Health File

April 25, 2011 by Sharon Adams


Blood Tests To Detect Cancer

A less invasive alternative to surgical biopsy to identify and track serious diseases is now in the works.
Researchers are using biomarkers—like certain antibodies and proteins—to diagnose several serious diseases, including prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer.

Prostate cancer researchers in England have developed a way to detect autoantibodies in blood samples long before symptoms begin. Not only do researchers claim it’s more accurate than current methods—a rectal examination and prostate specific antigen (PSA) test—but it would do away with biopsies. It should also increase survival rates, since men could be treated much earlier.

A Colorado company has developed equipment to identify protein signatures and biomarkers in blood samples for two of the most deadly forms of cancer—pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma.

These aggressive cancers are usually identified at a later stage, when treatment is more difficult. The new equipment identifies biomarkers in blood samples and again, much earlier and more accurately than other tests.

And a California company has found a way to measure circulating tumour cells in blood samples—a sort of liquid biopsy.

This means on the horizon are simple blood tests to diagnose and track cancer and other serious diseases—and lots of debate about when to use them, and who will pay.

With Glowing Hearts

One day some heart patients may sing those words in our national anthem—and literally mean them.
U.S. scientist Steven Ebert of the University of Central Florida has engineered stem cells meant for heart repair with an enzyme that makes fireflies glow. The result is glowing human cells that can be easily tracked non-invasively from outside the body as they develop into healthy heart muscle.

This cutting-edge research, a long way from use in humans, will also help researchers understand just how stem cells heal damaged hearts and what helps stem cells thrive.

Steady As You Go

Many changes associated with aging increase our risk for falling and injuring ourselves, but we can take responsibility for lowering our risk, says an international researcher who points out that many falls are not accidents—they are preventable.

“Given their frequency and consequences, falls are as serious a health problem for older persons as heart attacks or strokes,” says Dr. Mary Tinetti of Yale University School of Medicine, co-author of new recommendations to prevent falls published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The recommendations advise seniors to take up exercise like Tai Chi to improve balance, strength and gait; adapt homes to reduce fall risk; investigate reducing medications, like sleep aids, which can increase risk; and ask their doctors to check whether blood pressure plummets when they stand.

Attacking the problem on several fronts has proven to have the most impact on reducing the risk of falls, Tinetti says.

The estimated cost of fall-related injuries among those 65 and older is $2.8 billion a year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The cost of repairing a fractured hip can be up to $28,000 in direct medical costs. A reduction in falls of 20 per cent could result in 7,500 fewer hospitalizations and 1,800 fewer permanently disabled seniors, PHAC says. Almost half of seniors who fall are injured—a quarter seriously. The Canadian Community Health Survey revealed 44 per cent of falls are due to slipping, tripping or stumbling; 26 per cent happen on stairs; and ice and snow account for 20 per cent.

Falls cause more than 90 per cent of Canadian seniors’ hip fractures, and 20 per cent of seniors die within a year of the fracture. As well, 40 per cent of all nursing home admissions occur as results of falls.

Sleep Helps In Losing Weight

If you’re dieting, be sure to get enough sleep.

Researchers at the University of Chicago put 10 overweight dieters on a diet of 10 per cent fewer calories than needed to maintain body weight without exercise. Then they measured their weight loss while sleeping 81/2 hours a night for two weeks, and again when sleeping only 51/2 hours.

Although dieters lost the same amount of weight both times—about 2.99 kilograms—they lost more fat when sleeping longer. When dieters got a full night’s shut-eye they lost an average of 1.4 kilograms of fat and 1.49 kilograms of lean body tissue, but when sleep deprived they dropped only an average of 0.58 kilograms of fat and 2.4 kilograms of lean mass. You want to keep muscle and lose fat when dieting because muscle helps you burn calories by revving up the metabolism.

The extra sleep also helped control hunger by lowering levels of ghrelin, a substance that stimulates hunger and food intake and promotes fat retention.

And consider this—extra hours spent in the sack also limits hours of temptation to raid the fridge.

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