Breakthrough: new vaccines take aim at mosquito-borne illness


A vaccine to combat the Zika virus is now undergoing clinical testing.

And in Africa, people will actually start receiving the world’s first vaccine against malaria next year which the World Health Organization claims will save tens of thousands of lives.

To work, the vaccine needs to be given once a month for three months with a fourth dose 18 months later. The three countries involved in the trial are Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and involve more than 750,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 months, according to the BBC.

“The world’s first malaria vaccine is a real achievement that has been 30 years in the making,” said Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance which is helping to fund the study.

“Malaria places a terrible burden on many of the world’s poorest countries, claiming thousands of lives and holding back economies.”

The Palm Beach Post on this blog reported earlier this month that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has announced that vaccination trials have begun using an experimental DNA serum.

The trial aims to enroll at least 2,490 healthy participants in areas of confirmed or potential active mosquito-transmitted Zika infection, including the continental United States and Puerto Rico, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico.

“A safe and effective Zika vaccine is urgently needed to prevent the often-devastating birth defects that can result from Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci said on March 31.

“Evidence also is accumulating that Zika can cause a variety of health problems in adults as well. This trial marks a significant milestone in our efforts to develop countermeasures for a pandemic in progress.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released a report that 15 of infants were born with birth defects in pregnancies with a confirmed Zika virus infection in the first trimester. “These findings highlight why pregnant women should avoid Zika virus exposure,” the report stated.

The CDC suggest that because the full effects of the virus are unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen.

Study: diet drinks can lead to stroke, dementia

A new study shows people who drink diet sodas may be more at risk for stroke and dementia.

Have a Diet Coke and stroke.

Diet sodas — one of Americans favorite caffeine delivery systems — appears to be just as unhealthy as its sugary cousins

The Washington Post reports that a new study refutes that diet drinks are a better option than those made with sugar or corn syrup.

The new study in the journal Stroke says people who drink diet soda are three times as likely to have a stroke or develop dementia.

“This included a higher risk of ischemic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain become obstructed and Alzheimer’s disease dementia, the most common form of dementia,” Matthew Pase, a Boston University School of Medicine neurologist told The Washington Post.

Paseo is the lead author of the study.

He stressed the study showed just a correlation and not a causation but that diet pop simply “might not be a healthy alternative.”

The study of 2,888 individuals age 45 and overlooked for the development of a stroke and 1,484 participants age 60 and older for dementia over a 10 year period.

There was no association with stroke or dementia found in a parallel study of sugary drinks.

The diet sodas used by those in the study contained the artificial sweeteners saccharin, acesulfame-K, and aspartame.

“So, the bottom line is, ‘Have more water and have less diet soda,” Christopher Gardner, director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in an American  Heart Association news release. “And don’t switch to real soda.”

He added: “Nobody ever said diet sodas were a health food.”


The American Beverage Association said low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact.

“While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect,” the beverage association noted.

To read the whole Washington Post story click here.

More Americans suffering untreated mental illness, study finds

Feeling like there’s a little more mental illness out there in America these days? You are correct.

According to a new study published Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services,  Americans are more stressed, depressed and anxiety-ridden.

And even worse news is that many are unable to get the services they desperately need.

Judith Weissman is a research manager in the department of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City and lead researcher of an evaluation of federal health data.

“Mental illness is on the rise. Suicide is on the rise. And access to care for the mentally ill is getting worse,” she said.

About 3.4 percent of the U.S. population — an estimated 8.3 million American adults —  suffer from serious psychological distress Previous estimates put the number of Americans suffering from serious psychological distress at 3 percent or less, the researchers said.

Much of the distress, Weissman said, is an after-effect of the Great Recession that began in late 2007 and caused long-term emotional damage to many Americans.

Because of the Great Recession, more Americans needing psychological or psychiatric services have gone without.

“The recession seemed to have pushed the mentally ill to a point where they never recovered,” she said. “This is a very disturbing finding because of the implications of what mental illness can do to a person in terms of their ability to function and their life span.”

