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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2012 7:53 am 
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Private cancer services to expand

The Hunter's cancer treatment options are about to expand with Lake Macquarie Private Hospital announcing it has got licences for two linear accelerators.

The State Government is coming under increasing pressure over long waits for cancer treatment at the region's public hospitals.

A Hunter Cancer Plan, due for completion next month, is expected to prompt extra Government funding.

But in the meantime, CEO of Lake Macquarie Private, John Pitsonis says private radiation treatment services will be boosted from next year.

"The total development is a multi-million dollar development, but that includes construction," he said.

"It's a complex exercise, the equipment is very expensive, staffing is very intense.

"We will look to integrate the outpatient medical radiation oncology service with our broader range of cancer services."

Mr Pitsonis says he expects there will be a measurable impact on waiting times.

"At the end of the day, the only comprehensive cancer service in Newcastle and the Hunter is in the public hospital system - at the Calvary Mater," he said.

"It's under huge demand, and the establishment of the private service will take pressure off the public system, and will enable private patients to be treated at this hospital."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-06-15/p ... nd/4072542


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:44 am 
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New info for breast cancer sufferers

Women diagnosed with early breast cancer now have a clearer picture about the risk of the disease spreading.

An Australian study of more than 6000 women has found about one in 20 women (5 per cent) with cancer confined to the breast went on to develop metastatic cancer in other organs within five years.

The risk for women with breast cancer which had spread to surrounding tissue or the lymph nodes developing metastatic cancer was about one in six (18 per cent).

The survey of more than 6000 NSW women with non-metastatic breast cancer, who were initially diagnosed in 2001 and 2002, has now given doctors better information to answer a question asked frequently.

'It's a question women have been demanding information for,' researcher Dr Sarah Lord from the University of Sydney said.

'Most women can expect a very good outcome from a diagnosis of breast cancer, but they do have ongoing concerns and questions about risk and recurrence.

'They just haven't had general information about those risks.

'I think it is going to be an important starting point for doctors' discussions with patients about the risk of relapse,' she said.

The study looked at two groups of women with breast cancer.

It included women with localised cancer, who had a tumour confined to the breast, and regional, where cancer had spread to the lymph nodes or surrounding tissue.

Dr Lord said breast cancer survival rates had continued to improve over the past 20 years along with significant advances in treatments.

She also emphasised many women will have lower risks than the study's general population estimates.

'Doctors obviously need to have more individualised discussion with patients about what factors will influence their individual risks,' Dr Lord said.

Director of medical oncology at Sydney's Westmead Hospital, Associate Professor Nicholas Wilcken, said it was reassuring that the majority of women did not experience a recurrence within five years.

However, he said breast cancer was highly variable and women with recurring disease could deteriorate rapidly, or live well for many years.

The study examined only women who relapsed within five years, and patients with cancer that returned after a longer period often do better, he said.

The research was published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday.

http://bigpondnews.com/articles/Health/ ... 62126.html


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 7:22 am 
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Evolutionary principles of natural selection may be applied to successfully manage cancer

According to researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center, cancer is subject to the evolutionary processes laid out by Charles Darwin in his concept of natural selection. Natural selection was the process identified by Darwin by which nature selects certain physical attributes, or phenotypes, to pass on to offspring to better "fit" the organism to the environment.

As applied to cancer, natural selection, a key principle of modern biology, suggests that malignancies in distinct "microhabitats" promote the evolution of resistance to therapies. However, these same evolutionary principles of natural selection can be applied to successfully manage cancer, say Moffitt researchers who published an opinion piece in a recent issue of Nature Reviews Cancer.

"Understanding cancer as a disease starts with identifying crucial environmental forces and corresponding adaptive cellular strategies," said Robert A. Gatenby, M.D., chair of the Department of Diagnostic Imaging. "Cancer is driven by environmental selection forces that interact with individual cellular adaptive strategies."

