hardening of the arteries.

This bears out what I have suspected for many years - part of the phenomenum of ageing is what people do to each other when they spread viruses and bacteria. CMV is spread early in childhood, according to the study. This is often the period in people's lives when they are most highly concentrated - in schools.

Hopefully this research will produce better methods of treating circulatory diseases that appear amongst the elderly. It is now too late to do anything about spreading infections, but if the mechanism is known it will be easier to treat the problem.

Reducing the Spread of Flu

It pays to give healthy school-age children flu shots to control the spread of the disease and reduce the economic impact on society, according to research released 12 November 1998. While the group is not ordinarily targeted for annual flu shots, vaccinating them would result in less time lost from school, reduction in the spread of influenza to the general population and savings to parents who would have to take time off from work to care for a sick child, said Mary Nettleman, division chair, general internal medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Day-school children are the biggest vectors in spreading flu, often being the first to introduce it into a household. The wage earner(s) then take it to work. Christmas time is the big melting pot stirring up infections for the winter season, with people meeting casual friends and distant family members. The sense of occasion makes flu carriers "soldier on" feeling self gratified that they are taking the trouble to attend gatherings even though they feel rotten.

Nanotechnology memory application

Writing in The Daily Telegraph on 19 November, 1998, Roger Highfield described work by Gerd Binnig. Binnig was one of the developers of the scanning tunnelling microscope. He has now produced a device called the Millipede, which can store a gigabyte on a chip using STM technology. Ultimately, he hoped to store 1000 gigabytes per square inch and even higher. The work is being done at IBM's Zurich laboratory.

FDA Clears First Dental Device to Use Laser-Powered Water for Cutting Teeth

Revolutionary Technology Expected to Dramatically Reduce Patient Discomfort

BIOLASE Technology, Inc. (Nasdaq: BLTI) announced 12 October 1998 that it received marketing clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market MILLENNIUM(TM), a device based on an entirely new technology that uses a spray of laser-powered water to cut teeth. The core technology of the MILLENNIUM -- laser-energized, atomized water droplets that act as high-speed cutting particles -- offers multiple advantages, including significantly reduced discomfort for patients compared to conventional drills.

MILLENNIUM, which uses a patented HydroKinetic(TM) technology, is a water- based surgical system that combines the power of a laser with a high-precision water-spray to actually cut hard-tissue (tooth) surfaces. In a controlled, double-blind clinical trial comparing MILLENNIUM to conventional high-speed drills, 98.5 percent of MILLENNIUM patients reported no discomfort.

"I've used MILLENNIUM on many patients and have rarely had to use anaesthesia," says Dr. William Greider, DMD, MAGD, general dentist in Fort Meyers, Florida. "This device helps to address two of the greatest fears patients associate with the dentist -- the noise and pain of the drill, and the needles used to administer local anaesthesia."

Conventional dental drills use fine-chiselled points turning at high speeds to cut away at tooth surfaces. Millions of Americans experience fear and anxiety triggered by the pain of the abrasive action and the high-pitched whine of the drill. In a study conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, approximately 30% of adults reported that they experience moderate to high levels of dental fear.(a) And some experts estimate that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population does not receive regular preventive dental care, due largely to the fear and anxiety most of us have felt in the dental chair.

"MILLENNIUM is a breakthrough technology in the practice of dentistry," said Dr. Lewis R. Eversole, a professor of pathology and medicine at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry and the principal clinical investigator for the MILLENNIUM study. "In clinical trials, it demonstrated many advantages over conventional drills: no overheating and damage to teeth or gum bed; no vibration or high-pitched whine as experienced with mechanical drilling; and total biocompatibility with human tissue."

"This clearance is the pinnacle of several years of hard work, and I'm very proud of the fundamental milestones that the Company has achieved, such as the three FDA clearances we've received just in the past year," said Federico Pignatelli, Chairman of the Board of BIOLASE.

"This new FDA marketing clearance for MILLENNIUM positions us very well to be competitive in the marketplace. We are working hard to rapidly grow BIOLASE from an R&D mode to a marketing-focused mode with superb products and technological leadership that provide an excellent opportunity for us to quickly build market share," said Donald La Point, President and CEO of BIOLASE.

