In a development that may have implications for alcohol drinkers, researchers at Hadassah Hospital have connected a particular gene to cirrhosis, or potentially life-threatening liver scarring.
The research team, led professor Rifaat Safadi, the head of the hospital’s Liver Unit, found that people with a type of overexpression of a gene called Neuroligin 4 were predisposed to cirrhosis, which has many causes, including certain diseases and the consumption alcohol and some medications.
“We located a gene whose overexpression in the NK cells of the immune system exposes to the body to cirrhosis,” Safadi said. “When cirrhosis of the liver develops, the NK cells in the immune system, in their healthy form, kill the scar-tissue cells. We found that the overexpression of this gene put a mechanism into operation that kept these cells from their anti-scarring work.”
The tendency of some people to develop advanced cirrhosis has been a hot topic for investigation among liver-disease researchers in recent years.
The Hadassah study – which involved taking blood samples from dozens of patients with cirrhosis and comparing their NK cells to those of a control group of healthy people – came on the heels of related research. Several years ago, the same research team found that intact NK cells are good for the liver and prevent cirrhosis. The discovery, published in The Journal of Hepatology in February 2006, was also reported by a group of researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the United States.
Safadi’s research team has also found a connection between the expression of Neuroligin 4 and insulin reception by cells throughout the body: Where there is insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes that involves insulin receptors not working properly, the expression of Neuroligin 4 increases.
The findings were published in November 2012 at a conference of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston. Team member Dr. Johnny Amer was awarded the young researchers’ prize at the conference.
The Hadasit Technology Transfer Company of Hadassah Hospital has already patented Neuroligin 4 in hopes of using it to develop treatments to prevent liver disease. The gene has previously been connected with morbidity conditions and one of its mutations has been connected with the development of autism. Researchers next plan to investigate whether mutations of the gene also increase the risk of developing cirrhosis.
Scientists have successfully trialled a simple breath test to detect stomach cancer, using a new type of sensor made of nanomaterials.
The first trial of the device is small, involving 130 patients with a range of different stomach complaints, but it proved to be more than 90% accurate in differentiating between cancer and other diseases. It was also over 90% accurate in detecting which were early-stage cancers and which were advanced.
It has been known for some time that cancers can give off odours that may not be detectable to the human nose. A study published by German researchers in 2010 described how dogs had been trained to sniff out lung cancers – although they accepted it was possible the dogs were picking up the smell of drugs used to treat patients rather than the disease.
The stomach cancer breath test takes the concept into more measurable and probably useful territory. Stomach cancer can be detected by an endoscopic examination, which involves inserting a flexible tube through the nose and into the digestive system, but this is not pleasant. A breath test could be routinely used by a GP to rule out cancer.
The scientists, from Israel and China, describe in the British Journal of Cancer how their sensors detected the chemical profile of the cancer with a high degree of accuracy in the air that the patients exhaled.
Professor Hossam Haick, lead researcher from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, said: “The promising findings from this early study suggest that using a breath test to diagnose stomach cancers, as well as more benign complaints, could be a future alternative to endoscopies – which can be costly and time-consuming, as well as unpleasant to the patient.
“Nevertheless, these results are at an early stage and support the concept of a breath test to detect stomach cancers but further validations are needed. Indeed, we’re already building on the success of this study with a larger-scale clinical trial.
“Around 7,000 people develop stomach cancer in the UK each year and most of these are in their advanced stages when they are diagnosed. But if found to be accurate enough, the nanomaterial breath test presents a new possibility for screening a population for stomach cancer, which would hopefully lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease.”
Kate Law, the director of clinical research at Cancer Research UK, said the test could lead to earlier detection of stomach cancer, which could save lives. “The results of this latest study are promising – although large-scale trials will now be needed to confirm these findings,” she said.
“Only one in five people are able to have surgery as part of their treatment as most stomach cancers are diagnosed at stages that are too advanced for surgery. Any test that could help diagnose stomach cancers earlier would make a difference to patients’ long-term survival.”
Source: The Gaurdian
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Seventy senior public health professionals working to promote health and save lives around the world will visit Israel this week. The visitors will spend nine days learning about cutting-edge research while exchanging professional experiences, challenges and successes.
The participants are graduates of the Hebrew University-Hadassah International Master of Public Health (IMPH) program. The one-year graduate program is part of the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.
