Salt- the Good, the Bad and the Ugly…


After years of strident health campaigns advising us to eat les salt, we are all now fully aware of the health risks associated with over-consumption. Eating too much salt, in particular the sodium bit, has been blamed for some of the rise in hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular disease and stroke. But what about the chloride counterpart of sodium chloride, the chemical that makes up salt? Researchers at the University of Glasgow have recently published some fascinating long-range research, trying to discover what chloride is doing inside of us and whether it is just as dangerous as its chemical partner.

Chloride has often been overlooked in the study of salt, which is surprising when you consider it makes up 50% of the molecule. The research conducted focused on people with high blood pressure (hypertension). The 13’000 volunteers were studied over a period of 35 years and monitored for various chemical levels in their blood. The results for chloride were the most startling. The study found that low levels of chloride in the blood were an independent indicator of a higher mortality risk in people with hypertension. In fact, with low levels, individuals risk rose to 20% higher than the risk for people with higher chloride levels in their blood.

These finding will bring about a whole new area of research in the fight against cardiovascular disease. It is far too soon to say that salt is healthy as a combined product, or even that chloride is healthy, but this data certainly opens a door on that area for research that may lead to the routine monitoring of chloride levels in vulnerable people as well as treatments to boost levels in that those that need it (if a therapeutic benefit can be found).

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First Human Trials for New Skin Cancer Therapy


A new treatment for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has just entered its first phase I study in humans. The exciting new treatment, which is actually an implantable vaccine, will be tested for its safety and tolerability in the human body during trials due to run any time now.

This is the latest in translational research, an area of science that tends to build up more complex hypotheses from very simple early ideas. The research has been undertaken at the Wyss Institute for Biologically-Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

What makes this investigational product so interesting is its approach; most therapeutic cancer vaccines require the removal of an individual’s own immune cells, and then their reprogramming and reintroduction back into the body. This new approach involves the insertion of a disk-like sponge (about the size of a fingernail) made of FDA-approved polymers implanted under the skin. The disk is responsible for the recruitment and reprogramming of the patients own immune cells on site, instructing them to travel through the body and home in on the cancer cells. Once the immune cells have found the cancer cells, they will kill them.

The treatment has shown excellent results in the mouse model; in some case it has even managed to eliminate the cancer altogether. It is thought that with the right development, the treatment could also have applications in other tumour-forming cancers.

The trial has raised a few eyebrows due to the speed of it reaching phase I, but as the treatment has a brilliant toxicological record and such excellent results, it seems natural to measure its safety in human trials as soon as possible. The real steps forward will occur in phase II, which could be as soon as summer 2014 is all goes well with phase 1.

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Dividing melanoma cell image is provided courtesy of

Novel Anti-Thrush Treatment Reaches Phase II



A novel antifungal agent developed by Viamet Pharmaceuticals has just entered Phase II trials, bringing it one step closer to approval.

The investigational product, called VT-1161, is now going to be investigated for its safety and efficacy in the treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC). The drug is novel in its approach as it selectively inhibits the fungus in the area . Previous trials in the US have shown good safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics.

Thrush is often seen as a minor issue and 75% women suffer form it at some point in their lives. However, 5-8% of women suffer from stubborn thrush, called recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC). There are currently no approved agents to treat RVVC, meaning women get left on long courses of antifungals which destroy the natural fauna in the area. This can lead to greater infection and so a constant spiral of medication and reinfection.

Over-the-counter treatments are no match for RVVC so this treatment is very important as it focuses on a specific fungus rather than a blanket approach affecting the whole area.

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Image of the thrush organism is provided courtesy of

Are Our Own Cells Giving Cancer a Helping Hand?

th (1)New research from the University of Michigan has shown the key to tackling cancer may lie in the suppression of one of our own immune cells.

The cells are known as myeloid derived suppressor cells and are immune cells within the human body. The trial data was published in the journal Immunity and the research focused on the most deadly form of ovarian cancer, epithelial carcinoma. This is considered a brilliant research area as this cancer has shown some chemotherapy-resistance.

It is thought that cancer stem cells are largely resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy and finding out how to kill them will bring us one step closer to being able to eliminate cancer. Their resistance is what leads to longer, multi-cycle treatment.

The cells have been shown to help cancer by enhancing the expression of the cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells make up just 1-3% of the mass of a cancer but are responsible for 100% of the tumour’s growth. They also help by spurring on metastasis (the spread of the cancer) and inhibiting the activation of T-cells (leading to immunosuppression).