Water on the Cutting Edge

The method of action of the HydroKinetic(TM) hard tissue cutting system is novel. A laser is used to rapidly energize and transform atomized water droplets into microscopic, high-speed, water particles capable of cutting both hard and soft tissue. Cutting is achieved with a spray of cool, sterilized water.

In addition to today's clearance for marketing in hard tissue dentistry such as cavity preparation, caries removal, and tooth etching, the HydroKinetic platform technology received FDA clearance to be marketed for a broad range of cosmetic, dermatological and general surgical soft tissue procedures last year. MILLENNIUM has been available in Germany since 1997 for both hard and soft tissue dental applications. MILLENNIUM is also available in the European Community and in Canada.

The MILLENNIUM and Beyond...

Future applications for the MILLENNIUM and its patented HydroKinetic(TM) technology may include pedodontics, prosthodontics, bone implant surgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthopedic surgery, otolaryngology and ophthalmology.

BIOLASE Technology, Inc., based in San Clemente, CA, manufactures and markets advanced cosmetic, aesthetic, dental and surgical products, including laser systems and HydroKinetic(TM) surgical cutting systems, and develops specialized biomaterials for dentistry and other medical specialties. In mid-August, the Company launched a home product, the LazerSmile(TM) Toothbrush, an optical toothbrush that uses a light source to enhance whitening agents in a special toothgel compound developed by BIOLASE. In July of this year, the Company received FDA clearance to market SkinLaser, which is based on the technology acquired from Laser SkinToner, Inc. earlier in 1998. SkinLaser is the first non-invasive skin rejuvenation laser designed to reduce wrinkles and is being clinically tested for removal of stretch marks. In July 1997, the Company received clearance from the FDA to market DermaLase(TM), a laser-based HydroKinetic surgical tissue cutting system for a broad range of dermatological and general surgical soft tissue applications.

For more information:

Gatchel, RJ. (1989). The prevalence of dental fear and avoidance: Expanded adult and recent adolescent surveys. J Am Dent Assoc, Vol. 118, No. 5, pp. 591-593.

Vander Schaaf, R., & Higbee B. (1993). Curing dental phobias. Prevention, Vol. 45, No., p. 108

New margarine spread can lower cholesterol - study

A new margarine made with a fat-blocking derivative from pine trees can lower blood cholesterol by up to 14% in people who eat it, U.S. researchers reported. They said men and women with borderline-high cholesterol who ate the spread regularly lowered both their total cholesterol and their so-called "bad" LDL cholesterol, which clogs up arteries. The spread, sold under the name Benecol in Finland, will be launched in the United States later this year. Johnson & Johnson unit McNeil Consumer Products will sell the spread in the U.S. and plans to set up a manufacturing plant next year. It also plans a line of salad dressings.

Dolly cloners make deal with U.S. company

The scientific team that cloned Dolly the sheep has joined forces with a U.S. company to try to use their cloning techniques and genetic engineering to fight mad cow disease, the companies said.

They said they also wanted to clone animals whose organs could be used as transplants into humans. The U.S. company, Newtown, Pa.-based Kimeragen Inc., says the partnership will combine its new approach to gene therapy, called chimeraplasty, with the cloning technology developed by the Roslin Institute and PPL Therapeutics Plc to create Dolly. The collaboration agreement is between Kimeragen and Roslin Bio-Med Ltd., the biotechnology company set up by the Edinburgh-based Roslin Institute.

Brain plaque linked to cell death in Alzheimer's

Swiss scientists have come a step closer to understanding how Alzheimer's disease, the commonest form of dementia, affects the brain. By injecting mice with a mutant human gene involved in the illness they have shown for the first time that the buildup of plaque in the brain, a characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, is related to brain cell death, or neuron loss. "Amyloid plaque formation alone, just this one aspect of Alzheimer's disease, leads to neuron loss which is one of the major pathologies of the disease," Matthias Jucker, of the University of Basel, said

Scientists use neutron beams on brain tumours

British scientists are working on a radical new treatment for brain cancer that destroys the cancerous cells with neutron beams. Boron neutron capture therapy is already being tested on patients in the United States but it is only available at nuclear reactor sites where the beams can be safely generated. British scientists are testing new compounds and are planning to set up the world's first non-reactor BNCT site so cancer patients can be treated in clinics. "What we're creating here is a unique type of cancer treatment," said Professor Derek Beynon, of the University of Birmingham.