Cancer cell development, like any natural selection (or Darwinian) process, is governed by environmental selection forces and cellular adaptive strategies, the authors wrote. Investigating cancer and its proliferation through genetic changes and ignoring the adaptive landscape is most likely futile. Under "selective pressure" of chemotherapy, in this case the "adaptive landscape," resistant populations of cancer cells invariably evolve.

The authors say that tumors can be thought of as "continents" populated by multiple cellular species that adapt to regional variations in environmental selection forces. Their strategy in offering this metaphor, they wrote, is to "integrate microenvironmental factors at work during cancer's progression" into the model of the evolution of cancer and, particularly, the evolution of drug resistance.

"Hundreds of mutations can be found in tumors," said co-author Daniel Verduzco, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at Moffitt. "The physical environment of the early tumor is constantly changing, often in response to inflammation."

This reality should remind us, they wrote, that natural selection selects for phenotype, for observable physical characteristics, and that natural selection forces at work in local environments causes populations to change phenotypically rather than genotypically.

The authors point out that for most patients with advanced cancers — even when there is a well-known target and a highly specific drug — response to therapy is fleeting owing to the evolution and proliferation of a resistant population of cancer cells.

While targeted therapies have been among the most recent approaches to treating cancer, the authors suggest that the vast changes in the genetics of tumors via mutations reduce the effectiveness of targeted therapies and are a reason why targeted therapies cease to work.

"The emergence of resistance is predictable and inevitable as a fundamental property of carcinogenesis," Gatenby said. "However, this fundamental fact is commonly ignored in the design of treatment strategies. The emergence of drug resistance is rarely, if ever, dealt with until it occurs."

http://www.news-medical.net/news/201206 ... ancer.aspx


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2012 5:51 am 
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Cardiologist Keith Woollard to front tribunal over conduct

PERTH cardiologist Keith Woollard is expected to give evidence at a hearing into his professional conduct tomorrow.

The former president of the Australian Medical Association has been accused of careless or incompetent conduct in relation to an angioplasty he performed on a 70-year-old woman six years ago.

The Medical Board has alleged Dr Woollard, the husband of independent MP Janet Woollard, inflated a catheter balloon - the instrument used in the blood vessel widening procedure - beyond the recommended level.

The State Administrative Tribunal was told today the recommended level for inflation of a balloon catheter was 14 atmospheres.

Dr Woollard is accused of inflating the balloon to 18 atmospheres.

The board further alleges the balloon then burst and caused a tear in the artery. The patient then needed surgery to repair the damage.

The procedure, which was being performed to clear a lesion in the woman’s right artery, took place at The Mount hospital in August 2006.

This is the second matter concerning Dr Woollard to be dealt with by the tribunal this year.

The Sunday Times revealed at the weekend an interim order had been put in place preventing the medical practitioner from performing angioplasties without the consent of a review panel made up of fellow cardiologists following a different complaint.

It is understood this complaint alleges Dr Woollard failed to make sure anticoagulant was administered before performing an angioplasty on a different patient a few years ago.

The Medical Board applied to have Dr Woollard stripped or suspended from practising medicine in relation to the separate complaint.

As a result Dr Woollard will have to submit detailed reports to the Medical Board about every patient he sees while an investigation into his conduct is carried out.

He will also have his reports examined by a board-selected peer before submitting the details to the medical regulator every month.

The tribunal hearing in to allegations he acted careless or incompetent continues.

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western ... 6409512094


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2012 7:47 am 
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New cancer survival report

Cancer survival rates have slowly climbed in New South Wales with a specific improvement among men, according to a Cancer Institute NSW report out this week.

Men’s five-year survival is now 63%, up from 61% in 2003, while women’s survival remains steady at 66%.