The event is the second Pears IMPH Alumni Workshop and Reunion, sponsored by the Pears Foundation (UK). Participants will hear from world-renowned public health experts such as Harvard’s Dr. Michelle Williams, to whom US President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Award for Excellence.
Since 1971, the one-year IMPH degree has been awarded to more than 750 graduates from 90 countries. Graduates have become leaders in their countries of origin and internationally, working to alleviate disease, end extreme poverty and promote health and development around the world.
Students from low-income countries are awarded scholarships by the Pears Foundation and other donor agencies.
“The Pears Foundation is a strategic partner in our IMPH program,” said Braun School Director and former IMPH program Director Prof. Yehuda Neumark. “In providing support for IMPH scholarships and follow-up alumni activities, it aims to build a network of scholars in low-income regions of the world who benefit from academic expertise in Israel and transfer that expertise towards efforts to alleviate disease, end extreme poverty and promote health and development.
“Its support also helps strengthen relationships between Israel and Africa through building strong academic cooperation.”
Current students and the visiting alumni hail from Albania, Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Mali, Macedonia, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestinian Authority, Philippines, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, and Uganda, among others.
Graduates of the program include leading health professionals such as Prof. Cui Fuqiang, a widely published research scientist serving as deputy director of China’s National Immunization Program and director of the Hepatitis Division of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
After graduating the IMPH program in 2004, he moved to Beijing to join China CDC, was granted over $3 million in research support, and recently received his doctorate from the University of Basel.
“I will never forget the IMPH program’s courses in epidemiology and community-oriented primary care. I learned so much that helped me develop my research model when I returned to China,” he said recently, adding that the program “gave me both epidemiology skills and the self-confidence to pursue my career.”
Another IMPH graduate is Amb. Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, ambassador and deputy permanent representative of the Kenya Mission to the United Nations. Dr. Ojiambo has played a leading role in women’s organizations, UNICEF and public health NGOs, in areas such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
The event will include representatives of the Africa Population & Health Research Center (Kenya), Association of Schools of Public Health – European Region, Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MASHAV-Israel Center for International Cooperation, University of Toronto, and World Health Organization (Geneva).
Israeli researchers say they have discovered one of the ways that breast cancer cells turn on their aggressive cancerous behavior. This means that it will be possible to detect breast cancer earlier and decide on the most effective treatment.
“We found a short version of a known enzyme which is actually reprogramming the cell to behave like a cancer cell,” Dr. Rotem Karni of the Hebrew University Institute of Medical Research Israel-Canada told The Media Line. “We identified the molecular mechanism which activates a pathway of transmission of information that is sent to the cell.”
The short version has fewer genes than the longer version of the enzyme. The research is expected to help with both early detection of breast cancer and follow-up treatment of malignant growths.
“This is fantastic news, because the earlier we can detect breast cancer in patients, the earlier we can potentially begin treating it,” Fern Reiss, author of the new book, The Breast Cancer Checklist: The Only Guide for What to Do Before, During, and After Breast Cancer Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation, told The Media Line.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that one out of eight women will get breast cancer at some point in her life. The chances increase based on age, genetic history, weight and reproductive history.
Karni says that the short version of the enzyme, which encourages cancerous cell growth, responds well to certain drugs that have already been approved by the FDA. He says the current research also has long-term implications.
“Once we know how the short form of the enzyme is generated, we can actually block or reverse it,” he said. “We can already do this in the lab and we are developing ways to do it in the body.”
In contrast, the long form of this same enzyme acts as a tumor suppressor which protects normal cells from becoming cancerous. Karni says they are also looking at ways to turn the short form, which is dangerous, into the long form of the enzyme.
He says the main advantage now is in diagnostics by helping doctors decide whether chemotherapy or surgery is needed. He has worked on the project for three years, and his team is continuing to collaborate with drug companies in both the and .
Breast cancer survival rates have improved dramatically in recent years. Currently, 10-year survival rates are 85-90 percent. When caught early, 98 percent of women survive for at least five years. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers.
Jewish women have a one in 7.5 chance of developing the disease, while Arab women have a one in 14 chance. The most common form of breast cancer is invasive carcinoma. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer rates are the fifth-highest in the Western world.
Karni says the research he is doing at is personal as well as scientific.
“I think that every person knows many people around them who are either directly affected by cancer or have relatives who are sick,” he said. “It’s very rewarding in terms of knowing that these findings are important and can contribute to treatment.”
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.medialine.org