Testing It Up » March 2009

Monthly Archives: March 2009

Early Disease Detection

No Increased Heart Risk with New Diabetes Pill Saxagliptin

Published by:

A staff report posted on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website revealed that new drug saxagliptin from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and AstraZeneca PLC did not cause an increase in risk for cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke, a side effect which has been observed in other diabetes drugs.

structural diagram of saxagliptin The review was released in advance of a scheduled Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee meeting on April 1.

Since 2008, the FDA adopted more stringent standards for reviewing anti-diabetic medication, asking companies to prove that their drug will not trigger an increase in risk for heart attack or stroke. In June, the agency increased their safety requirements even further after the controversy that surrounded the drug Avandia (rosiglitazone), which was said to trigger an increase in the risk for cardiovascular conditions.

The new pill was able to meet the cardiovascular safety guidelines set by the FDA. The Advisory Committee meeting will consider these findings and will provide their opinions on the data, which were taken from trials that were not designed to evaluate such risks. They will not be asked to take a vote on an overall approval recommendation for the drug.

Drug manufacturers are actively developing new diabetes treatments for the estimated 24 million Americans suffering from the disease, especially since older therapies have been seen to cause heart risks.

Saxagliptin is similar to the Merck drug Januvia, a DPP-4 inhibitor. Januvia is a treatment for Type 2 diabetes by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin and the liver to produce less glucose.

There were eight studies conducted. In four studies, patients were given either saxagliptin or placebo; in three, saxagliptin was added to an existing anti-diabetic treatment; and the last study consisted of patients receiving a combination of saxagliptin and metformin.

Early Disease Detection

FDA Approves New Drug for Kidney Cancer

Published by:

A new drug for kidney cancer has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. The drug, Afinitor (everolimus), is manufactured by Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis and is approved for use in the treatment of advanced kidney cancer in patients whose cancer has returned or progressed after undergoing previous treatments.

kidneysAfinitor is classified as a kinase inhibitor, and works by blocking the mTOR protein. mTOR assists in the division of cancer cells and the growth of blood vessels, and by blocking the protein, Afinitor is able to delay the growth and spread of cancer cells. Although Afinitor lagged behind Torisel from Wyeth, a drug with the same properties which was released earlier, it may possess an added marketing advantage since it is a daily pill to be taken orally. The pioneering Torisel is administered through weekly injections.

Afinitor was given approval for prescription to patients who have advanced renal cancer – the most common type of kidney cancer – and who did not respond to treatments using other kinase inhibitors like Sutent (sunitib) from Pfizer and Nexavar (sorafenib) from Bayer.

Novartis, however, intends to expand the use of Afinitor to other types of cancers. The drug has the potential to be used as treatment for other cancer types and is currently being tested for gastric cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma and tuberous sclerosis. If approved, annual sales for Afinitor may go beyond $1 billion. Pending these tests, the next step for Novartis is to apply for regulatory approval to sell Afinitor as a treatment for neuroendocrine tumors, rare tumors that mostly occur in the digestive system.

According to the agency, tests revealed that patients who were given Afinitor survived more than twice as long without tumor growth when compared to those who were not administered with the drug. A study by Novartis revealed that Afinitor delayed tumor growth almost five months.

Kidney cancer claimed the lives of around 13,000 Americans last year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Early Disease Detection

Please Pass the Salt: Study Says Americans Consuming Too Much Salt

Published by:

As it is, Americans are reportedly consuming more than the recommended amount of salt per day – an average of one and a half teaspoons, half a teaspoon more than the ideal amount.

But one teaspoon of salt is not exactly the ideal amount for everyone. Two out of three Americans belong to the following demographics: suffering from high blood pressure, aged over 40, or African-American adults. These people have a lower recommended daily consumption of salt – only two-thirds of a teaspoon, which means that about 70% of Americans are eating more than twice the healthy amount of salt.

saltDarwin Labarthe, MD, PhD, the director of the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention of the CDC, has expressed that this may be hurting a significant majority of the population. Excessive consumption of sodium is a known risk factor for developing heart disease and stroke. Salt intake triggers an increase in blood pressure, and high blood pressure consequently increases risk for these diseases. An act as simple as lowering salt intake can significantly help remove this risk.