Five-year survival is now over 90% for cancer of the prostate, testes, thyroid, lip and skin. Breast cancer survival is close behind at 88.3%, or 97% when diagnosed early. However people diagnosed with oesophageal, liver or lung cancer have a greater than 80% chance of dying within five years.

http://www.oncologyupdate.com.au/latest ... val-report


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2012 5:28 am 
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Medical discoveries going to waste

RESEARCHERS have warned that Australia is failing to translate its world-beating medical and scientific breakthroughs into commercial success, and have called for funding to be revamped to ensure taxpayers and scientists get a better return on their inventions.

The peak body for medical research institutes has told a federal government review that despite producing 3 per cent of the world's scientific papers on medical science or treatments, Australia accounts for less than 0.8 per cent of "triadic" patents -- those lodged for the same invention in Europe, the US and Japan.

In a submission to the McKeon review, set up last year to prepare a strategic plan for the nation's health and medical research for the next decade, the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes says the translation of taxpayer-funded research into commercial success is "poor by international standards".

The low score for triadic patents means Australia languishes in 20th place among OECD nations, a far lower position than its contribution to global medical discoveries would indicate.

"This represents tens of thousands of inventions not capitalised on each year," the submission says.

The problem is caused by structural and cultural factors, including the fact that researchers face pressure to spend their time preparing peer-reviewed papers for publication rather than working on patent applications or other commercial efforts, because funding for the institutions they work for depends on the former.

The two major public funding bodies, the National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council, also explicitly forbid using their grant funding to cover patent application costs.

AAMRI executive officer Nicole den Elzen said while the NHMRC did provide some funding for "proof of concept" studies designed to take research to the next level by demonstrating a commercial case, this was seen as too limited to be effective.

"There just isn't enough funding to get to that first step, to show that this (discovery) has got legs," Dr den Elzen said.

Anna-Maria Arabia, chief of Science and Technology Australia, the peak body for the science sector, said there was "a lot of pressure on researchers to commercialise, without the supportive structures they need".

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/he ... 6417249758


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:39 am 
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Bush launches Africa cancer project

FORMER US president George W. Bush on Thursday launched a $US3 million ($2.9 million) initiative to fight cervical cancer in Botswana.

The funds would be used to improve treatment and streamline operations at the Princess Marina hospital, south of the capital Gaborone.

"It is important to empower women and make a positive change in their lives," said Mr Bush as he launched the program on the last stop of an Africa tour.

The project is funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and supported by the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partnership.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in Botswana and the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the country. Women living with HIV are more at risk of being affected by the disease.

Mr Bush this week started his trip in Zambia, where he launched a clinic, in a joint venture between the George Bush Institute and the Zambian government.

Last year Mr Bush and his wife Laura opened a campaign for cervical and breast cancer treatment in one of the country's slums.

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaki ... 6418473078


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2012 5:24 am 
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Smartphone stethoscope in with a chance

A MEDICAL device that could saves the lives of millions of Third World children is the Australian entry in an international competition to find software solutions to global problems.

The digital stethoscope is attached to a smartphone, which listens to and digitises a pneumonia patient's breathing sounds and patterns. Those patterns are then compared against a medical database using cloud technology to deliver an automated diagnosis and treatment plan via an app on the smartphone.

It's cheap, doesn't rely on the need for delicate medical equipment in remote locations, and appears to be a promising candidate to win the Imagine Cup, a showcase for young academic talent for which 75 countries are competing at the Sydney Convention Centre.

Hon Wen Chong, 26, heading the Australian entry from the University of Melbourne, said the technology was being reviewed by the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne to attain research status before field trials.

Mr Chong, who has almost completed his studies to become a doctor, said: ''We need to do a research trial to validate the system and check that it survives in rain and hail. We need to ensure that it is safe. The last thing we want to do is create an app or intervention that kills more people than it is supposed to save.''

Other ideas in the competition include:

Germany A navigation system to reduce the emission of cars. The system can calculate the best route for each car and communicate that to each driver. It reportedly helps drivers save time, avoid traffic jams and reduce carbon monoxide emissions.

