Medi watch

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 June, 2009, 12:00am

Immune system contains cancer cures

Researchers have made a series of breakthroughs in developing new forms of cancer treatment using the body's own immune system, as reported at a recent conference in Florida. Such experimental vaccines have shown encouraging results in slowing or treating a common form of lymphoma, as well as prostate cancer, skin melanomas and neuroblastoma, which typically occurs in children. A key problem until recently has been convincing the immune system to regard cancer as a threat, AP reports. Many vaccines get around this by adding a foreign substance to the tumours, in effect tricking the immune system.

Gene-scanning may aid in cancer fight

Two Harvard University teams have identified promising cancer-fighting techniques based on new gene-scanning technology. Both focus on mutations in the KRAS gene that are involved in almost one-third of all cancers, including leukaemia and those of the pancreas and lung, which typically resist drug therapies. 'Cancer cells aren't super cells,' says one of the team leaders, Stephen Elledge. 'They're very sick.' Using high-tech RNA-interference scanning, the teams have begun identifying weaknesses not shared by healthy cells, suggesting potential new therapies, Reuters reports,

Folic acid could reduce early births

Two recent major North American studies suggest that high levels of folic acid, which cut the risk of brain defects such as spina bifida in babies, may also help prevent premature births and heart defects. So-called neural tube defects in babies have fallen by about one-third in the US since food producers began fortifying breads and cereals with folic acid in 1998. A recent US study found that women who take extra folic acid for at least a year before becoming pregnant also halve their risk of premature birth. And a Canadian study found that the rate of serious heart defects in babies has dropped by 6 per cent a year since food fortification began there in 1998, AP report.

Delay knee op with more vitamin D

Low levels of the so-called sunshine drug, vitamin D, appear to be associated with a marked loss of knee-joint cartilage in elderly people, which is a sign of osteoarthritis, say Australian researchers, based on a three-year study of more than 350 people aged over 50. Boosting vitamin levels in osteoarthritis sufferers may 'significantly delay total knee replacement', says team leader Changhai Ding of Tasmania's Menzies Research Institute, Reuters reports.

Elderly singletons short on checkups

Elderly people living at home with their spouse are far more likely than those on their own or with an adult child to have preventative health checks, say US researchers, based on analysis of data from more than 13,000 people between 2002 and 2005. The team has no idea why the health care of those living with spouses appears to better in terms of flu shots, cholesterol and colorectal screening and routine health and dental checks - which is more perplexing because living arrangements don't seem to have any effect on the regularity of blood-pressure checks, Reuters reports.

Too much TV slows child development

Growing up in households where the television is on constantly appears to slow brain and speech development, say US researchers, who suggest it's because the babies and toddlers hear and say fewer distinct words. The University of Washington team studied more than 300 children aged two months to four years for up to two years. For every hour of loud television, children heard 500-1,000 fewer words, AFP reports. (Adults apparently utter 941 words an hour on average.) Such constant exposure may also explain attention and cognitive delays, says team leader Dimitri Christakis.