Wait for Prostate Treatment May Be Over

April 18, 2010

By: Shelly Hwang

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men, with men having a one in six chance that they will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. While prostate cancer can be treated with surgery, a new treatment similar to radiation is being tested that may be able to more effectively target proteins on the surface of prostate tumors, providing hope even for patients with advanced prostate cancer.

Human prostate cancer cells can be recognized by overexpression of some proteins on their surface. The abundance of certain proteins provides a way to target these cancer cells by using antibodies. The antibodies will be binded to the isotope 212-lead, which is an altered form of the common element lead. When this antibody is injected into a patient’s veins, it will bind to a tumor’s surface and release particles and radiation that will destroy only the tumor cells.

Researchers in Zhongyun Dong’s laboratory at the University of Cincinnati are getting ready to test this new agent over the course of this year. They will measure how toxic and effective the treatment is in slowing down or blocking cancer cell growth. Then, the treatment will be used in clinical trials with patients with advanced prostate cancer.

Original Press Release

UC Academic Health Center

Time to Get Paranoid about your Thyroid

By: Shelly Hwang

April 3, 2010

Most young adults from the ages of 18 to 44 don’t give much thought to their thyroid, but a study published earlier this month in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association reveals increased risk of stroke in young adults with an overactive thyroid.

So what exactly is an overactive thyroid? Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, is a condition that causes overproduction of thyroid hormone, which increases metabolism and causes sweating, diarrhea, weight loss, and nervousness. Hyperthyroidism is common, affecting about 0.5-2% of the worldwide population, particularly young adults. The study shows an association between hyperthyroidism and ischemic stroke, which is the most common type of stroke caused by blocked arteries in or leading to the brain.

The study compared data on 3,176 young adults diagnosed with hyperthyroidism between January 1998 and December 2001 and 25,408 patients without thyroid disease, with the average age being 32 years. After five years, 198 of the 28,584 patients developed ischemic stroke (0.7%), with 1% of the hyperthyroidism patients and 0.6% of the comparison group having a stroke. After accounting for many factors such as age, gender, high blood pressure, diabetes, and an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation (AF), the risk of hyperthyroidism patients having a stroke was 44 percent higher than those without hyperthyroidism.

In adults over the age of 60, Hyperthyroidism is known to be associated with AF, which occurs when the heart beats irregularly and ineffectively and can lead to a stroke. However, the risk of stroke in younger people with hyperthyroidism has not been previously studied. This study could lead to a new screening process for young adults to help lower risk of developing a stroke sooner than expected.

Press Release

American Stroke Association

Discoveries in Diabetes, Depression, and Dementia

By Shelly Hwang

Diabetes, Depression, and Dementia are three of the most common medical conditions among Americans today. A recent study released on March 5 by a group of researchers at the University of Washington (UW) revealed that depression in diabetic patients doubles the risk of developing dementia, a finding that may affect the way that depression is screened and treated in order to prevent the development of other diseases.

Dementia is the gradual loss of cognitive and reasoning abilities, including memory loss, wandering, inability to do basic math, and forgetting familiar things or people.  Depression is a mental disorder marked by low mood and poor concentration. Diabetes is a medical condition in which a person has a high blood sugar level. While both diabetes and major depression have been shown to be separate risk factors for dementia, the effect of both diabetes and depression on dementia has not been studied. It turns out that adults with both conditions are twice as likely to develop dementia, compared with adults with only diabetes.

This project, led by Dr. Wayne Katon, a professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at UW, is a part of the Pathways Epidemiological Follow-Up study, which examines adults from the Group Health Cooperative’s diabetes registry. Patients from nine clinics in western Washington State were studied for five years. 163 of 3,382 (4.8%) patients with diabetes alone developed dementia, while 36 of 455 (7.9%) of the diabetes patients with major depression were diagnosed with dementia. This presents a 2.7 fold increase of dementia in diabetic patients with depression.