Kazakhstan A cloud-based system called Archangel designed for people who are in emergency situations. It consists of mobile and desktop applications and a drone, which can be used to deliver first-aid kits, medicines or other necessities.

Jordan A ''dancing pillow'' that wakes hearing-impaired individuals and those with sleep disorders using light, vibration, sound and smell.

http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/technol ... 21nqx.html


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:25 am 
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Now, treatment that only kills cancer cells

Melbourne scientists are trialling a breakthrough blood cancer treatment aimed at killing rogue cells while leaving the healthy ones largely unharmed.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre specialists found that cancer cells could be selectively killed by blocking the production of ribosomes, which are essential to the growth and survival of the cells, News.com.au reported.

"What is really quite remarkable and was quite unexpected was that normal cells are not so dependent on this formation of the ribosomes," the co-head of Peter Mac''s Cancer Therapeutics Program, Grant McArthur, said.

"This is an exciting new concept to what is really a bit of a ''Holy Grail'' in cancer treatments.

This means the treatment would be hard on the cancer but softer on the patient, he said.

"We''re always trying to come up with new cancer drugs that will kill the cancer and leave the normal cells in the body relatively unaffected or only with minimal side-effects," Prof McArthur said.

"There is a big push on to come up with new treatments that meet those criteria so we''re hopeful that this might be an example of that."

Prof McArthur and Associate Professor Ross Hannan worked with Californian biotechnology company Cylene Pharmaceuticals to develop a treatment that would block the cellular process.

The drug, CX-5461, is given intravenously like chemotherapy.

But, unlike chemotherapy which damages cell DNA, the new treatment specifically targets part of the cell called the nucleolus to interrupt the production of ribosomes.

The research was published recently in the journal Cancer Cell.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life ... 806161.cms


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2012 5:20 am 
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'Master switch' drug kills cancers

An experimental "master switch" drug could be effective against a wide range of cancers, say scientists.

The enzyme-blocking drug, called a kinase inhibitor, targets a number of pathways that control the growth and death of cancer cells.

It acts like several different drugs working at the same time.

Scientists believe switching off cell signals at multiple points should make cancer treatment more successful and delay drug resistance.

Laboratory tests showed that the new drug, given the codename AT13148, can kill a variety of cancer types including sarcoma, breast and prostate. The findings are published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Dr Michelle Garrett, from Cancer Research UK's Cancer Therapeutics Unit at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: "Our study shows that this drug is effective against a range of tumour types, and operates by blocking multiple targets.

"These promising results have led to the decision to take the drug into patient trials."

The molecule was discovered by collaborating scientists from Astex Pharmaceuticals, the Cancer Research UK company Cancer Research Technology, and the Institute of Cancer Research.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager, said: "This is exciting research showing that this experimental drug does the job of several drugs all at once, by targeting numerous weak spots in cancer cells.

"Using one master switch to turn off the different faulty messages forcing cancer cells to keep growing could be an effective way to destroy tumours. It could also reduce the chance of patients becoming resistant to treatment."

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpres ... 931572869A


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2012 6:44 am 
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Liver cancer study to help prolong lives

The Royal Hobart Hospital is taking part in an international study that could prolong the lives of people with liver cancer.

The hospital is joining 72 hospitals worldwide administering treatment to eligible patients with secondary liver cancer.

The treatment combines chemotherapy with internal radiation therapy.

The Australian-invented internal therapy involves injecting microscopic radioactive particles into the bloodstream of the liver.

Dr Louise Nott is confident the treatment can prolong lives.

"[It will] improve the quality of their lives and enable them to have much more durable remissions from their disease," she said.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-13/l ... es/4128896


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2012 5:20 am 
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Stem cell discovery important for cancer

A Melbourne scientist is hopeful the discovery of a unique marker on stem cells from the gut, liver and pancreas, could lead to early cancer diagnoses - as well as the development of new treatments.

Professor Martin Pera from Stem Cells Australia helped develop an antibody that identifies and isolates the marker, which sits on the outer surface of stem cells - as well as another type of cell called a Progenitor.