The study included national health data from a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 35,000 households nationwide participate each year.

“We need to increase access to care for the mentally ill,” Weissman told CBS. “We also need to put trained psychiatrists and mental health providers within the primary care setting.”

Chewing gum that detects cancer in development

Who needs fancy scanners, blood tests and X-rays to tell us if we have cancer. Soon, if an Alabama company has its way, all we will need is to chew a stick of gum.

Volatile Analysis is developing the product that can determine if a person has cancer. The gum works by having the wad absorb what are called “volatiles” in the saliva as it is chewed, according to a story on Fox News Health.

The gum then will be analyzed to see if it contains certain chemicals that are produced when a person has the deadly disease.

And last year there were 1.5 million new cases of cancer.

“Over the last 15 years there have been a lot of attempts with different products and processes for early detection of cancer,” Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said.

Breath samples, urine samples and even dogs that might be able to smell cancer have been tried recently. “None of these efforts are proven to detect cancer early,” Lichetenfeld said.

The gum is in the testing stage but Volatile Analysis plans to have the gum available to doctors and patients sometime in 2018.

Read the whole Fox News Health story by clicking here.

No word if the cancer detecting gum will be available with baseball cards.

FAU Study finds lack of U.S. sick leave leads to illness, health care costs

It’s a classic case of cutting your nose off despite your face.

Employers who don’t offer their workers sick leave actually make us all sicker, according to a new study by Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Not only do workers who get ill end up coming to work and spreading diseases like the flu, the time they would take for preventative measures – such as a yearly physical – is not there.

The Affordable Care Act tried to remedy this by allowing the 20 million Americans now with insurance to get free preventative screenings. Yet, many do not utilize these lifesaving screening because they don’t have sick time to take to go to the doctor.

As a result, they are contributing to the nation’s soaring health care costs, which reached $3 trillion in 2014.

General illustration to go with Doctors project content. Illustration by Richard Watkins

Researchers at FAU and Cleveland State University in their study in Preventative Medicine, illustrate the role of paid sick leave and how it contributes to overall public health.

Compared to 22 similarly developed countries, the United States is the only country that does not mandate employers to provide paid sick leave benefits or include paid sick leave in a universal social insurance plan.

“Our findings demonstrate that even when insured adults are provided with free preventive screenings, paid sick leave is a significant factor associated with actually using the screenings,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., lead author and an associate professor in the School of Social Work within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

“American workers risk foregoing preventive health care, which could lead to the need for medical care at later stages of disease progression and at a higher cost for workers and the American health care system as a whole.”

Key findings from the study reveal that American workers without paid sick leave had odds that were:

  • 30 percent less likely to have had a blood pressure check in the last 12 months
  • 40 percent less likely to have had a cholesterol check in the last 12 months
  • 24 percent less likely to have had a fasting blood sugar check in the last 12 months
  • 61 percent less likely to have had a flu shot in the last 12 months
  • 19 percent less likely to have seen or talked to a physician or health care provider in the last 12 months
  • 23 percent less likely to have had a Pap test in the last 12 months

 

Sleepy? Eyeless Mexican cave fish subject of research into Zzzs

Stop yawning and listen up.

Neuroscientists at Florida Atlantic University are studying an eyeless Mexican cave fish to understand how brains could evolve to require very little sleep just like this little creatures.

Think about how much stuff humans could get done if no sleep was ever required?

The researchers from the Boca Raton-based university just published in the Journal of Experimental Biology a study that provides a model for understanding how the brain’s sensory systems modulate sleep.

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Sleep is for suckers. So says the Mexican cave fish, seen here at an aquarium at Florida Atlantic University where researchers hope to learn from them how humans can evolve to need less shut-eye.

“Animals have dramatic differences in sleep with some sleeping as much as 20 hours and others as little as two hours and no one knows why these dramatic differences in sleep exist,” said Alex C. Keene, who helped write the study coming out of FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

Living in a cave is no picnic, so the cave fish has evolved robust differences in how it feeds. They have evolved to sleep less while gaining enhance sensory systems. Researchers say this suggest that sleep loss is evolutionary and associated with the environmental and metabolic changes.