Cancer drug helps paralysed mice walk again

A drug originally developed to fight cancer has helped paralysed mice to walk again, researchers reported. The drug, known under its experimental name CM101, is one of a class of drugs known as angiogenesis inhibitors, which have received a great deal of attention lately because of their strong effects on tumours. They literally starve out tumours by preventing them from creating a new blood supply. A team led by Carl Hellerqvist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said the same process seemed to block the damage that makes a temporary trauma to the spinal cord turn into permanent paralysis.

The drug is licensed by the university to Carbomed of Brentwood, Tennessee and by Carbomed to British drug maker ZENECA GROUP PLC.

Internet revolution to sweep U.S. healthcare

What the Internet has done to picking stocks and buying flowers, it's also going to do to runny noses, broken legs and cancerous tumours. That was the message that Andy Grove, Chairman of semiconductor giant Intel Corp., and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop delivered at a conference that addressed the Internet revolution about to sweep the $1 trillion U.S. healthcare industry. Grove, who drew on the power of the Internet in his successful bout with prostate cancer several years ago, warned that U.S. healthcare companies faced what he called a "strategic inflection point" - a time to either embrace the Internet and apply its benefits or scramble to catch up with those who do.

Breast Cancer Prevention Drug Progress

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen to prevent the disease in healthy women, the drug's makers said. British pharmaceuticals and chemicals giant Zeneca Group Plc, said the FDA had, as expected, given it the go-ahead to market the drug, sold under the name Nolvadex, as a preventive measure for women at high risk of developing breast cancer. Zeneca said in a statement it had also finalized an agreement for Roche Laboratories to co-promote the drug in the United States. Tamoxifen has been shown in trials to reduce the risk of breast cancer in healthy women by 49%.

A drug that doctors hope can reduce the risk of both osteoporosis and breast cancer in women seems to be living up to its promise, cutting expected rates of breast cancer by 55 percent, researchers said on Friday. The drug, Eli Lilly's Evista, cut the cancer rate in half among women who had taken the drug over three years, Dr. Craig Jordan of the University of Chicago, who led the study, said. "For invasive breast cancer, these are the ones that kill you, there is a 63 percent decrease," Jordan said in a telephone interview. "So this is really good news for breast safety."

New data show up to 100 U.S. E.coli deaths yearly

Fifty to 100 Americans die annually from a virulent form of E.coli bacteria found mostly in ground beef, according to a preliminary analysis of food poisoning data, an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said. The information is part of a CDC project now underway to calculate more accurately how many Americans are sickened and die each year from contaminated hamburger, eggs, lettuce, milk and other foods. Dr. Patricia Griffin, chief of the CDC's food-borne diseases epidemiology section, cautioned that the numbers were tentative until a final report is completed in early 1999.

Colon cancer drug improves survival - studies

Two studies of a new drug for colon cancer have shown it improves the survival rates of patients whose disease has spread to other parts of their body, doctors said. Patients treated with the drug irinotecan in separate trials in Britain and France lived longer and with fewer symptoms of the disease. The drug is marketed by Swedish-U.S. drugmaker Pharmacia & Upjohn as Camptosar. More than 36% of the 189 patients who received the drug survived to one year, compared to just 13.8% of the 90 patients who were only given emotional support but no drug treatment.

French doctors report breakthrough in hepatitis C

French doctors have reported a "major breakthrough" in the treatment of hepatitis C, an illness that affects 170 million people worldwide. Professor Thierry Poynard, of the Groupe Hospitalier Pitie-Salpetriere in Paris, said an international study of more than 832 patients showed a combination drug therapy using inteferon and the antiviral drug ribavirin was more effective than interferon alone, the standard treatment. Most patients infected with the hepatitis C virus, which is transmitted by blood transfusions and sharing needles, are given interferon for 48 weeks. But only 15% to 20% manage to clear the virus from their bloodstream and recover.

Doctors regenerate human brain cells

Doctors said they had shown, for the first time, that human brain cells do divide and grow - something that opens great possibilities for treating brain damage caused by accidents and disease. And California doctors said they were preparing to start an experiment in which they will try to regenerate brain cells outside the brain and re-inject them into patients with diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to Parkinson's, as well as those with spinal cord injuries. Scientists say a series of recent experiments show the human brain is not as immutable as previously believed - and also show that interesting breakthroughs in which paralysed or brain-damaged rats and mice have been made to walk again may extend to humans.