These cells are particularly hard to find in the pancreas and liver.

By identifying the markers, the cells could be isolated and extracted for study in the laboratory.

That has allowed the scientists to observe what happens to the cells during the disease process, and during repair and regeneration.

http://bigpondnews.com/articles/Health/ ... 72897.html


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2012 5:19 am 
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Nano-technology questions spread sunscreen concern

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: When it comes to the making and marketing of sunscreens, size may well matter. Tiny ingredients calls "nano-particles", about the size of atoms and molecules, are now part of many lotions. Even though the jury's out on whether they're safe or not, consumers are already making up their own minds and creating a market for sunscreens that are supposedly "nano-free". But there are allegations that an Australian company promoting non-nano sunscreen ingredients has been engaged in misleading conduct. Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER, REPORTER: Australians are four times more likely to develop a skin cancer than any other form of cancer. So for decades the advice has been clear.

TV ADVERTISEMENT: Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat.

SIMON LAUDER: No one under the sun questions the wisdom of slopping on sunscreen, but more consumers are now questioning what it is they're rubbing on to their skin - particularly the smallest of ingredients: nano-particles.

GREGORY CROCETTI, NANOTECHNOLOGY CAMPAIGNER, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: We think this is a serious issue because people around the world are concerned about nano-particles in sunscreens.

SIMON LAUDER: Australian factories churn out millions of litres of sunscreen each year. A key ingredient is zinc oxide. In some sunscreens the zinc oxide is so small it's measured in billionths of metres, making it nano-particle size. When it is that small, the zinc oxide rubs on clear instead of cloudy, and instead of reflecting UV radiation it absorbs it. That's where the concerns arise.

THOMAS FAUNCE, ANU LAW AND MEDICINE: I don't think there's been enough studies to conclusively say they're safe in all applications to human beings.

SIMON LAUDER: The concern is that nano-particles may set off a reaction that alters DNA and damages cells. But that's under debate.

PAUL WRIGHT, HEAD, NANOSAFE RESEARCH GROUP, RMIT UNIVERSITY: In the case of nano-sunscreens, which we've done a lot of research on in the last few years, we've found that nano-sunscreen materials are as equally well tolerated by human skin and immune cells as the bulk sunscreen materials.

IAN OLIVER, CEO, CANCER COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: 1,800 people die of skin cancer each year. We don't have any evidence that nano-particles in sunscreens have caused any harm at all.

SIMON LAUDER: Despite the inconclusive science, a market has emerged for so called "nano-free" sunscreen. The environment group Friends of the Earth prints a guide for consumers.

GREGORY CROCETTI: Last summer we had over 50,000 downloads of our guide and distributed tens of thousands of copies around Australia, including to most schools in Australia as well.

SIMON LAUDER: For several years an Australian company called Antaria has been filling the demand for nano-free sunscreens. Its flagship product is a zinc oxide powder called ZinClear-IM, which is now distributed worldwide. ZinClear-IM is the main raw ingredients in 10 sunscreens which appear in the Friends of the Earth safe sunscreen guide. But in February, Friends of the Earth was alarmed to discover that testing by the National Measurement Institute has showed some of its recommended sunscreens contain nano-materials. The guide was shredded.

GREGORY CROCETTI: So with all of these different groups, all of these different people looking to our guide to give them nano-free option, where are they meant to turn? What are they meant to do now?

SIMON LAUDER: After that, Friends of the Earth commissioned the National Measurement Institute to take a look at the patent which describes the formula for ZinClear-IM. The Institute's conclusion: it is a nano-material as defined by international and Australian industrial standards.

GREGORY CROCETTI: It appears that ZinClear-IM is an aggregate, or a cluster... is made up of clusters of nano-particles. By marketing that as non-nano to customers and to the share market, it's not right.

SIMON LAUDER: Antaria's chairman, Rade Dudurovic, has issued a statement denying allegations from Friends of the Earth.

