Testing It Up » June 2012

Monthly Archives: June 2012

Substance Abuse

Nicotine Vaccine to Help Smokers Kick Cigarette Habit

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A vaccine that will help smokers quit is in the works, as researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College were able to develop an innovative approach to nicotine addiction.

The researchers were able to successfully test a vaccine that will help treat nicotine addiction on mice.

The results of their study were published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. A harmless virus is used by the vaccine to genetically modify liver cells, so that it consistently produces nicotine antibodies. These antibodies use up nicotine as it enters the bloodstream, destroying the chemical before it is able to trigger cravings to light up again.

Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell, shared: “The antibody is like a little Pac-Man floating around in the blood, and it grabs onto the nicotine and prevents it from reaching the brain, so there’s no reward…  With a single administration of the vaccine, we converted the liver to make the antibody, and it lasts for the life of the mouse.”

Early Disease Detection

Former Mouseketeer Don Grady Passes Away

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Don Grady, who danced as a Mouseketeer on “The Mickey Mouse Club” and played Robbie in the family sitcom “My Three Sons” has died at the age of 68.

Grady passed away in his home in Thousand Oaks after a four-year bout with cancer, as shared by his wife, Ginny.

He had displayed a fondness for music and dancing as a child, and was given the opportunity to audition for “The Mickey Mouse Club” when he was in middle school. He performed as a Mouseketeer for several years before leaving the Disney show to join the cast of “My Three Sons” when he was 16.

Grady is survived by his wife, Ginny; two children, Joey and Tessa; his mother; and a sister, Marilou Reichel.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Moderate Exercise May Lower Breast Cancer Risk

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A study published in the journal Cancer found that women who exercise moderately may have reduced risk for developing breast cancer after menopause, when compared against their peers who did not engage in physical activity.

Women who exercised during their childbearing years were less likely to develop breast cancer after menopause, although women who only began exercising after menopause also had lower breast cancer risk, suggesting that it was never too late to start being physically active.

Study lead Lauren McCullough, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, shared: “What we can say is, exercise is good for you… It’s never too late to start. Our evidence suggests that if you start after menopause, you can still help yourself.”

The results of their research lends further credence to previous studies that associate regular exercise with lower breast cancer rates, although these studies only indicate a correlation between the two, as opposed to offering proof that reduced risk for breast cancer is due to exercise itself.

McCullough shared that there may be several reasons behind the correlation. One indirect possibility is that, by cutting body fat, known growth factors that can feed the development of tumors may also be reduced. Exercise may also have direct effects by boosting the immune system.

The study involved an analysis of data from 1,500 women with breast cancer, and 1,550 women who were not suffering from the disease. The study participants were of the same age, and were asked about their exercise habits and other lifestyle factors, including smoking and drinking.

Home Health Hazards Substance Abuse

Chemicals in Baby Soaps Linked to Positive THC Tests of Newborns

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One of the things that people will probably least expect is for a newborn to test positive for marijuana – but a hospital in North Carolina became concerned after a high incidence of newborns testing positive for marijuana exposure was observed.

The incident led to the conduct of a study, which found that the positive marijuana test results among newborns may be attributed to chemicals found in baby soaps and shampoos, including brands manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, Aveeno, and CVS brand products.

Initially, the researchers could not specifically identify the reason behind why urine tests of newborns came back positive for marijuana, according to Dr. Catherine Hammett-Stabler, lead study author at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

She shared the following with ABC News: “We went up to the nursery, followed the nurses and the staff around to identify everything that was done, everything that was essentially touching those babies’ skins, could possibly come into contact with the urine that we were subsequently testing.”

The researchers looked into various commercial products and materials that newborns usually come into contact with. The results of their study showed that there are chemicals found in baby soaps and shampoos – such as polyquarternium-11 and cocamidopropyl betaine – that can trigger positive THC results.

The researchers believe that trace amounts of these chemicals, defined as 0.1 ml or less, may have found their way into urine samples after being washed off the babies’ bodies. Among the products that led to false positives were Johnson & Johnson’s Bedtime Bath, CVS Night-time Baby Bath, Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Creamy Wash and Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo.

