In Brief

In Brief

December 29, 2006


Blood tests not likely to spot risk

A new study has dimmed researchers' hopes of detecting heart disease years before it develops with a battery of laboratory tests done on a single blood sample, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors traditionally rely on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, obesity and diabetes to spot people in danger of cardiovascular disease. But investigators have spent years combing through blood samples for other signs of risk, such as C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation; and homocysteine, an amino acid thought to damage blood vessels.

The new study shows those two so-called biomarkers, even when combined with eight others, added little to the current approach. "Their ability to predict an individual person's risk, a goal of `personalized medicine,' is still limited," said Thomas J. Wang, the lead researcher and a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Though many markers were linked to higher risk among groups of people, for individuals even in combination, their utility for risk prediction was modest."

The research involved more than 3,200 people in the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed residents in the suburb of Boston and their offspring for years to glean insights into cardiovascular disease. During 10 years of follow-up, 207 participants died and 169 suffered a first heart attack or stroke or developed heart failure.



UM trial to test new flu vaccine

The University of Maryland School of Medicine will begin a clinical trial next month to determine whether the first cell culture-based pandemic influenza vaccine will provide immunity faster and more reliably than a vaccine produced by traditional methods in eggs.

The new study is also the first U.S. trial of whole virus vaccine for avian influenza, which could produce a stronger response by the immune system.

"Our previous clinical trials have shown that the inactivated pandemic influenza vaccines against the H5N1 avian influenza strain are safe and stimulate an immune response that may protect people from avian flu," said Dr. James Campbell, principal investigator of the new study. "This will be our first trial of a cell culture-based vaccine, and we are hopeful that it will provide a faster and more reliable immune response. The use of cell cultures could also provide for a larger manufacturing capacity and provide an option for people with egg allergies."

Campbell said that so-called "whole virus" vaccines like this one, manufactured by Baxter International, may stimulate a better immune system response than traditional flu shots. "The drawback is that people may experience a few more minor side effects with this type of vaccine, but it may be worth the additional discomfort."

The school's Center for Vaccine Development is seeking healthy volunteers ages 18-40 to participate in the trial, which is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. For information, call 410-706-6156.



Holiday spices found in waterway

Researchers at the University of Washington say all that holiday baking and eating has an environmental impact - Puget Sound is being flavored by cinnamon and vanilla. "Even something as fun as baking for the holiday season has an environmental effect," said Rick Keil, an associate professor of chemical oceanography. "When we bake and change the way we eat, it has an impact on what the environment sees. To me it shows the connectedness."

Keil's weekly tests of treated sewage sent into the sound from the nearby West Point Treatment Plant showed cinnamon, vanilla and artificial vanilla levels rose between Nov. 14 and Dec. 9, with the biggest spike right after Thanksgiving. Natural vanilla showed the largest increase, "perhaps indicative of more home baking using natural vanilla," the scientists wrote.

So far, the research has turned up no evidence that snickerdoodles are harming sea creatures, but their research does lead to some serious environmental questions. Fish rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate food, for example, and, in the case of salmon, to find their way back to their home stream to spawn.

"All the spices have odors associated with them, so it's interesting to ask whether they are there in sufficient concentration [for fish] to smell them," Keil said.

Associated Press


Protein may help fight brain cancer

Johns Hopkins University scientists say they can fight off lethal human brain cancers in mice using a protein that selectively affects a cancer's equivalent of stem cells, according to a report in the journal Nature.

These cells appear in the most common type of brain cancer, known as glioblastoma. Instead of setting off the replacement of damaged cells, however, these cells form cancer tissue, the scientist reported.

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