Gene marker could predict colon cancer, study finds

Researchers said they had found a genetic change that could predict up to 40% of colon cancer cases. They found the change in both colon cancer patients and in healthy people - and hope it can be used to warn people at high risk of colon cancer. "It's the first cancer-related genetic alteration found at high frequency in healthy people," said Dr. Andrew Feinberg of Johns Hopkins University, who helped lead the study. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. This test should be better than the mass sigmoidoscopies proposed by some researchers as a way of catching colon cancer early. They freely admit that it is difficult to get people to come forward for this screening, particularly heterosexual males. However a pilot study is being run in the UK to determine whether mass sigmoidoscopy would be effective in reducing deaths from colon cancer in the over 60s.

Gene therapy grows new blood vessels on heart

Gene therapy has been used for the first time to grow new blood vessels to nourish the hearts of patients with severe blockages, doctors said. A team at Tufts University in Boston said the 16 men they used the new treatment on had less chest pain afterward and had to take fewer drugs. The treatment involved injecting a gene that controls production of VEGF, or vascular endothelial growth factor, which instructs the body to grow new blood vessels. Evidently the new blood vessels did grow, Dr. Jeffrey Isner and colleagues told a meeting here of the American Heart Association.

Tiny gene changes can mean big heart risk - studies

Subtle variations in a person's genetic make-up can greatly increase his or her risk of heart disease, researchers said. Sometimes these differences can be seen as early as childhood, some of the scientists told an annual meeting of the American Heart Association. And others are mysteriously linked to Alzheimer's disease, which causes dementia and death. But the Human Genome Project, in which scientists are hurrying to map out all 80,000 genes in the human body, should lead to tests for these genes, targets for drugs and even gene therapy, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, told the meeting.

Positive results on arthritis drug reported

A drug already being used to treat Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the bowel, also reduces symptoms and pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients, researchers said. Researchers said that the drug infliximad, made by Centocor Inc. and marketed under the brand name Remicade, reduced pain and symptoms of the chronic joint condition by 52% in patients receiving the drug compared to those not taking it. More than 2.5 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most severe forms of the disease.

Drug Arava slows rheumatoid arthritis - study

The recently approved oral drug for rheumatoid arthritis, Arava, significantly slows the progression of the debilitating disease, researchers said. A 12-month study of 482 patients revealed that those taking Arava, made by Hoechst Marion Roussel, had significantly less bone corrosion and joint space narrowing in the hands and feet compared to those not taking the drug. Patients in the trial taking Arava only had a 0.5% progression of rheumatoid arthritis compared to a 2.2% progression in those in the placebo group.

FDA approves soy health labels on food

Foods containing at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving may carry labels explaining the benefits of soy protein in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), the Food and Drug Administration said. The FDA said it has determined that making soy protein part of a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet can reduce the risk of CHD. It said studies have shown that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day can lower total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Alexion Provides Step Forward for Neuro Patients

Cells from genetically altered pigs have allowed rats to recover from spinal cord injuries and may eventually offer hope to thousands of paralyzed people around the world, researchers said. Researchers from Yale University School of Medicine and ALEXION PHARMACEUTICALS INC said the genetically altered pig cells restored normal nerve signal conduction in rats whose spinal cords had been severed. Researchers said they have already begun testing the method on monkeys with positive results. Alexion hopes to make a decision on whether to seek regulatory permission to start testing in humans in 1999 but said it was too early to say whether the technique would be effective.

'Magic bullet' virus kills tumors in mice - study

Scientists have discovered a common human virus that can target and kill cancer cells, researchers. Reovirus normally causes mild upper respiratory infections in humans, but when targeted to certain cell functions in laboratory mice it infected and destroyed tumors, said Peter Forsyth, a neural oncologist at the University of Calgary, who worked on the study. "This virus selectively attacks tumor cells and leaves normal ones intact," Forsyth said. "In some ways it can be thought of as a magic bullet." The reovirus uses the Ras pathway in the cells of the mice, the researchers wrote in a report in the journal Science.