Substance Abuse

Chemicals Found in Spice to be Banned by House, Senate

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Twenty-six chemicals found in synthetic marijuana will be banned, after the House and the Senate agreed on legislation to do so last June 18.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that panelists who decided the details regarding the proposed Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act have agreed to classify the said chemicals in synthetic marijuana as Schedule I substances of the Controlled Substances Act.

The substances that will be banned under the legislation include nine different next-generation chemicals; dimethoxyphenethylamines, also known as “2C”; and 15 synthetic cannabinoids.

In addition to the ban on 26 substances, the legislation will double the length of time that a substance may be placed in Schedule 1 status, from 18 to 36 months. It also provides a definition for the term “cannabamimetic agents” – substances that are manufactured to mimic the effects of THC.

Synthetic marijuana is being sold legally in some areas under such brand names as K2, Spice, and Yucatan Fire, and given the product description “incense.” Synthetics are sprayed on dried plant material and sold in brightly colored packages.

It has become a favorite among young people looking for that “high” that illegal substances provide, but who do not wish to break the law. These substances are still, for the most part, undetectable in urinalysis tests, and relatively few of the chemicals that comprise these substances have been declared illegal.

Manufacturers of synthetic marijuana have also been rather quick about changing compounds in order to circumnavigate new restrictions that are being enacted.

Early Disease Detection

More Kids, Teens Suffer from High Blood Pressure

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When one talks about high blood pressure, more often than not, thoughts turn to the belief that it is a condition that affects old people. A new study, published online in the journal online in the journal Hypertension, observed a steep increase in the number of young people sent to the hospital for high blood pressure.

The study found that hospital stays for Americans aged 18 and below due to high blood pressure nearly doubled over a ten-year period – from 12,661 in 1997 to 24,602 in 2006. The researchers pointed out further that high blood pressure among kids is becoming more common, with the condition affecting up to 3% of children in America.

Joshua Samuels, MD, of the University of Texas, who wrote an editorial published along with the study, shared: “significant increases in blood pressure are likely riding the wave of pediatric obesity that is spreading across America.”

Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, on the other hand, shared: “This could be a huge wake-up call. When I read an article like this, I feel like standing on the buildings in New York City and screaming. Children are getting sicker and sicker as they’re getting more obese. There’s going to be a huge increase in heart disease and health care costs because of this… Children who have hypertension usually become adults with hypertension. And children who are obese usually become obese adults, with all the chronic conditions associated with that.”

Pregnancy & Fertility Substance Abuse

Is Moderate Drinking During Early Pregnancy Safe?

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NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams probably echoed the sentiments of a number of people when he opened a report discussing a Danish study on alcohol consumption and pregnancy by saying, “Well, this is one of those studies where the results should be quickly followed by someone saying ‘This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to try this.’”

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A study conducted by researchers from Denmark found that low or moderate consumption of alcohol – defined as one to eight drinks per week – during the early stages of pregnancy may not harm the woman’s unborn child, or affect the baby’s neurological development or attention span later in life.

The study analyzed data provided by more than 1,600 study participants, consisting of pregnant women recruited at their first antenatal visit. Half of the study participants were having their first pregnancy, while just under one-third admitted to smoking while pregnant. There were also participants who did not drink during pregnancy.

The pregnant women were asked about their alcohol intake, defined as “low average” if consumption was at one to four drinks (at 12g per serving) per week; “moderate” if consumption was at five to eight drinks per week; and “high” if consumption was at nine or more drinks per week.

The researchers then looked into the effects of alcohol on IQ, attention span, executive functions (planning, organization, self-control, among others) in the children at five years of age. Lead study authors Ulrik Schiøler Kesmodel of Aarhus University and Prof Erik Lykke Mortensen of the University of Copenhagen shared: “Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged five.”

Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and a consultant obstetrician described the research as “very well designed,” although he did say: “These findings suggest low to moderate drinking has no significant effect on children aged five. However, this does not mean that women can use this as an excuse to indulge in more than the recommended amount.”