Some argue on this, though, since it seems that we’re not really putting huge quantities of salt into our food. However, the fact is that table salt is not the primary source of salt intake for most Americans. It comes mostly from consuming processed and manufactured food. According to the American Heart Association, 75% of the average American’s salt intake comes from processed foods which include tomato sauce, condiments, canned food and prepared mixes. Sodium can also be sourced from baking soda, baking powder and MSG, aside from salt.

Congress has stepped into the issue and directed CDC to come up with a plan to address this health risk by working with the food industry in managing the amount of sodium in U.S. food supply.

For the average American, now may be a time to think about making lifestyle changes and eating more natural and traditionally-prepared food, where they can better control their sodium intake.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Protect Your Heart from Recession-Related Stress (Second Part)

Published by:

Here are a few more tips for handling recession-related stress, and protecting your heart in the process.

Eat and drink healthy. You can hit two birds with one stone here. You need to scrape a few dollars here and there, and giving up your usual burger and fries for lunch and packing a healthy meal of fresh vegetables and fruit may be one way to do it. There are people who deal with frustration by mindlessly snacking throughout the day, and before they know it, they’ve packed in a few extra pounds. Resist this temptation, and you are well on your way to surviving this storm healthy and happy.

heartsAnother temptation to resist is turning to alcohol. I have a rather personal experience regarding this, as my grandfather dealt with post-war depression by turning to the bottle and tobacco. What followed was a series of heart, lung and gastro-intestinal issues that eventually claimed his life.

Get busy. Being unemployed is not an excuse to lie around the house doing nothing all day. You may allow yourself a day or two to take it super slow, but beyond that, you should still keep yourself busy while waiting for the next opportunity to come along. Plan your day and establish a routine. Being productive at the end of the day can uplift even the most beleaguered sprit.

Set your priorities. Finding oneself in dire financial straits entails a lot of planning and making wise choices. It is not as simple as cutting back on everything – it is about choosing which ones are important, and spend your money there. Among these are medications and healthy food. You may give up your gym membership and opt to exercise by walking around the neighborhood, but don’t give up buying important medication. If you really want to save, you can work with your physician regarding finding generic or cheaper medications that work just as well.

So, think positive and see you at the other end of this crisis.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Protect Your Heart from Recession-Related Stress

Published by:

The unstable economic times that we now find ourselves in does not only impact our financial capabilities; it is also causing several health issues. In a recent post, we saw how financial worries may have triggered potentially dangerous behavior in a couple of pilots in India, and they are not alone. We are as much prone to health risks as anyone else during these trying times if we do not take care of ourselves.

heartRecession can trigger stress, anxiety and depression – factors that can affect the heart. Stress may lead to accelerated artherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate.

Although recession in itself does not kill, it can have lasting effects on people’s health. Experts say that financial uncertainties can be difficult for some people to deal with.

There is, however, a lot that can be done to protect one’s health during the recession, and you do not even have to spend to do it.

Focus on news other than bad news. Refrain from following investment gains and losses too closely – or any sort of news that you know stresses you out. We’re not saying that you simply don’t care, but just don’t care too much that it’s all you ever watch on TV and read about online.

Get physical! It is important to engage in physical activities – you may choose to start an exercise routine, or do something as simple as walking in the park. If you suddenly find yourself with extra time on your hands, resist the temptation to wallow in self-pity and become a couch potato. It will not do you any good physically, mentally and emotionally.

Get some rest. When people are stressed out, the purpose of sleep – to restore one’s body – is put to waste. This can happen during trying times, where people lose sleep over growing financial concerns. In order to ensure uninterrupted sleep, refrain from doing stressful activities such as going through bills and discussing your dwindling savings account with your spouse just when you’re in bed and about to sleep.