There used to an idea floating about that people who "never get colds" are more prone to cancer ...

Self-diagnosis for recurrent urinary infection

Women with recurrent urinary tract infections, which affect 1 in 5, can successfully diagnose and treat their infections without repeat visits to the doctor, research showed. "Our study suggests that many women with a history of recurrent urinary tract infections can start the first sign of symptoms, thus sparing them the discomfort of waiting for a visit to the doctor and having a urinalysis to confirm the diagnosis," said Kalpana Gupta, a physician at the University of Washington.

Trust Funds

The subject of trust funds came up again in late November 1998 on Cryonet. I contributed this article:

The real difficulty I see is that most managed trust funds have the following disadvantages:

It has been said that it would be very difficult to direct a trust from a cryocapsule by demanding that the money be kept with the same companies. Someone doing this in the 1930s may have suggested General Motors, for example. This did do well for a time, but he would never have considered IBM or Intel, because they did not exist.

However there is an answer to this: Mutual Funds (or Unit Trusts in Europe). A unit trust can be devoted to a particular sector and the managers will do the best to maximise growth within that sector. Needless to say the best performers are technology trusts (or general growth trusts whose managers have by chance selected a lot of technology companies). If technology is to advance enough to make the reanimation of cryopreserved patient into good health possible, then such unit trusts or mutuals will grow phenomenally over periods of 60 to 100 years. If I am wrong, then no one investing in the hope of reanimation will ever know.

The high costs of running a reanimation or other specifically unusual trust are because society is structured so that people can claim these costs. In some countries, such people have to be members of gangs or cartels otherwise known as professions, but there must be some countries where this is not so. Other more reasonable costs could be due for the need to manage stocks. However a unit trust or mutual fund has this incorporated within it. The cost to individual unit holders for highly paid skilled management is quite small per unit held.

Bearing in mind that all the manager of a cryonics reanimation trust investing in unit trust or mutual funds has to do is to be there to fulfil a legal requirement - the actual work is done within the structure of the unit trust - it ought to be possible to get someone from within the cryonics community suitable qualified to volunteer his services for free.

We need a vehicle where people can put in say $1000 which will be earmarked as being his contribution to the reanimation fund if he is reanimated, and the whole reanimation fund is invested in a suitable unit trust or mutual fund. At the most conservative 12.5% $1000 would grow to over a million dollars in 60 years. I will leave it as an exercise for readers to work out what it would be at 30% per year (more likely if revivals do turn out to be possible.)

All existing ideas suffer from two problems that I see.

There is a very serious problem with item 1 in that assuming I am correct about technology growth, the money has to come for somewhere. That somewhere is a fall in value of "conventional" stocks, eg hospitality. Indeed the recent stock market turbulence has been seen as a fall in these stocks in favour of technology stocks. Intel and Microsoft, and the pharmaceutical majors, for example, fell very little. The market is recovering now with substantial rises in these aforementioned stocks pushing the index up, rather than recoveries in more conventional enterprises.

The problem with item 2 is that people investing all or most of their savings very correctly will seek professional advice. Any professional looking at reanimation funds will scratch his head and say he has to look into it. A few thousand dollars and perhaps a year or two later, he will advise his clients not to proceed. That is the safest option for him. If he says go ahead, and there is any problem, then he can be held accountable.

If on the other hand people can invest into a reanimation fund with a small part of their savings, then they can afford to take a chance based upon their understanding of the issues and their trust in the managers, and not go to a professional. In this case the managers will be fellow cryonicists. Unless the manager are not suspended, they will be held accountable, even if hundreds of years into the future.

I know I have written along these lines before. I hope that this time I have incorporated some of the objections raised and provided answers. Maybe this time there will also be objections, but one day this sort of "reanimation investment product" will appear, that I am sure of.

FDA advisers to consider first of new pain drugs

A drug for treatment of arthritis pain, the first of a widely anticipated group of new pain-relieving drugs, goes before a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel next week. The drug, Celebrex, made by Monsanto Co. unit G.D. Searle, is in a class of drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors that should be better suited for long-term use because they do not attack the stomach lining like other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. An estimated 16 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, the degenerative disease of the joints that affects virtually everyone over the age of 75.

