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'No weight gain' from the pill? Or just more poor research?

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“The popular belief that taking the Pill makes you pile on the pounds has been exposed as a myth by an expert in women’s health,” reported the Daily Express.

The news story is based on a study that followed over 1,400 women of fertile age for 15 or 25 years to find out if the combined contraceptive pill had any influence on body weight. Researchers found no association between changes in weight and pill use, and that getting older was the only factor associated with weight gain.

This study has some strengths but also several limitations. One major problem is that the researchers did not measure the women’s weight but relied on the women themselves to give accurate measurements through a postal questionnaire every five years. As such, the results may be subject to error or bias. Also, though the study looked at other factors that may influence weight, such as exercise and having children, it did not look at the women’s diets, a major influence. These limitations, and the fact that 50% of the women dropped out of the study, mean the findings should be viewed with caution.

The 50 percent dropout rate is very problematic.  Did women not want to participate because they didn't want to report their weight gain?

In reality this study did not confirm or expose any myths at all.  With so much uncertainty, this study tells us nothing.

Links To The Headlines

The pill will not make you put on weightDaily Express, June 9 2011

 

Links To Science

Lindh I, Andersson Ellström A, Milsom I. The long-term influence of combined oral contraceptives on body weight. Human Reproduction April 19 2011, (first published online)

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Last Updated on Saturday, 23 July 2011 17:49
 

'Heart repair pill' still years away

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“A drug that makes hearts repair themselves has been used in research on mice,” BBC News has reported.

The news is based on an early set of laboratory and animal experiments. Researchers identified cells in the outer layer of the heart that can develop into mature heart cells and replace injured heart tissue after being treated with a specific protein. These “progenitor cells” have the ability to develop into new heart muscle cells in embryos, but cannot normally do so in adults. However, researchers have found that dormant progenitor cells can be activated in adult mice by injecting them with a specific protein. When these mice were induced to have a heart attack, some of the treated progenitor cells developed into new heart muscle cells, integrating into the heart tissue and functioning as part of the organ.

This research is at a very early stage, and further studies on the effectiveness and safety of such treatment in animals will be needed before human studies can be carried out. In particular, if the biological mechanisms discovered also apply to humans, research will need to establish if the protein could have an effect if administered months or years before a heart attack, or even after one. This study mainly looked at administering the protein before heart damage occurred. Overall, despite the possibilities presented by this early research, a pill that can regenerate human hearts is still some years off.

That is the official story, but what they aren't telling you is that this is a pill that never needs to be created at all.  The "specific protein" is a common protein found in the body.  In other words you already have it.  Particularly if you are a healthy person who eats well and exercises regularly.  Why buy a patented pill to do what your body already does on it's own if you live a healthy lifestyle?

The other catch that they don't mention is that if they did create a pill of this protein, if would only be effective (they would tell you) if you are taking it before you have any heart problems.  This way they can make you take a pill for a lifetime just in case you might need it someday.  What a great product! Huh?

All this looking for drugs to create gets really ridiculous sometimes.

 

Links To The Headlines

Drug makes hearts repair themselves. BBC News, June 8 2011

Discovery gives heart patients hope. Daily Mirror, June 9 2011

Turning back the cellular clock could repair damage after a heart attack. The Guardian, June 9 2011

Pill that 'mends broken hearts' by tricking damaged tissue. Daily Mail, June 9 2011

Heart attack breakthrough 'exciting'. The Daily Telegraph, June 9 2011

 

Links To Science

Smart N, Bollini S, Dubé KN et al. De novo cardiomyocytes from within the activated adult heart after injury. Nature, 2011

 

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Last Updated on Thursday, 28 July 2011 20:36
 

CJD protein sheds light on Alzheimer's?

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A “surprise discovery” has allowed scientists to block Alzheimer's disease, The Independent reported. The newspaper said that researchers developing drugs to treat the brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) “have unexpectedly blocked the onset of Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia”.

However, it is not correct to say that researchers have been able to “block” the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The study in question carried out laboratory and animal experiments to investigate the binding between two types of protein. One of the proteins investigated (called the amyloid beta protein) builds up in Alzheimer’s disease. An abnormal form of the other protein (called the prion protein) causes CJD. Scientists found that blocking the binding of the proteins stopped the amyloid protein from affecting nerve signals in mouse brain samples and in the brains of live rats.

