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Health in brief

Aging gene finding opens door to wider scope of research

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 17, 2003

Two scientific teams have discovered the genetic error that causes a rare premature aging disease in children, a breakthrough with potentially wide implications for treating the typical diseases of old age.

The premature aging disease, called Hutchinson-Guilford Progeria Syndrome, affects just several dozen children worldwide, who die in their teens of old-age maladies, usually cardiac diseases. But the researchers said the discovery of a single DNA mutation behind the condition might lead to a deeper understanding of degenerative cardiac conditions that kill millions of older adults.

The new research, published Wednesday in the journals Nature and Science, was driven, in large part, by Foxborough researcher Leslie Gordon of Tufts University School of Medicine, whose 6-year-old son, Sam, suffers from progeria.

Shortly after Sam was diagnosed four years ago, Gordon found there was virtually no research into progeria. She formed a fundraising group, collected tissue samples from progeria patients around the world, and soon her team had discovered the cause of the disease. French researchers, working independently, found the defect about the same time.

The discovery might have wider implications. Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health, who ran the just-completed Human Genome Project, said otherwise normal adults "may have a more subtle problem with this same part of their nuclear architecture," which leads to cardiac problems.

Stem cells injected into mice help treat MS

Raising hopes of a treatment for multiple sclerosis, researchers have found that stem cells injected into mice can repair damage and sharply reduce symptoms from an experimental form of MS.

Seven of 26 mice recovered completely from hind-leg paralysis and others showed substantial improvement after the stem cells were injected into their spinal cords or blood.

The study's authors, from the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, say they plan to try the procedure on monkeys using human stem cells, but caution a treatment for human patients, if possible, is years away.

Research on monkeys is expected to begin in the next few months, and the results are expected by the end of 2004, said Gianvito Martino, one of the study's authors.

Multiple sclerosis occurs because the body mistakenly attacks the fatty substance that surrounds nerve fibers, interfering with signals sent by the brain.

Symptoms can include slurred speech, numbness, blurred vision and muscle weakness, spasticity or paralysis.

About 400,000 Americans, mostly women, have MS, and most are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, according the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Therapies help slow the disease by quieting the immune system attack on nerves, but no cure is known.

Agent Orange spraying was higher, study says

A study has increased the estimate of how much Agent Orange and other dioxin-tainted defoliants the U.S. military sprayed during the Vietnam War.

It remains unclear whether the increased amount raises the illness risk of those exposed, scientists say.

Re-examining military records, researchers at the Columbia University School of Public Health determined about 21-million gallons of the herbicides were sprayed from 1961 to 1971 -- 1.84-million gallons, or 10 percent, more than previously believed.

About 55 percent of the defoliant was Agent Orange -- nicknamed for the color of the identification band on its storage containers.

Scientists said the other herbicides, such as Agent Pink, were closely related to Agent Orange but even more potent.

Details of the study appear in the current issue of the journal Nature.

1 in 4 patients get side effects from prescriptions

ATLANTA -- One in four patients who get prescription drugs from primary care doctors experience harmful side effects, a new study says.

The reactions -- such as rapid heart rate, sexual dysfunction, rash and nausea -- are four times higher than has been found for patients getting medications in the hospital, according to the study in Wednesday's New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings are significant because many more people get prescription drugs outside of a hospital, although most studies have focused on hospital-based reactions.

Poor communication between primary care doctors and patients contributes to the outpatient drug problems, with some allergies and drug interactions going unnoticed in rushed clinic visits, said the study's lead author, Dr. Tejal Gandhi of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"There are a lot of barriers to communication that you don't find in hospitals," Gandhi said. "If patients have to call the clinic, leave a message, wait for a call back and be asked to come in for a visit to report a problem, they may not."

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