Brain rewires itself in deaf, blind people - study

Two university studies on deaf and blind people released Monday provide further evidence that their brains "rewire" themselves to find uses for areas that would have been devoted to hearing or sight. Researchers at two U.S. universities used a procedure known as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to measure blood flow in the brains of deaf and blind people to show that areas associated with processing sounds and images remained active. "This shows the brain does, essentially, rewire itself," Victoria Morgan, a radiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., said in a report to the Radiological Society of North America.

Biotech companies face backlash if no ethical debate

Scientists and biotechnology companies pursuing genetic research should promote full and open debate on their work or risk public backlash which could halt their studies, a leading bioethicist said Monday. Senior Australian judge Michael Kirby said the debate on the cloning of human cells, sparked by the cloning of Dolly the sheep in Scotland in 1996, highlighted the risks when science outstrips debate on ethics. "Unless there is a proper, thorough explanation to the community of the scientific arguments for cloning, the natural response of a community ignorant of the potential benefits is to simply say 'this is unnatural...we should ban it,'" he said.

Anti-Aging Medicine in Mainstream

This is a largely unretouched article from a newsfeed:

The quest for the fountain of youth, which once led Spanish explorers to the wilds of Florida, now leads to quite a different places such as a small office park among the outlet shops, golf courses and boutiques lining the road to posh Hilton Head Island. Here at the Hilton Head Longevity Centre, as well as a growing number of other centres and medical practices across the country, doctors practising anti-aging medicine work to slow and even reverse the aging process.

What 15 years ago might have been considered medical sleight-of-hand has become mainstream medicine as doctors use hormone replacement therapy, nutritional supplements, diet and exercise programs to retard the effects of aging.

"The focus right now is on improving the quality of life,'' said Dr. Thomas Newton, co-founder of the Hilton Head centre that opened about a year ago and now has about 70 patients. Anti-aging medicine seeks to move life expectancy_ 76 to 79 years for Americans toward the limits of the human life span of about 120 years, allowing people to live longer, more active lives. Future medical advances might even increase the life span, Newton said.

Donna Powell wasn't necessarily looking to live longer when she arrived at the centre. She just wanted to live normally. She had symptoms that included hair loss, dry skin, low energy and cravings for food. A year and a half of tests with regular doctors found nothing. The clinic immediately diagnosed the condition as menopause, though she was just 45 and not having hot flashes. Doctors said she was a 45-year-old woman with a 55-year-old body. A month later, Powell was back to normal on a program of vitamin supplements, diet and exercise, and hormone replacement therapy. "It basically comes down to yourself,'' she said. "Am I worth this? Absolutely. I am ultimately responsible for my health and the direction of my life.'' She likes the idea of having doctors on the cutting edge of aging developments. "If you are doing the right thing with vitamins and exercise and eating habits, you are going to live longer,'' she said. "And they are going to hear about new things first.''

New patients at the 4,400-square-foot clinic take a dozen tests that measure things like heart and lung function, hearing sensitivity, memory, motor movement and body chemistry. They also discuss with doctors their lifestyle and future expectations. The results provide a blueprint for Newton, two other doctors and a staff of nurses to develop a treatment plan. Newton estimates that an anti-aging program started early enough, perhaps when a person is in his or her 30s, can add 20 quality years to life. Once looked at with skepticism by mainline medicine, anti-aging medicine is now a clinical medical specialty. The first board exam was given this past December and there are 150 doctors board certified in the discipline.

The Chicago-based American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, A4M for short, has 5,000 members and is doubling that every year. "Fifteen years ago, anti-aging medicine was science fiction,'' said Dr. Ronald Klatz, the academy's president. "Today's anti-aging medicine is hard core medical fact. There is no question we can slow the aging process for most people and reverse it for some.'' In five years, he predicted, anti-aging practices will be as common as other medical practices. As the 77 million baby boomers, about 29 percent of the population, approach old age, "either we start a national program to build nursing homes as fast as we can or we embrace a new paradigm of medicine which is anti-aging medicine,'' Klatz said.

Vicki Joy, a spokeswoman for the academy, said anti-aging is the ultimate preventative medicine. "If you can feel better and look younger and you can narrow the window of time at the end of your life when you are suffering from a terminal illness, why not do it?'' she asked.

New Version of Prozac may be targeted to obesity sufferers.

