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Monday, 5 March 2012






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Hopes rise for new cancer treatment

Hopes rise for new cancer treatment after tests with electromagnetism. Scientists have used low-intensity electromagnetic fields to treat cancer patients in trials which they say could lead to the development of a new type of anti-tumour therapy.

Patients hold a spoon-shaped antenna in their mouths to deliver a very low-intensity electromagnetic field in their bodies. In trials of patients with advanced liver cancer, the therapy – given three times a day – resulted in long-term survival for a small number of those monitored, the team has reported in the British Journal of Cancer. Their tumours shrank, while healthy cells in surrounding tissue were unaffected.

Photomicrograph of a human liver section with cancer

However, the scientists – from the US, Brazil, France and Switzerland – also stressed that the technique was still in its infancy and would require several years for further trials to take place. “This is a truly novel technique,” said the team's leader, Professor Boris Pasche of the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “It is innocuous, can be tolerated for long periods of time, and could be used in combination with other therapies.”

Pasche added that he had obtained permission from the US Food and Drug Administration to carry out trials on large groups of patients and was talking to companies in the US, Asia, South America, Russia and Europe about raising funds for future research.

In 2009, Pasche and his colleagues published results in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research which showed that low-level electromagnetic fields at precise frequencies – ranging from 0.1Hz to 114kHz – halted cancer cell growth in small numbers of patients. Different cancers responded to electromagnetic fields of different frequencies. Cells in surrounding, healthy tissue were unaffected.

The exact mechanism for this process was not explained in the paper. However, results of recent experiments by the team – using cancer cell cultures in the laboratory and published in the British Journal of Cancer – suggest that low-level electromagnetic fields interfere with the activity of genes in cancer cells. In specific cases, this affected the ability of cancer cells to grow and divide. The spread of tumours halted and in some cases they began to shrink.

“This is extremely exciting,” said Pasche. “We think the technique could also be used to treat breast tumours and possibly other forms of cancer.” The use of electromagnetic fields was also welcomed, cautiously, by Eleanor Barrie of Cancer Research UK: “This research shows how specific low frequencies of electromagnetic radiation can slow the growth of cancer cells in the lab. It's still unclear why the cancer cells respond in this way, and it's not yet clear if this approach could help patients, but it's an interesting example of how researchers are working to find new ways to home in on cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.”

The use of electromagnetic fields to treat tumours may seem surprising given recent controversy over claims that fields generated by mobile phones and electricity pylons can trigger cancers and leukaemia. However, Pasche stressed that the intensity of the fields used in his team's experiments were between 100 and 1,000 times lower than those from a mobile phone. “In any case, the evidence produced from major studies of users of these phones does not suggest there is a clearly identifiable risk posed by these electromagnetic fields,” he said.


Children and traumatic motor accidents: invisible scars

Many parents were shocked and agitated to hear about the recent accident of the school service van in Mount Lavinia involving nine school children. Newspaper reports revealed all nine students were injured, three critically with one being admitted to the General Hospital Colombo.

What has yet to be taken into account are the emotional wounds that might have been inflicted on the school children, wounds that might leave life long scars if they are not treated properly.

According to Dr.Gaithri Fernando, Associate Professor, at the Department of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, an event can be emotionally traumatic if it involves actual or threatened death or serious physical or psychological injury. Witnessing such an event can also cause psychological trauma. According to Dr. Fernando, mental health researchers and practitioners often focus on catastrophic traumatic situations such as wars and natural disasters like the tsunami, but there are also other, more common events like domestic violence and auto and pedestrian accidents that occur daily and can also cause emotional trauma.

Let life be as normal as possible

Reactions to a traumatic experience can differ greatly from person to person. It is important to understand that just because a child or young person has experienced a traumatic event, this does not mean that they will inevitably suffer severe emotional consequences as a result. “One shouldn’t approach children who have faced a traumatic situation and think that all those children are going to be traumatized,” says Dr. Fernando.

Factors that influence how much children and young people react to a traumatic event include the age of the child and his or her ability to understand the event, as well as the nature of the event itself, and the level of exposure.

“The way a child reacts to a traumatic situation can be different to that of an adult” says Dr. Fernando. “It is important that adults remain calm in an accident because children respond to the reactions of the adults around them”. If the adults around the children show no fear, do not panic and handle the situation with calm the children will take the cue from the adults and behave accordingly.

“Sri Lankan children are quite resilient” says Dr. Fernando. This is mainly because, to quote Dr. Fernando, “Our culture has many strengths.” Explaining that Sri Lankans are close to one another and take care of one another, Dr. Fernando believes that religious beliefs and practices can help families cope with the losses and grief arising from traumatic events. However she also points out that one negative aspect of our society is that we often do not take our children too seriously. She believes the questions children ask from adults should not be dismissed with false reassurances, especially in a traumatic situation like a motor accident. Because children might find it hard to understand the event itself, this alone can sometimes lead to a lot of fear and anxiety.

