One dose of H1N1 vaccine works for pregnant women: US trial

A nurse gives a shot of the H1N1 vaccine to Mandi Russell, who is seven and a half months pregnant, at the Utah County Health Department in October 2009 in Provo, Utah. A single dose of swine flu vaccine produces a robust immune response in pregnant women, one of the groups at higher risk of dying from (A)H1N1 influenza, initial results from US clinical trials have shown.

A nurse gives a shot of the H1N1 vaccine to Mandi Russell, who is seven and a half months pregnant, at the Utah County Health Department in October 2009 in Provo, Utah. A single dose of swine flu vaccine produces a robust immune response in pregnant women, one of the groups at higher risk of dying from (A)H1N1 influenza, initial results from US clinical trials have shown.

AFP – A single dose of swine flu vaccine produces a robust immune response in pregnant women, one of the groups at higher risk of dying from (A)H1N1 influenza, initial results from US clinical trials have shown.

“The immune responses seen in these healthy pregnant women are comparable to those seen in healthy adults at the same time point after a single vaccination, and the vaccine has been well tolerated,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allegies and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement.

No safety issues were reported during the trials, which began on September 9 and tested 120 women, all in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.

Twenty-one days after they were given the swine flu vaccine, 92 percent of pregnant women who were given the single 15-microgram dose and 96 percent of expectant mothers who were given one, 30-microgram dose showed a robust immune response, initial results of the ongoing trials showed.

Since the outbreak of the new strain of (A)H1N1 flu emerged in April, at least 100 pregnant women have been hospitalized in intensive care units in the US and at least 28 expectant mothers have died of pandemic swine flu.

Pregnant women have been turned away from flu vaccination clinics organized by state and county health authorities, where vaccine supply has been far outstripped by demand.

Expectant mothers have to have the injectable form of the swine flu vaccine, which is made with killed (A)H1N1 virus, which cannot cause infection.

The vaccine tested on the women did not contain the preservative thimerosal or an immune-boosting substance known as an adjuvant.

The vaccine is also available in the form of a nasal spray, but it is made with live, although greatly weakened, virus and is not advised for pregnant women, children under the age of two and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma.

Canadian scientists: “major breakthrough” in cancer research

VANCOUVER, CANADA (BNO NEWS) – Canadian scientists on Wednesday said they have achieved an unprecedented breakthrough in breast cancer research, opening new doors to new breast cancer treatment targets and therapies.

For the first time ever, scientists at the B.C. Cancer Agency were able to decode all of the three billion letters in the DNA sequence of a metastatic lobular breast cancer tumor, a type of breast cancer which accounts for about 10 percent of all breast cancer cases. The scientists were able to find all the mutations, or “spelling” mistakes that caused the cancer to spread further.

The results of the study will be published on Thursday as the cover story in the prestigious international science journal “Nature.” It helps unlock the secrets of how cancer begins and spreads, the agency said, thus pointing the way to the development of new breast cancer treatment targets and therapies.

“One in nine women is expected to develop breast cancer, and breast cancer accounts for 29 percent of all cancer diagnoses for B.C. women,” said Canadian Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon. “As a result of the efforts of the scientists behind the study, this breakthrough finding gives further hope to the thousands of women with this terrible disease.”

“I never thought I would see this in my lifetime,” Dr. Samuel Aparicio, head of the breast cancer research program and research team leader at the B.C. Cancer Agency, said. “This is a watershed event in our ability to understand the causes of breast cancer and to develop personalized medicines for our patients. The number of doors that can now be opened to future research is considerable.”

Dr. Aparicio’s team at the B.C. Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), partnered with the Genome Sciences Centre. His team used the latest in next-generation DNA sequencing technology to study the evolution of a single patient’s lobular breast cancer tumor over a nine-year interval.

The group found 32 mutations in the metastatic cancer tumor and then looked to see how many of those same spelling mistakes were present in the original tumor, the agency said. The results showed that only five of the 32 could have been present in all of the cells of the primary tumor, making those the ones that started the disease in the first place. These five mutations were previously unknown to researchers as playing a role in the cancer.

“This study demonstrates the remarkable capacity of next-generation DNA sequencing technology,” said Dr. Marco Marra, director of the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre. “The project that decoded the first human genome in 2001 took years and an enormous amount of funding. We were able [to] sequence the breast cancer genome in weeks and a fraction of the cost,” he added.

Health officials fear disease in quake-hit Indonesia

Public health officials fear the outbreak of disease in Indonesia’s quake-hit West Sumatra Province.

Six days after the earthquake devastated Sumatra, search and rescue efforts have been shelved in major cities.

euronews channel-Attention has now turned to survivors. In the port city of Padang hundreds of volunteers sprayed buildings with disinfectant in an attempt to ward off any deadly germs.

Clean drinking water is of paramount importance.