Eli Lilly and Co. has struck a deal to sell a purer form of Prozac, a strategy intended to counter the huge revenue loss when patents on the bestselling anti-depressant expire within five years. Under the deal announced 7 December 1998, Lilly will pay Sepracor Inc. $90 million plus royalties for the worldwide marketing rights to R-fluoxetine, a modified form of the active ingredient in Prozac. The new drug, still early in clinical trials, would not hit the U.S. market before 2001. But if it does, data suggests it will have fewer side effects than Prozac and may be more effective in treating other maladies such as obesity and premenstrual syndrome, said Lilly's top science officer, Dr. August Watanabe.

Cervical Screening Upgrade

Cervical smear screening has come in for much criticism in that it generates anxiety for results that are unreliable.

Now a new test for cervical cancer that recognises chemical changes in irregular cells could improve screening programmes and save lives worldwide, doctors said on 7 December 1998. The technique, dubbed the Campaign Test, is designed to be used with the standard Pap smear but will pick out and mark abnormal cells that can be easily missed in laboratory analysis. The Cancer Research Campaign said diaDexus, a diagnostics joint venture established last year by Smithkline Beecham PLC and Incyte Pharmaceuticals Inc, will develop and commercialise the screening test.

Scientists Hunt Way to Rebuild Bone

Millions of women with advanced osteoporosis can take drugs to stop the crippling disease from getting worse, but they can't regrow much lost bone. But scientists are studying a biologically engineered hormone that might one day help patients actually rebuild strong bones. "We have the beginning of a whole area of research into how to rebuild a skeleton and cure the disease," said Dr. Robert Lindsay, president of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and a lead investigator of the experimental drug, called recombinant parathyroid hormone. It will take several more years of testing before scientists know if parathyroid hormone, or PTH, works well enough to prescribe, cautioned Dr. David Sartoris of the University of California. But "it's a therapy that has a lot of promise."

BBC News Item on Genetic Screening

The Internet coupled with biotechnology is leaving the regulators behind, a BBC news item suggested on 14 December 1998. There are nearly100 sites on the Internet offering genetic screening, and test can be ordered by mail provided someone can be found to take the relevant samples.

The news item claimed that tests are available for genetic susceptibility to anything from bad teeth to fatal cancers. It suggested that people could be driven to panic if they received a bad prognosis, and make wrong lifestyle changes. However there is no control over who may buy these tests, and indeed anyone at all can set up a laboratory to offer then within the UK, never mind mailing overseas. There was a hint that unscrupulous people could get on the bandwagon and offer tests that were inaccurate through shoddy workmanship or indeed just random data. It suggested that tests should only be allowed through a GP (doctor) who would provide suitable counselling.

Of course people who know they are at risk from certain diseases could use the information to advantage, eg taking nutritional supplements targeted to whatever they are particularly at risk. However all this is still quite new, and the chances of spending a lot of money to achieve very little are high.

Not mentioned in the news story, but more exciting in my view, is genetic pharmacology - prescribing medicines based on an individual's genome. This will make pharmacology a much more exact science, and enable much more effective drugs to be administered. Once this is widely available, it should be possible, coupled with genetic screening, to make a real increase in the average age of death.

Further work on Diabetes and Obesity

Allelix Biopharmaceuticals Inc announced in December, 1998 that it has extended its research & development partnership with Eli Lilly & Co. The programs, focussing on psychiatric, neurological and eating disorders, are expected to generate potential product opportunities. The glutamate receptor program has been extended for two years. The scope of the program includes research on indications for psychiatric and neurological disorders. The second collaborative research program, targeting eating disorders, has been extended for a one-year period and is focussed on identifying novel genetic targets as tools for drug discovery in obesity and diabetes.

I still say Exterminate the House Mites

A new study confirms the long-term benefits of allergy shots, which virtually cured some children of their reactivity to dust mites in a 10-year study in Japan, researchers reported Monday. Allergy shots have been dogged by controversy despite their use for 80 years. Two well-publicized U.S. studies two years ago found they worked no better than the relatively new corticosteroid inhalers for severe asthmatics. But an expert not involved in any of the research said Monday, 14 December that most studies worldwide show that allergy shots work well when they are properly prepared, given for the correct problem and administered in high enough doses.