STATEMENT BY RADE DUROVIC, CHAIRMAN, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH (voiceover): We reject the assertions made in your correspondence which allege we mislead the public regarding ZinClear-IM. We confirm that the zinc oxide in our ZinClear-IM dispersion is of a non-nanoparticle size.

SIMON LAUDER: Friends of the Earth has now lodged a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleging Antaria's promotion of ZinClear-IM as non-nano needs to misleading and deceptive complaint. The complaint is endorsed by the Australian Education Union and the ACTU. Antaria would not be interviewed but told 7.30 it's invited Friends of the Earth to come and do its own tests on a sample of the product.

GREGORY CROCETTI: We've given them months and months to really show some... to prove that ZinClear-IM isn't a nano material and that's why we're coming out now with these allegations.

SIMON LAUDER: Some high profile labels are among the sunscreen brands affected - including three Cancer Council sunscreens, Invisible Zinc and Woolworths Clear Zinc. Their labels say their products are safe to use and the Council says it does their own testing on their sunscreens.

IAN OLIVER: They are nano-free and our testing would show that. They're talking about the raw product that makes them and whether there could be clusters of nano-particles in those, but if they don't appear in the final product then that's what's important to us.

SIMON LAUDER: But even using sophisticated laboratory techniques, nano-materials can be difficult to detect.

PAUL WRIGHT: The actual measurements of nano-materials is quite a difficult issue, and in the case of dynamic light scattering it can be easily confounded by just a few large particles swamping the whole signal.

SIMON LAUDER: The revelations about ZinClear-IM has prompted one company, Mukti Organic Skincare, to recall its tinted moisturiser with sunscreen. It's now over to the ACCC to judge whether Antaria's marketing claims were misleading or deceptive. But for now there's nothing to stop Australian manufacturers labelling their products non-nano, and nothing compelling to them to declare nano ingredients on labels.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration believes nano-particles don't go any deeper than the outermost layer of skin, and there's no need for labelling. New Zealand's regulator says the adverse effects of nano-materials in sunscreen are uncertain. It's just announced that nano-sunscreens must be labelled by 2015, in line with new European regulations.

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3552740.htm


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 6:10 am 
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Potential biomarker to predict lung cancer patients' response to chemotherapy

Patients with the most common type of lung cancer are notoriously insensitive to chemotherapy drugs, including cisplatin. New findings related to the cellular pathways that regulate responses to cisplatin have now been published by Cell Press on July 26th in the journal Cell Reports. The findings reveal a potential biomarker that can be used to predict how these patients will respond to chemotherapy, as well as the patients' overall prognosis, paving the way for personalized treatment strategies.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in men, and it is frequently treated with cisplatin. However, responses are often brief and ineffective because cancer cells become resistant to cisplatin-induced cell death. "We were interested in finding new genes, proteins, and pathways that would govern the response to cisplatin and might explain cisplatin resistance," says senior study author Guido Kroemer of INSERM-the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

To identify factors that affect whether cells die in response to cisplatin, Kroemer and his team performed a genome-wide screen in which they interfered with the expression of tens of thousands of genes in cells from patients with NSCLC. They identified 85 factors that modify drug responses, including pyridoxal kinase (PDXK), an enzyme that converts vitamin B6 precursors into their active form.

Treatment with a vitamin B6 precursor enhanced the anti-tumor effects of cisplatin in mouse models of lung cancer and promoted cisplatin-induced death in a variety of cancer cell lines, but only when PDXK was present. Moreover, NSCLC patients with high expression levels of PDXK had higher survival rates than those with low levels of the enzyme, regardless of whether they were being treated with cisplatin.