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease and is caused by the death of nerve cells in certain areas of the brain. What triggers the death of nerve cells in this disease is still not fully understood, and blocking the effects of the amyloid protein in this way may not be sufficient to stop nerve cells dying.  In fact other studies have shown that the amyloid protein does not the cause the condition, but is only another symptom.

Another thing that makes this bad science is they used an amyloid protein concoction that is not the same as what is found in the human brain.  Too many of these kinds of research get done.  In the long run they are meaningless, because they don't even deal with the reality of the human body.
Then to make matters worse, some news guy misunderstands the research and writes a headline that completely mischaracterizes it as some modern miracle.  It's sad really.
Links To The Headlines

Surprise discovery allows scientists to block Alzheimer's. The Independent, June 8 2011

CJD drugs could help Alzheimer's patients. The Daily Telegraph, June 8 2011

Mad cow drugs could help beat Alzheimer's. Daily Mail, June 8 2011

 

Links To Science

Freir DB, Nicoll AJ, Klyubin I et al. Interaction between prion protein and toxic amyloid β assemblies can be therapeutically targeted at multiple sites. Nature Communications, June 7 2011

 

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Last Updated on Thursday, 28 July 2011 20:57
 

New clues to fighting genetic disease? Not Really.

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This is one of those fun science experiments that researchers sometimes do, but it has nothing to do with the reality of how the human body works.  Everything in this study was modified and controlled.  These types of studies are notorious for getting results that may actually be opposite to what actually happens in the human body.  The human body is a whole different set of chemicals and circumstances.

The only interesting thing is the recognition that cells damaged by various toxins (or genetic engineering) can heal if given the appropriate environment.

Be sure to eat natural whole foods, exercise, and drink plenty of water so you will give your body the proper environment to be healthy.

Here is the story:

“Scientists have hit on a genetic trick that opens up fresh avenues for the treatment of devastating diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and certain forms of cancer,” reported The Guardian.

The news comes after laboratory researchers found a way to get cells to “ignore” a certain type of genetic mutation. The type of mutation in question – called a premature stop or “nonsense” mutation - leads cells to prematurely halt the construction of a protein, instead creating a shortened protein that may not work correctly, or may not work at all. The researchers showed that applying a certain chemical modification allowed yeast cells to bypass a nonsense mutation and produce a full-length protein. The researchers reported that about a third of human genetic diseases are caused by this type of mutation.

Although this well-performed study had exciting results, we cannot be sure yet whether a similar approach would work on humans. Much more research is needed and, even if the method could be applied in humans, developing it into a safe, proven application for the treatment of human genetic diseases will take some time.

 

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Rochester, USA. Sources of funding for the research were not reported. The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature.

This story was covered in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Guardian. All three papers implied that the results of this experimental study, conducted in animal cell extracts and yeast, could apply to the treatment of human genetic diseases. The Telegraph and the Mail did go on to state that the experiments were performed in yeast. Appropriately, the Mail included a quote from Dr Philippa Brice that highlights the early stage of this research: “This discovery is a tremendously exciting development for genetics, but there are major barriers that will need to be overcome before it could be used to treat genetic diseases.”

 

What kind of research was this?

This laboratory research investigated whether the production of proteins in cells could be altered in a controlled way.

The DNA within genes contains the genetic instructions needed for making various different proteins. The DNA sends these instructions to the cells’ protein-making machinery using molecules called messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA effectively tells a cell how to fit together specific sequences of amino acids to form a protein. Certain genetic sequences also instruct the cell that a protein is complete, so that it will stop production. If mutations cause this “stop signal” to occur earlier within the mRNA, it will prematurely halt the protein-making machinery, creating a shortened protein that cannot perform its normal function. Approximately 33% of genetic diseases are reportedly caused by an error in the DNA sequence that causes the mRNA to contain a premature stop signal.

This research aimed to determine whether the researchers could modify a premature stop signal in the mRNA so that the protein-making machinery could bypass it and produce a full-length protein.

This well-performed research provides novel findings. However, much more research will be needed to determine whether these findings could help treat human genetic diseases.

 

What did the research involve?

The researchers first carried out experiments in extracts from rabbit cells, and then in live yeast cells. They looked at whether a specific chemical modification might allow the cell to ignore stop signals in mRNA, allowing a full-length protein to be produced.

In their first set of experiments in rabbit cell extracts, they compared protein production using mRNA with a premature stop, mRNA with a premature stop that was chemically modified, and mRNA without a premature stop.

