As the clock continues to tick down to the last minutes of 2009, it’s worth noting some of the most highlighted health news events of the year. Here is Wellcast’s top 10 list:
10. XMRV Virus and Chronic Fatigue
A breakthrough discovery of a retrovirus known as XMRV has been found in a significant number of chronic fatigue patients. A US lab is making a diagnostic test available to the public. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this virus and it’s association with other syndromes such as fibromyalgia and Gulf War Syndrome in 2010.
9. Creating Stem Cells
On March 9, President Obama changed a law that prohibited the use of federal money to fund research on stem cells. The law still prevents scientists from using government funds to create new lines of embryonic stem cells, but at least scientists are now free to use that money to study the hundreds of stem-cell lines already in existence. A new method for generating stem cells will not require embryos as starting points. Adult tissues such as a patient’s own skin cells can be used to generate stem cells. These are cells that can develop into most other cells and can possibly cure devastating diseases or conditions such as spinal cord injury, macular degeneration, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
8. Autism: New Findings
According to new data released by the Federal Government, 1 in 100 American children is now affected by an autism spectrum disorder, up from the previous data of 1 in 150. Researchers identified one possible genetic clue which is on variations in genes that code for proteins involved in forming connections in the brain.
7. Cancer Vaccine
Vaccines can train the body’s immune system to distinguish diseased cells and then attack them. Once the body can distinguish cancer cells, it can kill them before cancer has a chance to recur in a patient. A vaccine called gp 100:209-217, or gp 100 that targets skin cancer (melanoma) has been discovered that improves response rates and survival for patients when combined with the immunotherapy drug, Interleukin-2.
6. New Osteoporosis Drug
Denosumab is a monoclonal antibody that slows down the formation of cells that breakdown bone. This can help the bone building cells catch up in helping re-build bone. Studies have shown that compared with placebo, Denosumab lowered the incidence of fractures in postmenopausal women as well as men being treated for prostate cancer, which are the two largest patient populations at risk for bone loss. We’re not sure yet how the new drug, if approved, would compare with existing osteoporosis drugs.
5. New Alzheimer’s Genes
In September, scientists identified a new set of genes that may contribute to this memory-robbing disorder. Researchers were able to identify three genes linked to the late-onset form of the disease, the type that hits people in their 60s or later and accounts for 90% of Alzheimer’s cases in the U.S. It’s not clear yet exactly how the genes increase Alzheimer’s risk, but researchers hope to develop more effective and better-targeted treatments for the disease.
4. Prostate-Cancer Screening
The controversy of whether men should be screened for prostate cancer has finally reached a clear decision…or has it? Prostate cancer in many cases progresses slowly and may not require aggressive treatment. Screening by either getting a manual exam (yes, that’s a rectal exam!) or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test each year has been under debate for some time. Research studies have found that screening and early detection did not lower the death rate from prostate cancer.
Prostrate screening is recommended in men age 75 and older since no clear benefits have been shown in testing younger men.
3. H1N1 Vaccine
The world was faced with a new virus that reached pandemic proportions with the H1N1 flu. A new H1N1 vaccine was anticipated to reach the public, but the vaccine supply couldn’t keep pace with demand in the first weeks of October. The H1N1 flu pandemic may not be conquered until 2011 and continued vigilance is required against the virus which can still mutate, according to the head of the World Health Organisation this week.
2. Climate Change-Our Greatest Health Threat
Researchers from University College London published a study that determined climate change as the biggest health threat of the 21st century. I couldn’t agree more. The main concerns involved food and water, where shortages and high prices over the next 20 years would lead to malnutrition and a predisposition to infectious diseases. Other major threats include war, ecological collapse, and insect-borne and heat-related diseases.
1. New Mammography Guidelines
Based on new calculations weighing the risks and benefits of routine mammogram screening, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s new recommendations advised women to begin routine mammograms at age 50 instead of 40 and to switch from yearly to biennial screenings. There was a lot of opposition from doctors, patients, cancer advocacy groups and politicians. A big concern was whether insurance companies would cover the cost of mammograms if patients and their doctors decided testing should be done more frequently. That concern was put to rest in December, however, when the Senate approved an amendment to guarantee coverage of mammograms and preventive screening tests.
Wishing all of you from Wellcast a very happy, and health New Year!