Patrick Fuller from the Red Cross said: “If people don’t have clean water and they are drinking dirty water, then, yes, there are health problems with that. So things are slowly normalising, electricity is coming back but our concern is still getting to people in villages, in the rural areas, who have not yet been reached.”

Aid is now pouring into the area, but the scale of the disaster, heavy rains and shattered infrastructure mean that help is slow in reaching those who need it, sparking anger among the locals.

People are looking for ways of helping themselves like begging.

“We will use the money to buy fuel for the generator and chillies for our cooking,” said one boy.

The number of victims stands at 625 dead and 295 missing but Indonesia’s health minister has warned it may rise to as high as 3,000.

Eat less and live longer

AFP – The fountain of youth may exist after all, as a study showed Thursday that scientists have discovered means to extend the lifespan of mice and primates.

The key to eternal – or at least prolonged – youth lies in genetic manipulation that mimics the health benefits of reducing calorie intake, suggesting that aging and age-related diseases can be treated.

Scientists from the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London (UCL) extended the lifespan of mice by up to a fifth and reduced the number of age-related diseases affecting the animals after they genetically manipulated them to block production of the S6 Kinase 1 (S6K1) protein.

Scientists have shown since the 1930s that reducing the calorie intake by 30 percent for rats, mice and — in a more recent finding — primates can extend their lifespan by 40 percent and have health benefits.

By blocking S6K1, which is involved in the body’s response to changes in food intake, similar benefits were obtained without reducing food intake, according to the study published in the US journal Science.

The results corroborated those of other recent studies.

“Blocking the action of the S6K1 protein helps prevent a number of age-related conditions in female mice,” explained UCL professor Dominic Withers, the study’s lead author. 

“The mice lived longer and were leaner, more active and generally healthier than the control group. We added ‘life to their years’ as well as ‘years to their lives.'”

The genetically altered female mice lived 20 percent longer — living a total of 950 days — or over 160 days more than their normal counterparts. 

At age 600 days, the equivalent of middle age in humans, the altered female mice were leaner, had stronger bones, were protected from type 2 diabetes, performed better at motor tasks and demonstrated better senses and cognition, according to the study.

Their T-cells, a key component of the immune system also seemed more “youthful,” the researchers said, which points to a slowing of the declining immunity that usually accompanies aging.

Male mice showed little difference in lifespan although they also demonstrated some of the health benefits, including less resistance to insulin and healthier T-cells. Researchers said reasons for the differences between the two sexes were unclear.

“We are suddenly much closer to treatments for aging than we thought,” said David Gems of UCL’s Institute of Healthy Aging, one of the authors of the study, which was primarily funded by the Wellcome Trust. 

“We have moved from initial findings in worm models to having ‘druggable’ targets in mice. The next logical step is to see if drugs like metformin can slow the aging process in humans.”

Other studies have also found that blocking S6K1 were channeled through increased activity of a second molecule, AMPK, which regulates energy levels within cells.

AMPK, also known as a master “fuel gauge,” is activated when cellular energy levels fall, as takes place when calorie intake is reduced.

Drugs, such as the widely-used metformin, that activate AMPK are already being used in human patients to treat type 2 diabetes.

Recent studies by Russian scientists suggested that metformin can extend mice’s lifespan.

Another drug, rapamycin, was found to extend the lifespan of mice, according to a study published in the British journal Nature.

As rapamycin is already used in humans as an immunosuppresant — to prevent a patient from rejecting an organ after transplant — it could not be administered as an anti-ageing drug in its current form.

But rapamycin blocks S6K1 activity and could thus extend lifespan through its impact on S6K1.

Seizing on the potential, US firm Sirtris Pharmaceuticals uses resveratrol, a powerful anti-oxidant found in red wine, as well as other fruits than raisin.

Sirtris scientists — including co-founder David Sinclair, also a researcher at Harvard Medical School — have found that resveratrol activates the production of sirtuin proteins, which also unleash the same physiological effects as reducing calorie intake. 

Sirtris has produced highly concentrated doses of resveratrol and is currently leading clinical trials with diabetes patients and others suffering from liver and colon cancer.

Trial of AIDS vaccine cuts infection rates

A new AIDS vaccine tested on volunteers in Thailand protected a significant proportion of volunteers against infection, US and Thai researchers revealed Thursday in the first case of any vaccine even partly succeeding against the deadly disease.

An experimental AIDS vaccine made using two older vaccines protected volunteers, lowering the risk of infection by about a third, U.S. and Thai researchers reported on Thursday.
The vaccine is a combination of Sanofi-Pasteur’s ALVAC canary pox vaccine and the failed HIV vaccine AIDSVAX, made by a San Francisco company called VaxGen and now owned by the nonprofit Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases.
It lowered the risk of HIV infection by 32 percent among 16,000 heterosexual Thai volunteers who had no special risk of AIDS infection, the U.S. and Thai government researchers said.