Substance Abuse

Anonymous Tip Tool in Maine Allows Reporting of Underage Drinking

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A program in mid-coast Maine provides an important capability in the fight against underage alcohol abuse.

eTip is a new and anonymous reporting tool being implemented through a partnership between substance abuse prevention and law enforcement agencies in Mid-coast Maine.

It is a program that allows members of the community to report underage drinking, drug use and a range of other crimes to the police. It was launched by law enforcement agencies in Sagadahoc County, Brunswick, and Harpswell, in partnership with Mid Coast Hospital’s Access Health & Substance Abuse Prevention Program and a coalition called Communities Against Substance Abuse.

The tool, which debuted in April, allows users to submit information via text message. This triggers a real-time exchange with a police dispatcher, who would usually ask for such specific information as the location of the violation and the people involved. The name and phone number of the person providing the tip, however, remains anonymous.

Detective Sgt. Bob Savary of the Bath Police Department shared: “If people call 911, sometimes their phone can come up on the [dispatcher’s] screen, so there’s not the level of anonymity that this mechanism has… Even if I wanted to know who made the complaint, there’s no way for me to get that information. If you’re really concerned about remaining anonymous, this is probably the better way to do it.”

To use eTip, users send a text message that begins with the word “eTip” to 274637 (CRIMES), or download a free mobile phone app called “TipSubmit Mobile,” which works on both the iPhone and on Android devices. Tips may also be submitted through www.MidCoastCASA.org.

Substance Abuse

Prescription Drug Abuse among College Students Linked to Mental Health Problems

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A new study finds a link between prescription drug abuse among college students and more mental health woes like depression and suicidal thoughts.

Researchers analyzed data from a 2008 survey, participated by more than 26,000 college students at 40 campuses, and found that about 13 per cent of the responders reported non-medical use of prescription drugs. Students who said they had experienced feeling hopeless, sad, depressed or had considered suicide have greater risk to abuse prescription drugs. The association was particularly strong among female students who reported painkiller use.

Study co-author Amanda Divin, assistant professor of health sciences at Western Illinois University, said “As our study demonstrates, use of prescription drugs — particularly painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin — is related to depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in college students. This is why use of such drugs need to be monitored by a doctor and why mental health outreach on college campuses is particularly important.”

Divin adds that most people perceived prescription drugs as “safe” because they are tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by doctors. The findings demonstrate that college students are abusing prescription drugs to ease mental distress.

Over the last few weeks, we have been heard and read news about the rising cases of prescription drug abuse across the United States. Some students in elite private schools are reportedly using prescription medicines, like Adderall and Ritalin, to enhance academic performance.

The new study is scheduled to be published in the August issue of Addictive Behaviors: An International Journal. 

Early Disease Detection

Colorado Urologists Stand by Benefits of PSA Tests

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Despite the fact that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended against the use of prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing for the diagnosis of prostate cancer, urologists in Colorado are standing by the test, saying that contrary to what others may argue, PSA tests do save lives.

The Denver Post shared the thoughts of Richard Augspurger, medical director of the Urology Center of Colorado. Augspurger shared that this year, an estimated 22,000 residents of Colorado will be diagnosed with cancer, of which 3,000 are men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is described as the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Colorado, a reality that has been so for the past five years.

The piece refutes the recommendation made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which Augspurger shared was given despite opposition from urologists, oncologists, patients, and advocacy groups.

The PSA test, he writes, is the best option available to date in as far as helping men assess their risk for developing prostate cancer, as well as determining the appropriate treatment, in consultation with their physician is concerned. Augspurger also pointed out that recommending against routine PSA testing may deprive those who are most at risk for prostate cancer – African Americans and those who have a family history of the disease – from undergoing potentially life-saving screenings.

The European Randomized Study for the Screening of Prostate Cancer, the findings of which were published in March 2012, found a 21 percent survival advantage to PSA screening for all patients. These findings, as well as an observed decline in death rates from prostate cancer, lends credence to the fact that screening helps detect prostate cancer at earlier stages, which leads to the saving of lives. “Unfortunately, it appears that these data weren’t considered by the U.S. task force when making its recent recommendation,” Augspurger added.