Next, they the researchers moved onto a live yeast cell system. The yeast used in this experiment would normally die if exposed to a particular environmental exposure but the researchers genetically engineered the cells to carry instructions for making a protein which would allow survival when exposed. However the mRNA for this protein also contained a premature stop that would prevent the full protein from being produced. They also genetically modified the cells to produce a naturally occurring type of molecule that could chemically modify the premature stop in the mRNA. If the yeast cells survived, it would indicate that this second modification successfully allowed the yeast cells to bypass the stop signal and continue protein production.

The researchers then determined which amino acid “building block” was being incorporated into the protein in the place of the stop signal.

 

What were the basic results?

In the first phase of their study in rabbit cells, the researchers found that protein production was almost the same when cells used the mRNA with the chemically modified premature stop and the mRNA without a premature stop. The non-modified premature stop prevented the cell extract from producing the full protein.

Once this had been shown, the researchers went on to test whether the modification could work in live yeast cells. They found that the genetically engineered cells could chemically modify the premature stop, and that this allowed a full-length protein to be produced. This meant the yeast cells could grow in an environment where they would normally die.

 

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers concluded that this targeted modification of stop signals is a “novel approach” for promoting stop signal suppression in live cells. They say that this finding “is of significant clinical interest” as premature stop mutations are estimated to account for about a third of genetic diseases.

 

Conclusion

This exciting, novel finding allows full-length proteins to be produced from mRNA with premature stop signals. However, it was performed in yeast, and any translation into a clinical setting for treating genetic diseases is a long way off. There are several points to consider:

  • Not all genetic diseases are caused by stop mutations. Therefore, even if this approach could be used in humans, it would not be applicable in all human genetic diseases.
  • This study was performed in yeast, which is used in research as it is easy to manipulate. How the signal to modify premature stop signals could be delivered to human cells would require further research.
  • Proteins are made up of amino acid “building blocks”. The mechanism used in this study works by incorporating certain amino acids into the protein instead of prematurely stopping their production. These amino acids may not be the same ones that would be included in the normal form of the protein, and therefore it might not work in its normal way.
  • It is not clear how localised this type of modification would be. Research would need to ensure that the technique would not affect the production of other proteins in the cell.

Links To The Headlines

Geneticists discover technique to tackle mutant DNA. The Guardian, June 16 2011

Genetic 'green light' could lead to a cure for hundreds of ills. Daily Mail, June 16 2011

'Miracle' treatment for genetic diseases a step closer. Daily Mail, June 16 2011

Links To Science

Karijolich J & Yi-Tao Yu. Converting nonsense codons into sense codons by targeted pseudouridylation. Nature, Nature
Volume 474, 395–398 [Published online June 16 2011]

 

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 January 2012 20:19
 

HPV vaccine results do not apply to UK; or anyone else!

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Research on the HPV vaccine shows no advantage at all to the use of the vaccine, and yet the researchers say that it does.  If you look at the study (reviewed below) you see that the research wasn't even done in such a way that it could show a benefit or a detriment.

The result reported at first appear to show a slight advantage for those under 18 year olds, but a detriment to older women.  But then looking a little closer you realize that they didn't even check to see if the women they were surveying had received the vaccine or not.  They just compared women tested before the vaccine was introduced to society and women tested after.

In other words there is no way for there to be any correlation.  Also the number of incidents were so small, that similar numbers could have been found from any random survey.

Then if you look at the next section of data you find that looking at the low grade abnormalities, those under 18 years of age are worse off after vaccines.

Yet another example of bad science.  A thorough report follows, but first :

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Here is a report of the research:

Vaccination programmes to protect against cervical cancer are “likely to cut the numbers who get the disease”, The Guardian has reported. In 2008, the UK began such a programme, offering teenage girls a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), the viral cause of cervical cancer.

The news is based on an important Australian study that monitored the incidence of high- and low-grade cervical abnormalities at smear test appointments before and after the introduction of a HPV vaccination programme. However, while this well-conducted research monitored the situation in Australia, the UKs vaccination and cervical screening programmes are different from Australia's. The UK vaccination programme was introduced more recently, uses a slightly different vaccine, and has not targeted such a wide age group as the Australia, meaning the results do not apply to this country.

In addition, the success reported in newspapers was a decrease in incidence of high-grade cervical abnormalities (which may or may not progress to cancer) seen only in under-18s, but not in other age groups. The study also reported the results of screening tests only, and did not include data on confirmed cervical cancers.