These are but three of the things you can do. We will have more for you in our next post tomorrow. ;D

Substance Abuse

Illionois House Approves Random Steroid Testing

Published by:

A concerned father’s efforts towards saving other kids from abusing steroids after losing his own led to the passing of a new bill in the House of Representatives.

House Bill 272 was sponsored by Representative Jack Franks, who was introduced to Don Hooton by former University of Illinois and Chicago Bears player Dick Butkus. Don Hooton’s son Taylor died after using steroids, and he has since been trying to get steroids testing laws passed across the country. A pilot program now in effect in Texas is reportedly doing well.

footballThe bill, which was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives (116-0), allows the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) to conduct random steroid testing at any point during the sports season from a test pool composed of all participating athletes; currently, testing is only being done among teams who advance to the postseason. The IHSA, which is the governing body for high school athletics in Illinois, can also disqualify a player who tests positive. The player’s school can determine the accompanying penalty on a case to case basis.

House Bill 272 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The proposal will aim to conduct random steroid testing on about 1,000 students from at least 25% of Illinois high school. Urine samples will be used to test for the presence of performance enhancing drugs.

The aim of expanding the coverage of testing is to protect students who are feeling more pressure to do well in athletics, with lucrative scholarships at stake. Since the IHSA started postseason steroid testing last fall, though, no athlete has tested positive for steroid use. Of the 264 tests, six tests came back positive but all were waived by the IHSA, citing medical conditions.

Chicago Drug Screening

Substance Abuse

Two Indian Pilots Fail Alcohol Testing

Published by:

In India, an increased frequency of random breath analyzer alcohol tests caught two pilots drunk.

The good news is that they were caught in time. The bad news? They were actually about to fly.

The pilots were working for low-budget Indian airline Spicejet, and were caught on the same day in Delhi and Mumbai; one was a local and the other an expat. Both were caught after failing random alcohol testing conducted by the airline a few minutes before a scheduled flight.

airplaneThis news is rather chilling, and leads us to question whether this same scenario is happening anywhere else. It gives an entirely new meaning to drinking and driving. If taking the wheel after a few drinks is deemed irresponsible, there is no way to describe drinking and flying, when the lives of almost a hundred people depend on your ability to think clearly.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in India has ordered airlines to step up random alcohol testing for pilots. The DGCA is the regulatory body for air travel in India. They used to conduct these surprise alcohol testing, but after having difficulties with some pilots trying to evade undergoing these tests, the DGCA has decided to ask the airlines to share the responsibility.

The reason behind this tendency to drink has been attributed to the increased stress that pilots have been subjected to after the Indian aviation industry suffered a downturn last year. The pilots seem to have taken to drinking as a way to deal with the possibility of having to face pay cuts since October last year.

Stressed out or not, pilots of all people should be strong enough to refrain from engaging in activities that will decrease their ability to function properly and make wise decisions. Driving drunk is one thing, but putting hundreds of lives in danger, both in the air and below, is plain unacceptable.

Early Disease Detection

Drinking Hot Beverages May Lead to Throat Cancer

Published by:

Waiting a few minutes before drinking your hot tea may be more than simply avoiding a burnt tongue; it may even be a way to prevent throat cancer. A new study carried out in Northern Iran, where large amounts of hot tea are consumed on a daily basis, established a link between drinking very hot tea and an increased risk for cancer of the esophagus.

Hot is defined as having a temperature of 158°F (70°C), usually the temperature of freshly boiled tea. The study was published on the website of the British Medical Journal. The findings are not really meant to cause alarm, though; the general advice is to wait a little bit and allow foods and beverages to cool down before swallowing.

overview of head and neckThe esophagus is the muscular tube that carries anything that is taken in through the mouth – such as food and beverages – into the stomach. Cancers of the esophagus claims the lives of more than half a million people annually. The most common type of throat cancer is esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). The main cause of throat cancer in Europe and America is the use of tobacco and alcohol, but consuming hot beverages has also been thought to be a risk factor. Throat cancer is more common in men than in women.