I still say that elimination of house mites would be preferable. One methos is to spray bedding and upholstery with liquid nitrogen, and vacuum off the mites whilst they are frozen and unable to cling to fibres. A better method would be some for of biotechnological attractant that attracts the mites to their death in exterminators such as sticky paper or electricity.

Pharmaceutical Investment, with Hindsight and Foresight.

In 1995 I wrote the following:

Bullish Annual Report from Warner Lambert

An aggressive, bullish annual report came from the pharmaceutical giant Warner Lambert this year. In 1996 the company plans to offer for marketing approval a new drug for diabetes, said to have the potential to be the company's best selling pharmaceutical. In addition, it is to offer what it claims to be the best lipid-lowering agent ever made.

Two revolutions are sweeping though its research program, one being more powerful ways of testing drugs, and the other being better methods of synthesising them. Previously, their best chemists could only synthesise about 50 new compounds/yr. Now the figure is measured in thousands. In terms of isolating new compounds, the figure has risen from 5,000/yr to 20,000/yr.

In those days, the quotation for Warner Lambert was about $13 (adjusted for numerous share splits).

Today, the prospect of PC driven individual gene analysers in every doctor's surgery is on the horizon. When these machines appear, pharmaceuticals can be tailored to the genome of the individual receiving them. No longer will it be "lets try this, if it doesn't work come and see me in three days time". It will be an exactly measured dose (probably far stronger than with the hit and miss method) that is almost guaranteed to work first time.

This means that many products considered today to be too dangerous for general use will be able to be marketed. With a medicine titrated exactly to the patient's needs and ability to assimilate, a much wider of conditions will be treatable pharmacologically, from gum disease to serious cancers. The losers will be the surgeons, and the massive infrastructure surrounding medical finance, as the cost of treating many conditions will go into free fall. Medicine will see the sort of recession that is the norm in the computer industry - a recession of falling prices but with markets widening faster than the prices fall. This will mean massive profits for the providers - the pharmaceutical companies, already basking in the results from automated discovery and development.

Today, 3 years later, the quotation for Warner Lambert is $75, and I am sure that it, and similar companies, is still worth buying at this price.

Study: Radical Heart Regimen Works

The longest study yet of Dr. Dean Ornish's radical heart-treatment regimen found more than two-thirds of patients stuck with the ultra-low fat program for at least five years and their heart health steadily improved. In contrast, heart patients assigned to conventional care - a moderately low fat diet and, in some cases, cholesterol-lowering drugs - steadily worsened over the same five-year period, Ornish and his colleagues reported in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. Without drugs, Ornish's 28 patients suffered half the rate of heart attacks and other adverse heart "events" such as bypass operations and angioplasty procedures, the study found. Twenty of the 28 completed all five years of follow-up.

Heinz Touts Benefits of Ketchup

Here's a new reason to pour ketchup on your next burger: It may help reduce your risk of cancer. With anemic growth in ketchup sales, the king of ketchup - Pittsburgh, Pa.-based HJ Heinz Co. - unfurled a marketing campaign in December 1998 to tout the health benefits of the processed tomato concoction. Heinz joins the growing number of food companies touting the health benefits of their products as it launches an ad campaign to show that its ketchup contains lycopene, an antioxidant which has been linked to reducing certain cancers. The print ads are scheduled for runs in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, USA Today, Health Magazine and Prevention.

Making Surgery Safer

Considering its deeply personal nature and the disastrous consequences of failure. It is surprising that surgery is performed in such an atmosphere of rush and tension. Airliners or even coaches could not be operated in such a risk prone environment. Nevertheless this simple idea is reducing the many risks.

The patient in surgeon Michael Schafer's Chicago operating room scrawled a note on his arm in felt-tip marker. It said, "I hurt here," with an arrow pointing to his elbow. In New York, Dr. Andrew Rokito's patient wrote "yes" on one leg and "no" on the other. Nearby, Dr. Steven Stuchin's patient lay with a pink ribbon she tied around her injured leg. The message was clear: Following surgical gaffes in which doctors amputated the wrong foot, removed the wrong kidney and opened the wrong side of a woman's brain, patients were frightened and mistrustful. Now hundreds of surgeons are getting the message and putting their John Hancocks on every Tom, Dick and Harriet who comes under the knife.

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