“Try not to dismiss the question or avoid it,” advises Dr. Fernando. “Try to find out how the child sees the event, and the words the child uses, and then explain the situation to the child in his or her own words.” You can say things like “That must have been very scary, but I really like how you ….” (and find something positive the child did to cope with the scary event).

Dr. Fernando also explains, “Children involved in a traumatic accident should be observed for at least two weeks”. Adults should observe if the children are showing agitation, nervousness, poor concentration, changes in appetite, irritability, crying, worry, and anxiety.

“Children who have had a traumatic experience might engage in trauma-related play” says Dr. Fernando. “A child playing with a toy bus might make it fall from a height”. Bed wetting and aggressiveness could also be signs of trauma as well as the questions a child asks from adults, such as questions about death and dying. “This is where religious beliefs would help”.

“Never force the child into doing things” warns Dr. Fernando. Though some children might like to talk about the traumatic event, or just express their feelings about it, there might be others who might prefer not to talk about it at all.

It is important not to be pushy and to let the child take his or her own time to talk about the experience.

Be comforting. Recovering from a traumatic event can be difficult, so parents and teachers should try to pay extra attention to the child and be considerate. Dr. Fernando stresses that it is important to stick to the normalized routines as much as possible because routines help the child return to their normal lives, and help the child feel safe and secure. “Send the child to school.

If necessary a parent too should accompany the child to school and stay in the class with him or her for a brief time.” Dr. Fernando suggests if a child becomes aggressive in the class the teacher should say gently “Why don’t we talk about this after class today?”.

The best medicine, though, is your reassuring presence. When a child feels loved and secure he or she is already on the way to recovery. “Remember, you can’t always shelter your children from traumatic events” says Dr. Fernando. “But you can help your children to recover and even become stronger after the event, if you take the time to listen to your child and be the centering, stable presence in his or her life.”

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Tiny electrical shocks to the brain enhance memory

Lightly shocking a person's brain just before they learned a new task appeared to strengthen memory in a handful of patients with epilepsy, a tantalizing result that could have implications for Alzheimer's disease, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

Pacemaker devices known as deep brain stimulators made by Medtronic and St. Jude Medical are already used to calm muscle tremors in patients with Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders, and are being tested for a host of other conditions such as treatment-resistant depression.

The devices are implanted under the skin in the chest with wires leading up the neck connected to tiny electrodes implanted deep in the brain, which produce electrical impulses.

The current study was done at the University of California at Los Angeles in seven epileptic patients awaiting surgery who had electrodes implanted deep in their brains to help pinpoint the source of their seizures. The team used this opportunity to see how stimulating the brain affects memory.

They focused on an area of the brain called the entorhinal cortex, which helps form and store memories.

“The entorhinal cortex is the golden gate to the brain's memory mainframe,” Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview. The research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Fried said sensory experiences that eventually become memories pass through this hub before they are stored in the hippocampus, the brain's chief memory center.

For the study, patients played a video game in which they had to shuttle people around in taxis to different shops in a virtual city.

The team tested whether stimulating the entorhinal cortex or the hippocampus while they were learning their way around the city improved their recall.

“When we stimulated the hippocampus itself, there was not an effect. It was really stimulation in the gateway to the hippocampus - the entorhinal cortex - where we got the beneficial effect in terms of memory,” Fried said.

Compared to testing before stimulation, zapping this part of the brain helped people recognize landmarks and navigate the virtual city more quickly. Fried said the findings suggest stimulating the brain just as memories are forming is key.

Impact on alzheimer's

In Alzheimer's disease, this area of the brain is affected early on, when signs of dementia begin to appear. Fried said the study might have implications for treatments for patients with early Alzheimer's disease, but he cautioned that the results are very preliminary. “The question would be whether this can help memory in patients with memory impairments,” he said. Scientists are increasingly focused on ways to treat the memory-robbing disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans.

Despite costly efforts, no drug has been found that can keep Alzheimer's from progressing, and policymakers are growing increasingly worried about the swelling ranks of dementia patients as the population ages. Suzanne Haber, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York who was not involved in the study, said she was “very excited about the finding,” but she cautioned that the treatment is very invasive, very expensive and unproven in Alzheimer's patients.

The Obama administration said on Wednesday it plans to spend an additional $156 million over the next two years to help find an effective treatment for Alzheimer's. One team has already tried deep brain stimulation in Alzheimer's patients. In a study published in the Annals of Neurology in 2010 researchers tested deep brain stimulation in six patients over the course of a year and found the treatment to be relatively safe. They also saw signs the treatment might have an effect on memory. Dr. Sandra Black, a brain researcher at the University of Toronto who wrote an editorial on the current study, said the findings could have implications for early stage Alzheimer's disease if tests were developed to identify this process early through imaging or genomics.

“Although the current evidence is preliminary, is based on small samples and requires replication, the potential application of deep-brain stimulation in amnestic disorders is enticing,” Black wrote.

CHICAGO (Reuters)


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