Benefits of taking statins has been underestimated

The benefits of the cholesterol-reducing drug statins are underestimated and the harms exaggerated, a major review suggests.

Published in the Lancet and backed by a number of major health organisations, it says statins lower heart attack and stroke risk.

The review also suggests side effects such as muscle pain do occur, although in relatively few people.

But critics say healthy people are unnecessarily taking medication.

Statins reduce the build-up of fatty plaques that lead to blockages in blood vessels. According to the report authors:

  • About six million people are currently taking statins in the UK
  • Of those, two million are on them because they have already had a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event
  • The remaining four million take statins because of risk factors such as age, blood pressure or diabetes
  • Up to two million more should possibly take statins

The Lancet review, led by Prof Rory Collins from the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford, looked at the available evidence for the effects of taking an average 40mg daily dose of statins in 10,000 patients over five years.

It suggested cholesterol levels would be lowered enough to prevent 1,000 “major cardiovascular events” such as heart attacks, strokes and coronary artery bypasses in people who had existing vascular disease – and 500 in people who were at risk due to age or other illnesses such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

 

Read at BBC News

Alzheimer’s drug study gives ‘tantalising’ results

A drug that destroys the characteristic protein plaques that build up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s is showing “tantalising” promise, scientists say.

Experts are cautious because the drug, aducanumab, is still in the early stages of development.

But a study in Nature has shown it is safe and hinted that it halts memory decline.

Larger studies are now under way to fully evaluate the drug’s effects.

The build-up of amyloid in the brain has been a treatment target for many years.

This study, of 165 patients, was designed to test aducanumab was safe to take.

After a year of treatment, it also showed the higher the dose the stronger the effect on amyloid plaques.

 

Read at BBC 

 

Link to paper 

Do Amish hold clue to preventing asthma in children?

The Amish community in the US has long been famous for shunning modern technology and preserving traditional ways of life, using horses for farming and for transport.

Now it appears that their closer contact with animals could have an unexpected benefit – preventing asthma in children.

A new study from the US compared the Amish with a similar community, the Hutterites, who use more modern farming methods.

Both groups have similar genetic ancestry and follow similar diets, but researchers found that childhood asthma rates differed strongly.

About 5% of Amish schoolchildren tested in the study had asthma compared with 21.3% of the Hutterite children.

The study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that children’s immune systems in the Amish community were being bolstered by house dust that contained more microbes from farm animals.

 

Read at BBC News

Ice Bucket Challenge funds gene discovery in ALS (MND) research

The Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral in 2014 has funded an important scientific gene discovery in the progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS, the ALS Association says.

Scientists have identified a new gene contributing to the disease, NEK1.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised $115m (£87.7m) from people pouring cold water over themselves and posting the video on social media.

It was criticised as a stunt, but has funded six research projects.

 

Read at BBC News

Fungal infection ‘threat’ to human health

Fungal infections kill more people than malaria or breast cancer but are not considered a priority, say scientists.

Prof Neil Gow, from the University of Aberdeen, said more than one million people die from fungal infections around the world each year.

Yet there are no vaccines and there is a “pressing need” for new treatments, he said.

The warning comes as doctors in England say a new strain of fungi is causing outbreaks in hospitals.

There are more than five million types of fungi, but only three major groups cause the majority of deaths in people:

  • Aspergillus – which affects the lungs
  • Cryptococcus – which mainly attacks the brain
  • Candida – which infects mucosal membranes including in the mouth and genitals

Read at BBC News

Breast cancer: Scientists hail ‘milestone’ genetic find

Scientists say they now have a near-perfect picture of the genetic events that cause breast cancer.

The study, published in Nature, has been described as a “milestone” moment that could help unlock new ways of treating and preventing the disease.

The largest study of its kind unpicked practically all the errors that cause healthy breast tissue to go rogue.

Cancer Research UK said the findings were an important stepping-stone to new drugs for treating cancer.

To understand the causes of the disease, scientists have to understand what goes wrong in our DNA that makes healthy tissue turn cancerous.

The international team looked at all 3 billion letters of people’s genetic code – their entire blueprint of life – in 560 breast cancers.

They uncovered 93 sets of instructions, or genes, that if mutated, can cause tumours. Some have been discovered before, but scientists expect this to be the definitive list, barring a few rare mutations.

 

Read at BBC

E-skin ‘can monitor body’s oxygen level’

Scientists say they have developed ultra-thin electronic “skin” that can measure oxygen levels when stuck to the body.

The goal is to develop such “skin” to monitor oxygen levels in organs during surgery, say researchers in Japan.

Tests on volunteers found the “skin” provided stable measurements of oxygen concentration in blood.

The device contains micro-electronic components that light up in red, blue and green on the surface of the body.

Scientists at the University of Tokyo are working on ways to display numbers and letters on the skin for health monitoring purposes.

 

Read at BBC News

A pair of drugs can dramatically shrink and eliminate some breast cancers in just 11 days

A pair of drugs can dramatically shrink and eliminate some breast cancers in just 11 days, UK doctors have shown.

They said the “surprise” findings, reported at the European Breast Cancer Conference, could mean some women no longer need chemotherapy.

The drugs, tested on 257 women, target a specific weakness found in one-in-ten breast cancers.

Experts said the findings were a “stepping stone” to tailored cancer care.

The doctors leading the trial had not expected or even intended to achieve such striking results.

They were investigating how drugs changed cancers in the short window between a tumour being diagnosed and the operation to remove it.

But by the time surgeons came to operate, there was no sign of cancer in some patients.

Prof Judith Bliss, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said the impact was “dramatic”.

She told the BBC News website: “We were particularly surprised by these findings as this was a short-term trial.

“It became apparent some had a complete response. It’s absolutely intriguing, it is so fast.”

 

Link to article

Puerto Rico braced for more Zika cases

Hundreds of thousands of people in the US territory of Puerto Rico could become infected with the Zika virus in the coming months, according to the director of America’s Centre for Disease Control.

Dr Tom Frieden says this could lead to “thousands” of brain-damaged babies.

Zika has now been reported in 31 countries and territories in the Americas, with Brazil the worst hit.

There have been about 100 cases of Zika reported in mainland US.

These were in travellers who had recently returned from Zika-hit countries.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the virus can be found in about a dozen US states, so the mainland is bracing itself for locally transmitted infections very soon.

Southern states such as Florida and Texas are particularly vulnerable.

Link to full article

Lab-grown sperm makes healthy offspring

Sperm have been made in the laboratory and used to father healthy baby mice in a pioneering move that could lead to infertility treatments.

The Chinese research took a stem cell, converted it into primitive sperm and fertilised an egg to produce healthy pups.

The study, in the Journal Cell Stem Cell, showed they were all healthy and grew up to have offspring of their own.

Experts said it was a step towards human therapies.

It could ultimately help boys whose fertility is damaged by cancer treatment, infections such as mumps or those with defects that leave them unable to produce sperm.

 

Link to article