Health Tips

By LIDIA WASOWICZ, UPI Senior Science Writer   |   April 5, 2002 at 4:45 AM
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FAITH MAY BE HEALING

Church attendance and a longer, healthier life go hand in hand, according to a study of 6,545 Californians. Weekly church goers had significantly lower risk of death than did those who went to services less frequently or not at all, said researchers from the Human Population Laboratories of the Public Health Institute, the California Department of Health Services and the University of California, Berkeley. "We found this difference even after adjusting for factors such as social connections and health behaviors, including smoking and exercising," said Doug Oman of UC Berkeley, lead author of the study reported in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. "The fact that the risk of death by several different causes is lower for those who attend religious services every week suggests that we should look to some psychological factor for answers. Maybe frequent attendees experience a greater sense of inner peace, perhaps because they can draw upon religious coping practices to help them deal with stressful events." The scientists found those who attended religious services less than once a week or never had a 21 percent greater overall risk of dying and a 21 percent greater risk of dying from circulatory diseases. Oman said the study adds to a growing body of evidence that religious practices are generally linked to better health.


TREATMENT TESTED AGAINST PANCREATIC CANCER

In preliminary findings, a combination treatment showed some promise against pancreatic cancer, which is often fatal. The combination of irinotecan (CPT-11, CAMPTOSAR®) and gemcitabine may also be effective against other forms of cancer, researchers said. The combination used in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer resulted in a one-year survival rate of 27 percent, higher than that reported in previous studies using gemcitabine alone. The new finding is reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. "The findings suggest that the addition of irinotecan to gemcitabine may enhance the clinical benefit of gemcitabine as well as increase survival in a disease in which eight out of 10 patients die within a year of being diagnosed," said Dr. Caio Lima, assistant professor of medicine at the University of South Florida. "Irinotecan, the standard of care for the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer, is showing promise in this difficult tumor type and is offering hope to patients with this devastating disease." The Phase II study of 45 patients evaluated the efficacy and safety of irinotecan combined with gemcitabine in patients with previously untreated metastatic pancreatic cancer.


DETECTING DNA DAMAGE WITH PINPRICK

A pinprick worth of blood may one day be used to test a person's risk for cancer or the potential risks of a new medication, scientists say. The method, reported in the journal Mutation Research, provides a snapshot of DNA damage in baby human blood cells. The technology, developed at Litron Laboratories, a small biotech company in Rochester, N.Y., aims to detect as early as possible minute changes in the blood that indicate DNA damage. "Just as doctors perform a colonoscopy to detect polyps that are prone to becoming cancerous, scientists would like to look at blood cells to detect the earliest signs of DNA damage that might suggest an increased risk of cancer or indicate exposure to a harmful agent," said Stephen Dertinger, director of research at Litron. "Pharmaceutical firms use these measurements to evaluate the damaging potential of new compounds. Such measurements can be used to assess the effectiveness of treatments designed to protect against cancer. It may even be useful to identify in advance people who are extra-sensitive to particular drugs, especially cancer therapy agents." The system uses lasers to detect the level of DNA damage in new red blood cells called immature reticulocytes before the damaged cells are pulled out of circulation by the spleen, a process thought to take about 10 minutes. "We know we've developed a valuable tool, and we're looking forward to seeing how other groups apply the technology," said Litron President Carol Tometsko.


PROTEIN KEY TO HEART DEVELOPMENT

A gene important to the survival of an embryo is also key to the formation of the developing heart, researchers have found. The gene might be implicated in common cardiac defects, the researchers said in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The gene is called bone morphogenetic protein receptor ALK3. Mice that lack it never develop beyond a hollow ball of cells, said Dr. Michael Schneider, professor of medicine, molecular and cellular biology and molecular physiology and biophysics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. In the mouse studies, he and his team examined the role of the gene in heart development. "Within days of deleting this gene for the receptor, heart defects occurred in the mice," Schneider said. "There was thinning of the ventricular wall and septal defects," holes between the chambers of the heart. "This is clinically interesting because these include some of the most common congenital defects in human infants," he said.


(EDITORS: For more information about FAITH, call 707-878-2573; about CANCER, call 312-297-7421; about DNA, call 585-442-0930; about BONE, call 713-796-4712.)

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