The cave fish is like Charles Darwin’s Galapagos finches. There are more than 29 different populations and all have evolved individually.

“We were surprised to find that there are multiple independent mechanisms regulating sleep loss in different cave populations,” said James Jaggard, a graduate student at FAU working with Keene.

He said their research shows there appears to many different ways to evolve a brain that sleeps less. “We are going to search to identify these mechanisms,” Jaggard said.

For the study, the researchers recorded the cavefish under infrared light set up in individual tanks. Check the little guys out on this livestream by clicking here.

Could party drug ‘Special-K’ be miracle cure for clinical depression?

Internist Dr. John Sortino said a few years ago a good friend’s mother died and he watched his pal fall into a deep clinical depression.

He would invite him to his Boca Raton practice to keep an eye him, watching as he sobbed for eight hours straight.

“I’ve never seen a grown man cry that long,” Sortino said.

The $11 billion anti-depressant industry didn’t help Sortino’s friend. He just got worse taking pills before reading about how the anesthesia-turned-party drug ketamine had shown promise as an off-label medication for severe depression.

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Could the party drug ketamine be the miracle cure for those suffering from clinical depression?

After some hesitation, Sortino ordered the shot and administered it to his friend. His friend’s suicide ideation immediately ceased.

Now Sortino is bringing this alternate cure to South Florida. He says his new depression center, Kismet Clinic in Boca Raton, was the first to offer the treatment in Palm Beach County and is one of two establishments offering ketamine  currently.

Typical drugs for depression take months to work.

“The discovery of ketamine’s ability to effectively treat depression represents the most significant leap in mental health advancements in more than 50 years,” Dr. Sortino states.

Ketamine was used for medical and veterinarian surgery to put patients to sleep before surgery. Then the club scene got a hold of it, dubbed it Special-K. Users would enter a hallucinogenic  “K-Hole” similar to a catatonic state.

And while the use of ketamine for mental illness has its detractors, Sortino has administered more than 300 treatments, seeing varying success in all of them — sometimes within minutes of taking the drug.

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The Kismet Clinic says it was the first clinic in South Florida to offer ketamine for patients suffering from depression.

The Food & Drug Administration fast-tracked the approval for the use of ketamine for mental illness. He said it is very effective in patients obsessing about suicide.

“Honestly, it was unlike anything I had ever seen when I first saw its effects four years ago,”  Dr. Dawn Ionescu, a staff psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Time earlier this year.

“We were seeing patients who were depressed for years and tried many different medications, sometimes even electroconvulsive therapy, and nothing worked. But a single infusion improved their depression within hours.”

The Kismet Clinic does have a celebrity once removed saying ketamine worked for him.  Michael Lohan,  father of Lindsay Lohan and a Delray Beach resident. is a patient.

“The treatment was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Lohan said. “During the procedure, it felt like the layers of anxiety and pain were being pulled out of me.

While critics say ketamine’s use on depression is usually short lasting, Lohan said he has used the treatment along with meditation to maintain most of the benefit of the drug treatment.

Sortino told the Post that ketamine affects  neurotransmitters in the brain gamma and glutamate, as opposed to popular SSRI medications that target the neurotransmitter serotonin or others that work on norepinephrine or dopamine.

Drug companies are working hard to make a byproduct of ketamine, the doctor said. But for now, Special-K for depression remains something new.

“It is a novel approach to depression. It is not mainstream medicine yet,” he said.

Depression: researchers find biomarker for disorder

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found a physical difference in the brain that may serve as a biomarker for depression.

UPI, reporting on a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, says researchers came across the discovery while comparing the brains of people at high and low risk for depression based on their family history.

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Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found a physical difference in the brains that may serve as a biomarker for depression, according to a study is published in Neuropsychopharmacology.

“These findings suggest that looking at activity in the DMN may offer an objective method of identifying people who are at risk of developing major depression,” said Dr. Myrna Weissman, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center.

“This may represent a another way toward advancing prevention and early intervention for this major public health issue.”