Overall, the situation in the UK is different to that in Australia, and the effects of our vaccination programme cannot be assumed to be the same without appropriate study here.

 

Where did the story come from?

This Australian study was carried out by researchers from the Victorian Cytology Service and the Biosciences Research Division of the Department of Primary Industries. No funding was received for this research.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

This important research monitored the effect of introducing vaccination on rates of cervical abnormalities in Australia. However, newspaper reports of this research could be interpreted as implying that the results have a direct application to the UK’s use of the HPV vaccine. This is not supported by the study as Australia has a different vaccination and cervical screening programme to the UK. The newspapers also failed to make it make it immediately clear that the results were only observed in females aged under 18; this age group is not offered routine cervical screening, either in Australia or the UK, meaning they are not representative of the teenage population as a whole who have been given the vaccination.

 

What kind of research was this?

This before and after study compared the incidence of cervical abnormalities in the female population of Victoria in Australia in 2003–2007 (before the introduction of the HPV vaccination programme) and 2007–2009 (after its introduction).

The quadrivalent human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine was introduced for all women aged 12-26 years old in Australia in April 2007, after it was licensed for use in mid-2006. The quadrivalent vaccine provides protection against high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 that are detected in 70% of cervical cancers, as well as the low-risk types HPV 6 and 11 that cause 90% of genital warts.

Australia is said to be the first country to introduce an extensively funded HPV vaccination programme. Other countries have variably used the quadrivalent or bivalent vaccines (the latter protecting against the high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 only), and have chosen to implement short-term catch-up programmes aimed at older age groups, ranging from 13–18 years to 26 years. The NHS HPV vaccine programme began in 2008 and, unlike Australia, uses the bivalent vaccine.

 

What did the research involve?

The study used data available from the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry between 2003 and 2009, which promotes regular participation of women in the National Cervical Screening Program and follow-up of women with abnormal smear tests. It also compiles statistics for the purpose
of monitoring and research. It covers a population of over 2.7 million girls and women, of whom fewer than 1% request that test results are not held on the registry.

The researchers looked at records of histology (tissue sample analysis) to compare the incidence of high-grade cervical abnormalities (the primary outcome) and low-grade cell abnormalities (the secondary outcome) across five different age groups (under 18 years old, 18–20, 21–25, 26–30, and 31 or over). These were taken from January 2003 to March 2007 (before the programme began) and April 2007 to December 2009 (after it was introduced).

High-grade cervical abnormalities were defined as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) of grade 2 or worse, or adenocarcinoma in situ.  CIN refers to abnormal cells that are not yet cancerous, but which may progress to squamous cell cancer of the cervix. Abnormalities are graded as 1 to 3, depending on the thickness of the surface layer of the cervix that is affected (one-third, two-thirds, and full thickness respectively). Adenocarcinoma in situ is a precancerous lesion that can also be described as CIN 3. It is not yet classed as cancer if all the cells are contained within the surface layer of the cervix and if they have not yet spread to the underlying tissue of the cervix. However, treatment must be performed as soon as possible and further investigations are needed to see whether there has been any spread to the deeper tissues of the cervix – i.e. whether cervical cancer is confirmed.

In Australia, national guidance and protocols are used to guide the management of these different grades of CIN or adenocarcinoma in situ. However, in general, all cases will be immediately referred for further investigation. This report only presented the incidence of these high abnormalities and did not provide data on the number of cases of confirmed cervical cancer.

The study also considered the incidence of low-grade cell abnormalities, which in Australia are usually managed by arranging another smear test 12 months later to see whether the abnormality has resolved or whether further investigation or treatment are needed.

 

What were the basic results?

The researchers compared the proportions of screened women in the different age groups who were found to have high-grade cervical abnormalities. In the four years before vaccination and the 2.5 years after screening, the incidence of high-grade abnormalities were:

  • under 18 years old – 0.80% before and 0.42% after
  • 18–20 years – 1.20% before and 1.17% after
  • 21–25 years – 1.53% before and 1.71% after
  • 26–30 years – 1.26% before and 1.43% after
  • 31 years and over – 0.35% before and 0.37% after

The researchers noted that since the introduction of the vaccination programme, there has been a significant decrease in the incidence of high-grade cervical abnormalities among girls aged younger than 18 years (0.38% decrease in incidence, 95% confidence interval 0.61% to 0.16%). No significant decrease in incidence was seen for the 18–20 year group, though a small increase in incidence since the introduction of vaccination was seen for older age groups.

