In Brief

In The News

September 29, 2006


Procedure helps some forgo insulin

A few diabetics have been able to give up their daily insulin shots after getting transplants of pancreas cells, according to the broadest study of this experimental treatment. But for most patients, the results fell short of the cure researchers have been seeking.

Nearly half of the 36 patients who received the cell transplant achieved insulin independence by one year after the treatment. The benefits were mixed for the others, and about three-quarters of the whole group relapsed and needed insulin injections again.

The patients had severe cases of Type 1 diabetes, the less-common form once known as juvenile diabetes, which is not linked to obesity.

Researchers said the treatment, involving pancreas cells from donated cadavers, still holds promise. Reporting their findings in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine, they said they did not know why it worked in some people and not others.

"For a select few, this represents a major alternative in their quality of life," said Dr. Robert Goldstein, chief scientific officer for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.


Multiple sclerosis

Vitamin B3 reduces symptoms in mice

A commonly used vitamin called nicotinamide (B3) may alleviate symptoms of the most severe form of multiple sclerosis by protecting nerve fibers from damage, research on mice shows.

There is no known effective treatment for this phase of the disease, called chronic progressive MS. Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston hope to begin trials in humans soon, but they cautioned that the doses used in the mice were substantially higher than those typically used in humans.

"We saw no side effects in animals at those doses," said Dr. Shinjiro Kaneko of Children's Hospital, "but we definitely need to go through safety tests" in humans.

Kaneko and his colleagues studied mice with an MS-like disease called experimental autoimmune encephalitis. In the Journal of Neuroscience they wrote that daily injections of nicotinamide, or vitamin B3, significantly reduced the severity of the animals' symptoms for at least eight weeks. The greater the dose, the greater the protection.



Record heat may damage coral reefs

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, Virgin Islands --Scientists have issued their strongest warning this year that unusually warm Caribbean Sea temperatures threaten coral reefs, which suffered widespread damage last year in record-setting heat.

Waters have reached 85 degrees around the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico -- temperatures at which coral can be damaged if waters do not cool after a few weeks -- Al Strong, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch, said this week.

The warning, issued by NOAA, urges scuba-dive operators and underwater researchers in the U.S. Caribbean territories to look for coral damage and use caution around the fragile reefs, which are easily damaged by physical contact.

Coral, which provide a sheltered habitat for fish, lobsters and other animals, die from prolonged bleaching, when the water temperature gets so high that it kills the algae that populate and build the reefs.



Test may not predict disease progress

For a decade, doctors have used a routine test to measure the level of HIV in the body and tell people infected with the virus whether their systems were keeping AIDS at bay.

But a new study at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland casts doubt on the test, finding that a low viral load does not predict how fast the disease will progress into AIDS.

Working with four other AIDS centers, Dr. Benigno Rodriguez and his colleagues identified 2,800 people who had tested positive for HIV, but were not on any treatment because their viral loads were low. They found that the level of virus in the blood did not predict the course of the disease.

"There must be other factors that we just don't know about," Rodriguez said, suggesting that AIDS patients use other tests to determine whether to begin drug therapy. The report appeared in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.



Eating disorders lead to stress fractures

Female athletes have additional incentive to belly up to the table. A new study of 76 college competitors found that those who engaged in disordered eating, including bulimia, anorexia and insufficient caloric intake, were more likely to incur stress fractures than their well-nourished peers.

The finding was part of a larger study on the causes of exercise-related leg pain among various female athletes by Mark Reinking, assistant professor of physical therapy at St. Louis University.

Compared with their noninjured counterparts, Reinking says, "the [five] athletes who experienced stress fractures during the study period had significantly lower tibial bone density and a higher mean score" on a scale that measures disordered eating.

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