Using MRI scans, researchers found the DMN system is more active when people are thinking deeply about something, and shown to have increased connections in people with major depressive disorder.

Dr. Jonathan Posner, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center said the research could lead to  behavioral interventions, such as meditation and mindfulness – the later has been successful in treating addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Read the whole UPI story by clicking here.

What a long, strange trip it’s been: Scientists map brain on LSD

In what is being called a scientific breakthrough, scientists for the first time have mapped the effect of LSD on the brain.

CNN reports that brain scans were taken from volunteers who agreed to take the drug associated with hallucinations and a feeling of oneness with the universe. The drug also can induce paranoia – or what is known among recreational users as a bad trip.

The findings have given researchers an unprecedented insight into the neural basis for effects produced by one of the most powerful drugs ever created.

 

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A new study shows what happens to brain when it takes LSD. Scientists feel the drug may have medicinal benefits. (Image: Imperial College London)

As a result, LSD is getting mad respect in scientific circles these days.

The Post reported in February about another study that found that long-term use of the drug could lead to improved psychological well-being. The Imperial College London study found that the use of the  creates “cognitive looseness” and leads to “highly enhanced mental flexibility.”

Imperial was at it again by taking these brain scans that revealed subjects experienced images through information drawn from many parts of their brains. Usually, it is just the visual cortex at the back of the head that normally processes visual information

In an even more intriguing finding, scientists learned the drug allowed regions of the brain once segregated to speak one another.

David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial, was ecstatic.

“This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics,” he said. “We didn’t know how these profound effects were produced. It was too difficult to do. Scientists were either scared or couldn’t be bothered to overcome the enormous hurdles to get this done.”

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was first synthesized in 1938 and was part of extensive research until the 1960s when the drug started being used for recreation and led to it being banned.

In a story on the brain scan study in The Guardian, researchers said their findings  could pave the way for LSD or related chemicals to be used to treat psychiatric disorders.

Nutt said the drug could pull the brain out of thought patterns seen in depression and addiction through its effects on brain networks.

Amanda Feilding, director of the Beckley Foundation that helped fund the study said, said: “We are finally unveiling the brain mechanisms underlying the potential of LSD, not only to heal but also to deepen our understanding of consciousness itself.”

FAU study first to look at lack of paid sick leave, medical care delays

A new study by Florida Atlantic University is the first to look at the relationship between paid sick leave benefits and delays in medical care in the United States that makes our health care more expensive and less efficient.

The results again puts the U.S. behind other highly ranked countries.

The study,  published in the March issue of Health Affairs, found lack of medical care for both working adults and their family members. The study, done in conjunction with Cleveland State University, found that workers without paid sick leave were three times more likely to delay medical care than were workers with paid sick leave.

 

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Sick at work in America? Good luck. In the U.S., there are 49 million employees without sick leave. (Photo: Creative Commons)

They were also three times more likely to forgo needed medical care altogether. The lowest-income group of workers were at highest risk of delaying medical care.

“Paid sick leave is an important employer-provided benefit that helps workers and their dependents receive prompt preventive or acute medical care, recuperate from illness faster, and avert more serious illness,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, lead author of the study and associate professor in the School of Social Work at FAU.

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FAU researcher LeaAnne DeRigne says the lack of mandated paid sick leave leads to more complicated and expensive health outcomes down the line.

She said the results from the study contradict public health goals to reduce the spread of illness.

“Policymakers should consider the potential public health implications of their decisions when contemplating guaranteed sick leave benefits,” she said.

The U.S.  lags behind 22 other highly ranked countries in terms of economic and human development when it comes to mandating employers to provide paid sick leave. Only Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon – along with a few dozen municipalities mandate paid sick leave as an employee benefit.

That leaves 49 million U.S. workers without paid sick leave, which in the long run contributes to higher health costs for all when conditions and illness go untreated.

“The personal health care consequences of delaying or forgoing needed medical care can lead to more complicated and expensive health conditions,” DeRigne said.

FAU’s main campus is located in Boca Raton.