“We had 74 infections in the placebo group and 51 in the vaccine group,” Dr. Jerome Kim, a U.S. Army colonel at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland, who helped lead the trial, said in a telephone interview to Reuters.

The result, almost completely unexpected, puzzled researchers, who say they cannot figure out why the vaccine combination is working.
It is also a triumph for its supporters, who went ahead with the giant trial of 16,000 volunteers despite critics who said it was unethical or a waste of money because the vaccine was so widely expected to have no effect at all.
“Myself, like others, did not think there was a very high chance that this would give any degree of efficacy,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped pay for the study.
“But nonetheless, we went ahead with the trial and it was controversial to go ahead with it.”
Further muddying the waters — people who got the vaccine and who became infected anyway had just as much virus in their blood and just as much damage to their immune systems as HIV patients who went unvaccinated.
This means the vaccine helps to prevent infection but does nothing to affect the virus once it is in the body.

“Although the level of protection that we saw was clearly modest, the study is a major scientific advance,” Kim said.


“It is the first evidence that the development of a safe and effective vaccine is possible. Although we don’t have all the answers now, it does have important implications for the future of HIV vaccine design.”

Kim stressed that the vaccine may not work in the people and places where HIV is most common — in Africa, among men who have sex with men and among injecting drug users.

The vaccine was tested in Thailand and it is really specific for the strains that are circulating in Thailand now,” Kim said.

Fauci said the Thai findings did not suggest whether any of these other dozens of other HIV vaccine trials should be dropped, or pursued more actively.

“I know people are going to be asking the question, should we be using it right away?” Fauci said.

But he and Kim said the researchers need to study the data, to see why it protected some people.
Both also noted that the vaccine was formulated specifically to work against two subtypes of the human immunodeficiency virus — E, which circulates in Thailand and Southeast Asia, and B, which is common in the United States and Europe.
The 16,000 volunteers in the trial got six immunizations over six months — four with ALVAC and two with AIDSVAX.
ALVAC is a genetically engineered canarypox virus that has spliced into it synthetic versions of three HIV genes. AIDSVAX is made using two versions of one HIV gene, one from the B subtype and one from the E subtype.
The AIDS virus infects an estimated 33 million people globally and has killed 25 million since it was identified in the 1980s. It affects immune cells called T-cells.
Cocktails of drugs can control the virus but there is no cure. In 2007, Merck & Co ended a trial of its vaccine after it was found not to work, and in 2003, AIDSVAX used alone was found to offer no protection, either.

Assisted suicide law in England “clarified”

Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and campaigner, Debbie Purdy has welcomed the publication of new guidance on the law relating to assisted suicide in England and Wales.

It was after Purdy went to court to clarify whether her husband would be prosecuted should he help her end her life due to her illness, that the UK’s Law Lords ordered the clarification.

Debbie Purdy,Pro Assisted-Suicide campaigner gave her reaction. “It has tried to be clear about the difference between malicious encouragement and compassionate support for people who have come to an end of their lives, and who have decided that life is intolerable.”

The director of public prosecutions has not changed the law – assisting suicide is still illegal- but the DPP has spelled out a range of factors that will be considered when deciding on cases..

For example if the terminally ill or severely disabled individual has a clear wish to die and a family member or close friend is motivated by compassion.

Dr.Peter Saunders of “Care not killing”, expressed his misgivings: “We’re concerned about the very wide breadth of physical conditions to be included, which could arguably include things like dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, anyone in a wheelchair. And also about the implicit assumption that loved ones will be acting in the best interests of the person who’s having assisted suicide.”

An estimated 117 Britons have travelled abroad to die, principally to Switzerland where assisted suicide is legal. Those who have accompanied them have run the risk of prosecution when they returned home.

WHO tries to calm H1N1 vaccine fears

A vaccine against H1N1 flu should be effective even if the virus mutates, according to the World Health Organisation.

The WHO wants to reassure those who have their doubts about the vaccine, which is expected to be available this month or next.

euronews spoke to Marc Van Ranst, the lead virologist in Belgium’s response to flu pandemics. He was optimistic that a vaccine would work.

He said: “This virus seems to be pretty stable which indeed means that the vaccines that are being prepared will be efficatious to work on the viruses that are circulating, so this is good news but not completely unexpected.”

Many people are worried there won’t be enough vaccines to go round. The WHO admits there won’t, but Van Ranst believes not everybody will need to be vaccinated.

“I think there is an obligation to prepare for something that could have been worse or that with a small percentage chance still might become worse,” he said. “But when we face the fact now that this has the mortality of a normal influenza season then we also have to adapt our actions so we are not giving anti virals to everybody who has the flu. We will not vaccinate the whole population.”

The priority will be to vaccinate health workers, pregnant women, the young and the elderly.

The WHO says other precautionary measures should be enough to beat the bug.