Now scientists hope to be able to focus their research on controlling the activity of the myeloid derived suppressor cells to enable the cancer to become weaker and more responsive to treatment.

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Image of epithelial carcinoma cell is provided courtesy of

Alzheimer’s Disease Missing Link Discovered



Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have discovered the missing link in the complicated chain of events that lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The research, reported in the journal Neuron, has been able to pinpoint the exact protein that has been missing from our understanding of the disease and it’s biochemical pathway.

In mice studies, the study team blocked the action of a protein with an existing drug (currently used for other brain problems) and found that memory was restored in the test subjects. The discovery is made even more exciting by the fact that this protein is easily targeted by drugs.

For years most of the process surrounding the onset of Alzheimer’s has been mapped out, but this elusive missing link has remained. This has made it hard to develop medications for Alzheimer’s as we have not really been sure what we are up against. The reaction in question here is between amyloid-beta peptides and prion proteins which couple together on the surface of neurons. This coupling activity activates a molecular messenger within the cell called Fyn. The protein getting in the way of this pathway which was identified by this study is called metabotropic glutamate receptor S (mGluRS).

Now researchers have a specific target, it is hoped that a medication can be developed which will help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Image of a neuron is provided courtesy of and David Dwire © Rainbow Studios ‘00

Mice with a Down’s-like Syndrome Respond Well to SHP-Agonist Treatment


A research collaboration between the John Hopkins Institute and the National Institutes of Health has shown that a single-dose injection given to mice at birth can reverse some of the symptoms of a condition similar to Down’s syndrome. The injection was found to boost learning and memory in the mice as well as leading to their cerebellums (the part of the brain responsible for coordination and motor control) maturing to a normal size in adulthood.

The study, reported in the latest issue of Science Translational Medicine, involved a small-molecule compound called a sonic hedgehog pathway agonist. People who suffer with Down’s syndrome have a cerebellum that is 40% smaller than a non-sufferer. The treatment not only led to the cerebellum maturing to full-size, it also led to enhancements in the function of the hippocampus which improved the learning and memory abilities of the mice.

Down’s syndrome is caused by three copies of chromosome 21 being present within an individual, instead of the usual two. This is known as trisomy and it means that in the case of Down’s syndrome there are extra copies of over 300 genes present which leads to the intellectual impairment, distinctive facial characteristics and health problems characteristic of Down’s. Treatment is hard as the symptoms are so wide-ranging.

The study team are keen to stress that this treatment is not remotely near to being a “magic cure” for Down’s syndrome; something which researchers believe is just not possible anyway. It should also be noted that although the mice had a condition similar to Down’s syndrome, they only had a 50% trisomy. The main problem with putting this compound into humans is that it alters a very specific chain of events in the development of the brain, which could lead to inappropriate growth and the development of cancers. The treatment does show, however, that treatment for the syndrome may be possible as long as the treatment is heavily specific and targeted to the right areas of the brain.

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Large-Scale Study into Diabetic Medications Looks Good for Saxagliptin



It’s been a major concern to health practitioners for the last few years- are medications for the treatment of diabetes actually increasing the patient’s risk of heart attack and hospitalisation? A large-scale study into the question has now published its results and they make for some very interesting reading.

The trial, Saxagliptin Assessment of Vascular Outcomes Recorded in Patients with Diabetes mellitus (SAVOR-TIMI 53), was a large-scale, international, randomized, placebo-controlled study focusing on saxagliptin (which is one of the most common drug treatments for type-II diabetes). Saxagliptin works by controlling the glucose levels in the blood, reducing the need for insulin and preventing high levels of protein in the urine (which can lead to kidney damage). The volunteers were split into three groups with one receiving saxagliptin, one receiving selective didpeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitor and one receiving a placebo.

It was mainly the risk of heart attack that was being measured but other effects were noted. The team found that there was no fewer or greater numbers of patients requiring hospitalization for heart attack in the study group that were taking saxagliptin.

SAVOR-TIMI 53 was run over 788 sites in 26 countries and enrolled 16’492 patients. To be included, volunteers must have had type-II Diabetes mellitus as well as a high risk of cardiovascular disease. The trial did show that the saxagliptin group had a higher rate of hospitalization overall when compared to the other treatment arms, so the data suggests that further research is needed.

This trial shows that the need for a sufficient, long-scale follow up on diabetes medication is vitally important. All diabetic medications are taken for a long period by the patient and as such the effects on the body need to be quantified over a long period.

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