22 January 2008

Medical News Briefs

China is experiencing an epidemic of three strains of HIV in intravenous drug users. Scientists are attempting to create an anti-HIV vaccine to stem the spread of disease.
Two closely-related HIV variants had spread through intravenous drug users (IDUs) from southwestern Yunnan province; one to as far as Xinjiang in the northwest, and the second to Guangdong in the south...The third variant is in Yunnan and southern Guangxi province, which Chen said is passed mainly through heterosexual sex.

Chen, who worked alongside famous HIV/AIDS scientist David Ho in the U.S. before heading the Hong Kong institute, said collaborating scientists in the U.S. and China have designed a vaccine based on the two HIV variants spreading among IDUs and they hope to test it in animals by the end of this year.

A gene-suppressing anti-inflammatory gel has been created to speed wound healing of both surface skin injuries and internal organ damage.
The Bristol team discovered that a single gene called osteopontin plays a key role in controlling this process - and developed a gel that suppresses this action....They found that once the gel was applied, the speed of regeneration of blood vessels around the wound, and the rate of tissue reconstruction were both accelerated....In addition, deposition of collagen layers was more controlled - resulting in less scarring.

A new intraspinal gene therapy may bring a revolution in chronic pain treatment.
Pain vanished for at least three months in rats who were injected in the spine with a gene that triggers endorphins, the body's natural pain killer....The therapy did not affect the rest of the nervous system, including the brain, potentially preventing the main side-effects of current pain relief.

"Although this research is at a very early stage, the concept of using gene therapy to deliver pain relief is interesting because it could potentially have fewer side effects than conventional pain relief," said Josephine Querido of Cancer Research UK....Chronic back pain in the UK alone is thought to cost billions....Scientists have been trying for many years now to harness gene therapy for pain relief but have hit various problems...This development is "certainly exciting and promising", says Professor Turo Nurmikko, Director of the Pain Research Institute in Liverpool.

Meanwhile, in gene labs around the world, a greatly expanded human gene map--using genes from 1,000 individuals--aims to further refine the relationship between gene variants and disease.
The international research consortium behind the 1,000 Genomes Project aims to build on this work by providing a much more detailed map of disease-related differences for use by all scientists.

"The dream of people working in the field would be to have a picture of all the places in our DNA sequence where there are differences between people, and how these fit together when they are inherited," Dr Richard Durbin of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who is co-chair of the consortium, told BBC News.

"We can do 100 times as much sequence today as before for the same amount of money," he explained...."That allows us to think about sequencing 1,000 people in order to see directly all those differences between people and to provide a foundation for future human genetics."...The map is designed to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about how genetic variation is related to disease.

Most current research focuses on rare genetic changes in the human code that run in families and cause severe inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, or common differences that appear to underpin a host of major diseases.

"Between these two types of genetic variants - very rare and fairly common - we have a significant gap in our knowledge," said Dr David Altshuler, the other co-chair of the consortium.

Improving research tools speed medical discoveries. But it goes deeper. The tools that create better research tools are themselves improving. The process is limited by the ability of humans to process, correlate, and accurately classify relationships between dynamic information. New paradigms are needed, as well as better massively parallel hardware, and software to efficiently utilise it.

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