Together, the findings point to PDXK as an easy-to-monitor potential biomarker for predicting both the responses of NSCLC patients to cisplatin and their general outcomes. "Patients who have high levels of PDXK might benefit from combination therapies of cisplatin and vitamin B6," Kroemer says. "However, for those patients whose tumors express low levels of PDXK, new strategies of cancer treatment have to be developed."

http://www.news-medical.net/news/201207 ... erapy.aspx


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 29, 2012 6:42 am 
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Writing With Eyes Could Allow Paralyzed People To Communicate, Neuroscientists Say

People "locked in" by paralyzing disorders such as Lou Gehrig's disease have long relied on blinks or facial twitches to build sentences one letter at a time. But they soon might be able to take advantage of a simpler, faster mode of communication, new research suggests. With the help of an old optical illusion, people can train their eyes to write and draw in cursive on a computer screen as quickly as they can write with a pen. In addition to providing a new medium for self-expression, the technique challenges traditional ideas about the limits of human vision.

In 1970, illusionist and cognitive psychologist Stuart Anstis of the University of California, San Diego, was playing around with a common visual trick when he stumbled on a strange phenomenon. He was moving white dots around by hand, photographing them in different positions, and then projecting them in rapid succession to create phi motion—the visual illusion that the dots are moving. Feeling frugal, he refused to throw out the film negatives and had them made into slides as well. He accidentally slipped one of the negative slides into the projector wheel. As the dots switched to black and then back to white, their direction of movement appeared to reverse. He dubbed the odd, flickering effect "reverse phi motion." The illusion helped reveal that when the brightness of an object changes rapidly; our brain "sees" the object moving in the opposite direction.

Four decades later, cognitive neuroscientist Jean Lorenceau of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris was idly watching a reverse phi motion illusion on a computer screen when he noticed that as his gaze drifted across the field of flickering dots, it looked as if the field was moving in the same direction as his eye movements. This enabled him to do something that had previously been thought impossible, he says: control and sustain the continuous eye motion we use to track moving objects, such as a car driving along road. Called smooth pursuit, this eye motion is different from saccadic motion, in which we rapidly shift our eyes to, say, skim lines of text or scan a crowd. One reason that smooth pursuit is so difficult to start and maintain, says Lorenceau, is that in normal tracking situations the background constantly slips away from the object in motion, inducing saccades. But in a reverse phi illusion, Lorenceau explains, the background moves with the gaze, like a wave. All a viewer has to do, he says, is learn to "surf."

Using eye-tracking technology that recorded his eye movements with a video camera, he found that he could gain enough control over his smooth pursuit eye movements to write letters and numbers and even sign his name using only the motion his eyes created on the screen. To determine if other people could learn the technique, Lorenceau designed his own reverse-phi display with 200 disks that switch between black and white and are projected on a gray background.

Over three 30-minute sessions, he trained six volunteers to surf the illusion. "At the beginning, it is difficult to get on the wave," he says. Even when you catch it, "at first you go directly to shore," meaning that instead of moving smoothly, the subjects' eyes jerked. Eventually, however, they learned to make small turns and then to fully control their eye movements, Lorenceau and colleagues report today in Current Biology. For the volunteers, who couldn't see what they were writing, it was like writing with a pen that had run out of ink, he says.

Although Lorenceau notes that some participants had a harder time of learning to control their eye movements than others, by the end of the sessions most could freely draw legible letters and numbers on the reverse phi visual display. Contrary to current opinion, says Lorenceau, his study shows that people can indeed gain control over smooth pursuit eye movements. Anstis agrees, saying that the smooth pursuit system is "much cleverer than we used to think." Richard Krauzlis, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, doesn't think that's necessarily new information, as previous studies have shown that humans do sometimes start smooth pursuit in anticipation of an object's movement. But he agrees that the result is "very clever and very cool," particularly as a way for people who have lost the use of their limbs to express themselves. Unlike blinking at letters on a screen, which doesn't allow for the flourishes of a handwritten signature, smooth pursuit creates a "continuous stream of eye writing that can reflect the writer's own character." The next step, says Lorenceau, is to improve his training so that everyone, including paralyzed patients, can learn the technique.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/2 ... 10781.html


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