The proportions with low-grade cell abnormalities for the same time periods were:

  • under 18 years – 12.2% before and 12.5% after
  • 18–20 years – 11.0% before and 10.9% after
  • 21–25 years – 7.9% before and 7.3% after
  • 26–30 years – 5.0% before and 4.4% after
  • 31 years and over – 2.5% before and 2.0% after

In contrast to high-grade abnormalities, there was no decline in incidence of low-grade tissue abnormalities in the under–18s or 18–20 year group. While there was a decrease in the older age groups, the researchers say that these reflect longer-term trends that began before the vaccination programme.

 

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers say that this is the first report of a decrease in incidence of high-grade cervical abnormalities among under-18s, which was seen within three years of implementation of a population-wide HPV vaccination programme. However, they say that there is a need to cross-reference vaccination and screening registers to confirm that this observation is attributable to vaccination. The study looked at incidences of vaccination and abnormalities among a population but did not confirm that a lower rate of abnormalities was specifically seen in only those women vaccinated.

They also say that they need to monitor participation in cervical screening programmes among women who have been vaccinated.

 

Conclusion

This important research from Australia monitored the effect of introducing vaccination on rates of cervical abnormalities. Although it had strengths, such as its use of extensive population-based data, caution should be applied before using this data to hail either the UK’s or Australia’s vaccination campaigns as a success:

  • This study only assessed the effect of introducing a vaccination programme in Victoria in Australia. No assumptions should be made from this about the effect of the programme in the UK, particularly as the two programmes use different types of HPV vaccines, the UK programme was introduced more recently and has not targeted such a wide age-group.
  • Establishing the outcome of the UK’s HPV vaccination programme will require separate research using histological databases in the UK, as well as examining the incidence of cervical abnormalities from cervical screening before and after the vaccination was introduced.
  • In this Australian study, a decrease in incidence of high-grade abnormalities was only observed in under-18s, the group with the lowest incidence of cancer and cervical abnormalities. No effect was seen in older age groups, though it is assumed that, in time, the benefits would extend to them too.
  • Under-18s are not called for routine cervical screening in the UK, where screening is currently offered to women aged 25 and over. . In Australia invitation for cervical screening commences at 18. Why these teenagers under 18 in Australia have received a smear is unclear, but it may be because they were experiencing some gynaecological symptoms. The true incidence of high- or low-grade abnormalities in girls under 18 before and after introduction of vaccination in Australia is therefore unknown, as girls of this age who have had a smear would be expected to be a low proportion of the total girls of this age group. In the UK invitation for screening currently starts at age 25; therefore any benefit for young women here will take longer to detect (i.e. until girls who have received the vaccine in the UK start attending for regular smears)
  • The report only examined high-grade cervical abnormalities or low-grade abnormalities, but not confirmed cancer. This is because the study only had results of screening available, and no high-grade cervical abnormalities can be classed as cancer without further investigation. The Daily Mirror’s headline that the vaccine could halve the number of girls who get cervical cancer is therefore incorrect.

In the UK, the national vaccination programme for girls aged 12-13 years old was introduced in September 2008, with a catch-up campaign for older girls up to the age of 18 introduced shortly after. In the UK, the bivalent vaccine, which protects against high-risk HPV types 16 and 18, is used. Cervical screening invitation also currently commences at the age of 25. The situation here is therefore different from Australia, and it will take several years to detect any effect the HPV vaccine has on cervical abnormalities detected through screening.

Overall, there are key differences between the vaccination and screening programmes in the UK and Australia, and the effects of the UK’s vaccination programme cannot be estimated without appropriate study in the UK.

Links To The Headlines

Cervical cancer vaccine a success, says Lancet report. The Guardian, June 17 2011

Cervical cancer vaccine could halve girls who get the condition. Daily Mirror, June 17 2011

Links To Science

Brotherton J, Fridman M, May CL et al. Early effect of the HPV vaccination programme on cervical abnormalities in Victoria, Australia: an ecological study. The Lancet, Volume 377, Issue 9783, Pages 2085 - 2092, June 18 2011

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There is a tonic that balances all the major systems of the body.  It was formulated using only tonic (meaning balancing) herbs.  It was formulated without the use of alcohol or other substances that can destroy the tonicity of the herbs.  Most herbal concoctions are created using alcohol or other chemicals that destroy the balancing abilities of the herbs.  To learn more about this wonderful herbal tonic stay tuned.  We will soon publish a whole article on it.


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Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2012 20:13
 


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