Depression is common among individuals with diabetes. Previous studies found depression increases mortality rate among diabetes patients, in addition to health complications. However, the way the two diseases interact is unknown. Perhaps they interact by genetics, increasing stress levels, or resulting in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, lack of exercise, and over-eating, which raise the risk of dementia. Diabetes is a known risk factor for dementia because it causes blood vessel problems, tissue damage, and increased blood sugar levels, which all increase odds of developing dementia. Although the link between depression, diabetes, and dementia is still not understood, it is useful for doctors to screen and treat for depression as a preventive measure against the development of cognitive deficits or dementia in diabetic patients.

Original Press Release

VA Puget Sound Health Care System Clinical Research Unit

Info on Dementia

Flu to the rescue!

By Shelly Hwang

February 17, 2010

It’s flu season, and with the H1N1 virus being the spotlight of current news and the CDC pushing for nation-wide flu vaccination, people have become terrified of the influenza virus. However, a recent study done by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine (published in the February 18 issue of Cell Host and Microbe) revealed that the stress response caused by the flu actually protects against death by secondary infection by using mice with bacterial infections.

Influenza can damage the lungs but usually does not kill. However, secondary infections such as pneumonia can occur after infection with the influenza virus and are much more deadly. Each year, more than 200,000 U.S. residents are hospitalized for flu-related complications, and about 36,000 Americans die on average per year from complications of the flu (CDC Statistics).

While previous studies on the flu have shown repressing of the immune system, such studies have only studied a single pathogen and focused on local effects of influenza at the site of infection. In reality, organisms are exposed to multiple infectious agents at a time and the effect of influenza on the whole immune system has not been studied.

This study, led by Dr. Rusian Medzhitov from the Department of Immunology, used a mouse model to examine the effects of the lung infection caused by influenza on the immune response to bacterial infection. Surprisingly, the researchers found that the influenza lung infection led to increased production of glucocorticoids (GC), which are produced in response to stress and known to play a key role in regulating inflammation. They found that virus-induced GC production is essential to controlling inflammation, as shown by the death of mice lacking GC’s that were infected by multiple pathogens.

So the next time you find yourself miserable and overwhelmed with the unpleasant flu FACTS symptoms (Fever, Aches, Chills, Tiredness, Sudden symptoms), remember to thank the virus for protecting you from fatal secondary infections.

Press Release

Department of Immunobiology at Yale

Advances in Anesthesia: Being asleep while being awake

By Shelly Hwang

This past winter, I had the opportunity to work as what you would call, a nurse’s assistant. Basically, I cleaned hospital beds. But during this glamorous experience I was able to see nurses and doctors interact with patients before and after surgery. One of the key issues that repeatedly came up was anesthesia. Patients would be asked questions such as “are you allergic to any medications?” and “have you had any reactions to anesthesia before?” before entering surgery. Afterwards, their vitals would be closely monitored to ensure they return to their normal state after the anesthesia wore off.

Anesthesia is essential for its frequent use in otherwise painful surgical and medical procedures. However, anesthesia is not without its flaws. While anesthesia helps to achieve nerve blocks that can eliminate the feeling of pain, it often affects and impairs motor function. This is why patients are often unconscious, immobile, and sometimes unable to breathe on their own. A recent press release reports on a study conducted by a group of researches at the Children’s Hospital Boston. The researchers, led by Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, of the Division of Critical Care Medicine at Children’s were originally studying surfactants, naturally-occurring agents that allow drugs to travel more easily through tissue, that would prolong the effects of anesthesia. However, to the surprise of the researchers, they discovered a potential new approach to anesthesia that would prolong the effects of anesthesia without causing a motor block.

While testing three types of surfactants along with anesthetics, the researchers found that sensory block in rats’ nerves were lengthened for up to 7 hours or more, but in many cases the rats did not experience motor impairment or experienced it for a very short duration. What’s next is figuring out the mechanism by which this approach works, and looking at the effects of other drugs and chemicals that may be used in anesthesia. If this approach proves to work on humans, it would have a monumental impact on the fields of anesthesia and medicine. From allowing women in labor to receive anesthesia while giving birth, to relieving individuals with musculoskeletal disorders from pain while allowing for the maintenance of  mobility, this anesthetic approach would bridge the gap between relief of pain and motor ability.

For more information.

Anesthesia at the Children’s Hospital Boston.