The study was conducted in the Golestan province in Northern Iran, where there is a high incidence of OSCC but low rates of smoking and alcohol – the two most common risk factors. Women also possess the same risk factor as men. This led to the hypothesis that the consumption of hot beverages may be a third risk factor.

The results of the study showed that those who drank warm of lukewarm tea (149°F or less) and hot tea (between 149°F to just under 158°F) can be associated with a two-fold risk of esophageal cancer, while those who drink very hot tea can be associated with an eight-fold risk.

Don’t let this dampen your hot beverage drinking regimen, though. It is simply suggested that we wait about four minutes to allow food and beverage to cool down before swallowing.

Early Disease Detection

Fight Cholesterol With Your iPhone

Published by:

The iPhone is certainly well on its way to being your medical buddy.

A new application has been released onto the iTunes App Store last Friday – Cholesterol Coach from Melbourne-based Pocket Pixels, a software developer for the iPhone platform.

It is a known fact that in the United States, high cholesterol or hypercholesterolaemia is one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke. Of the more than one hundred million Americans who are believed to have high cholesterol levels, over thirty percent are considered high risk for heart disease and stroke.

iPhoneAn increase in cholesterol levels is generally brought about by a person’s lifestyle and eating habits. Unfortunately, as most people deal with the challenges and pressures of urban living and career building, what commonly follows is the development of an unhealthy lifestyle. Fortunately, though, it is exactly this very same urban lifestyle and consequent fascination for gadgets that may well pave the way towards a healthier life for the young urban professional.

The Cholesterol Coach is exactly what its name implies – it will be the iPhone user’s personal coach on anything cholesterol related. The application will help you track your cholesterol levels and will then take key modifiable risk factors for high cholesterol such as diet and exercise and use this as a basis for putting together an action plan to lower cholesterol levels. It will explain to users the effects that diet, exercise and smoking will have on cholesterol levels as well as help them set realistic goals for achieving normal cholesterol levels.

In order to inspire users, the application uses eye-catching graphs to track progress over time and show the impact of the adopted lifestyle, diet and exercise routine to his or her cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol Coach will also be able to provide information in easy-to-understand language, calculate annual spend on cigarettes, and assist in understanding food labeling in relation to fats.

Health & Wellness

Sleep Apnea Prevalent Among NFL Alumni

Published by:

A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic has determined that sleep apnea seems to be common among retired National Football League (NFL) players, particularly retired linemen. The research looked at 167 former football players and will be an addition to the existing research looking into the relationship between sleep apnea and heart disease.

footballThe results of the study, which was conducted in collaboration with the Living Heart Foundation, is scheduled to be presented on Tuesday, March 31, at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session in Orlando.

The study’s data showed that 60% of former linemen had Sleep-Disordered Breathing, or SDB. This is defined as having at least 10 episodes of sleep-related breathing disorder episodes per hour, such as pauses in breathing. The average for the former linemen who were observed during the study was 18.1 episodes per hour. The study indicated further that age and obesity seem to be significantly associated with SDB.

Since these were former athletes, the researchers were surprised at the level of prevalence of sleep apnea and obesity, which was higher than expected. This might serve as a warning for athletes to monitor their weight, and consequently, their health after bowing out of the game. Since athletes are used to intensive physical training, an abrupt decline of physical activity may lead to obesity and associated health conditions if left unchecked.

While available research is still not enough to positively establish a link between sleep disorders and heart disease, there is evidence that points to sleep apnea as a possible cause of high blood pressure, a critical risk factor for heart disease. Based on this, it might be to former athletes’ best interest to address obesity and sleep apnea issues in order to protect themselves against developing high blood pressure.

People need to be aware of sleep disorders as most people do not realize they have it, other than feeling tired during the day and being jokingly told about their unbearable all-night snoring. All these are possible indicators for sleep apnea.