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By LIDIA WASOWICZ, UPI Senior Science Writer

TARGET: SPREADING TUMOR CELLS

University of Utah researchers have come up with a way to seek out and demolish spreading tumor cells. The approach, which showed successful results in laboratory tests, combines the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin with a natural sugar known as hyaluronic acid. The new drug is confined within the cancer cells by a large molecule known as a copolymer. In the lab dish, the compound killed human breast, ovarian and colon cancer cells. Other approaches of getting cancer cells before they do too much damage target the outside of the malignant cell, rather than entering and destroying it from the inside, the researchers said in the journal Pharmaceutical Research. These methods, such as using monoclonal antibodies, "are magic rubber bullets," said Glenn Prestwich, principal study author and professor and chair of medicinal chemistry. In contrast, "ours are magic Teflon bullets; they go right inside cells," he said. "For cancer that is metastasizing, this is a search-and-destroy method." The method will be tested in mice, then -- perhaps in three years or more -- in humans, researchers said.

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TESTS POINT TO SUBTLE SIGNS OF ALZHEIMER'S

Neuropsychological tests given to mentally healthy elderly men and women can serve as early indicators of who will likely develop Alzheimer's disease later on, researchers have found. The study of 40 participants with an average age of 75 revealed subtle changes that might be the start of the degenerative disorder that affects some 12 million Americans. Of the participants, 20 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's within two years of testing. The other 20 remained without any symptoms of mental decline for several years. In comparing the two groups, the scientists from the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine found small but significant differences. "We saw a larger discrepancy between the results of the non-verbal spatial tests and the verbal tests in the subjects who later were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease," said lead author Mark Jacobson, research psychologist with the VA Healthcare System and assistant project scientist with the UCSD department of psychiatry. "Since these changes are very subtle and not noticeable if you are only looking at one single area, our findings suggest that we should be comparing performance in different areas as they relate to one another to detect early changes in cognitive function."

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COMMON COLD VIRUS TAKES ON CANCER

Scientists are experimenting with using a common cold virus as a weapon against cancer. The technique involves injecting a modified cold virus into the liver to kill cancerous cells. The advantage of using the virus -- which is genetically weakened to lessen its infectious nature -- lies in its ability to target the cancer while leaving normal cells unharmed. "We want to kill the tumor but not at the expense of the patient," said Dr. Daniel Sze, assistant professor of radiology at Stanford University who presented the findings at a meeting of the Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology in Baltimore. In the study, the 35 cancer patients who received various doses of the live virus suffered flu-like symptoms for about a week -- compared to such side effects of chemotherapy as nausea, weakness and hair loss, researchers said. Of the 28 patients who received the highest virus dose, each was expected to live only about six months but instead survived closer to a year.


DENTAL PATCH SPELLS RELIEF

A small adhesive patch can spell relief from dental pain, a study suggests. Researchers at Ohio State University compared the effectiveness of the DentiPatch, a small adhesive patch that contains the numbing agent lidocaine, to a topical anesthetic gel. Patients using the patch reported feeling half as much pain from a needle stick as those using the gel. Some of the patients also reported less discomfort during procedures that required the dentist to scrape underneath the gums. The gel's anesthetic effects lasted about a minute, compared to 45 minutes for the DentiPatch, the study authors said. "The fear of needles and needle-stick pain is a major deterrent to dental care for many people, not to mention other potentially uncomfortable procedures," said Michele Carr, study co-author and assistant professor of dental hygiene at Ohio State University. The DentiPatch, made by Noven Pharmaceuticals, might ease some of that discomfort, he said.

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(EDITORS: For more information about TUMOR, call 801-581-8993; about ALZHEIMERS, call 619-543-6163; about COLD, call 650-723-3900; about PATCH, call 614-292-8457.)

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