News in Brief
Nuts lower cholesterol

Researchers at US Loma Linda University have shown that eating nuts may reduce cholesterol. According to BBC News online the research team reviewed 25 studies, involving nearly 600 people and showed that eating on average 67g of nuts – a small bag – a day over a period of 3-8 weeks reduced cholesterol levels by 7.4%.

It also reduced levels of triglyceride. However, doctors warned this was not applicable for salted or sugared nuts.

Dronedarone trial to assess anti-arrhythmic benefit

Sanofi-aventis has initiated a multinational, randomized, double-blind Phase IIIb trial, PALLAS, to assess the potential clinical benefit of Multaq (dronedarone) in over 10,000 patients enrolled in 43 countries with permanent atrial fibrillation to reduce major adverse cardiovascular events.

The trial is significant as no antiarrhythmic drug has ever been shown to reduce major morbidity and mortality in permanent AF patients. The trial is event-driven with a fixed Common Study End Date, meaning that the study duration will depend upon the occurrence of a statistically required number of outcome events.

SWiTCH trial stopped

The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has stopped the Stroke With Transfusions Changing to Hydroxyurea, or SWiTCH clinical trial evaluating a new approach to reduce the risk of recurrent stroke in children with sickle cell anemia and iron overload because of evidence that the new treatment was unlikely to prove better than the existing treatment.

The study was testing whether the drug hydroxyurea, known to prevent complications of sickle cell disease in adults, was as effective as transfusions, the standard therapy, in reducing the risk of recurrent strokes. Hydroxyurea is the only FDAapproved drug for treating sickle cell anemia.

Booster vaccine for meningitis C

Three-quarters of children vaccinated against meningitis C lose their protection against the disease by their early teens, research suggests. According to BBC News online, the Oxford researchers say their findings fuel calls for a booster jab to be offered to adolescents. Austria, Canada and Switzerland have already introduced booster jabs.

Obese kids more likely to be bullied

Obese children are more likely to be bullied regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, social skills or academic achievement, according to a study in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics. Past studies have shown that obese children who are bullied experience more depression anxiety and loneliness.

Global Network of Age-friendly Cities

WHO has launched the Global Network of Age-friendly Cities as part of a broader response to the rapid ageing of populations around the world. The greatest changes are occurring in lessdeveloped countries. By 2050, it is estimated that 80% of the expected 2 billion people aged 60 years or over will live in low or middle income countries. The Network aims to help cities create urban environments that allow older people to remain active and healthy participants in society.

Pfizer withdraws AML drug from US market

Pfizer has voluntarily withdrawn from the US market the drug Mylotarg (gemtuzumab ozogamicin) for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a bone marrow cancer. The company took the action at the request of the US FDA after results from a recent clinical trial raised new concerns about the product’s safety and the drug failed to demonstrate clinical benefit to patients enrolled in trials.

UNAIDS welcomes new UN Women entity

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said they weIcome the merging of four gender entities of the United Nations into UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The new entity will provide a powerful voice for women and girls and help move the AIDS response forward.

WHO welcomes UN resolution on noncommunicable diseases

WHO says it welcomes the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly resolution on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases – mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes – which kill nearly 35 million people each year, including almost 9 million before the age of 60.

The resolution seeks to halt the increasing trends in premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases worldwide.

“There is a sense of urgency,” says WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Ala Alwan. “This resolution will help us increase action to address the leading cause of death in the world. Tackling these diseases constitutes one of the major challenges for sustainable development in the twenty-first century.” The resolution calls to:

• convene a high-level meeting of the General Assembly in September 2011, with the participation of Heads of State and Government, on the prevention and control of noncom municable diseases;

• include at the high-level Plenary Meeting next September to review the Millennium Development Goals discussions on the rising incidence and the socio-economic impact of noncommunicable diseases in devel oping countries;

• request the UN Secretary-General to prepare a global status report on noncommunicable diseases, with a particular focus on the develop mental challenges faced by developing countries.

Noncommunicable diseases are the leading cause of death for women in middle and high-income countries and the second leading cause of death for women in lowincome countries. Almost 90% of fatalities before the age of 60 occur in developing countries and can be largely prevented by reducing the level of exposure to tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol, and improve early detection of breast and cervical cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

While noncommunicable disease death rates in many high-income countries have stabilised or declined in recent decades, research suggests noncommunicable disease deaths are increasing in all regions of the world. If trends continue unabated, deaths will rise to an estimated 41.2 million a year by 2015.

This recent resolution comes on the heels of the Ministerial Declaration adopted at the ECOSOC high-level segment in July last year, which called for urgent action to implement the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases and its related Action Plan endorsed by the World Health Assembly in May 2008 as well as the Doha Declaration on Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries issued by the participants of the ECOSOC/UNESCWA/WHO Western Asia Ministerial Meeting organised in May 2009.

GE forms alliance with CardioDX to develop cardio genomic tests

GE Healthcare has formed a strategic alliance with CardioDx, a pioneer in cardiovascular genomic diagnostics to advance and co-develop diagnostic technologies to improve the care and management of patients with cardiovascular disease.

Building on the alliance, the GE Healthymagination Fund, a new equity fund that makes investments in highly promising healthcare technology companies, has invested US$5 million in CardioDx as part of a Series D round that the fund is leading.

GE says the alliance aligns with GE’s healthymagination initiative which focuses on reducing cost, increasing access and improving quality in healthcare.

CardioDx develops genomic tests to aid in the assessment and tailoring of care of individuals with cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease (CAD), cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure. The alliance is expected to accelerate the development of new high-value integrated technologies for the diagnosis and care of patients with suspected heart disease.

CardioDx’s initial product, Corus CAD, is a clinically validated non-invasive genomic test that uses data such as gene expression levels and other patient characteristics to assess the likelihood that a patient has obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD) – a narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries that can lead to heart attack or death.

Currently, patients with suspected CAD are diagnosed through a combination of non-invasive and invasive procedures. Corus CAD uses a simple blood test to quantify the likelihood of CAD, helping cardiologists make more informed decisions on how best to diagnose and treat their patients.

Berchtold appoints global strategy officer

Berchtold, a leading German OR medical device manufacturer, has appointed Bodo Ebens, 51, as chief strategy officer. He will be responsible for worldwide integration of new technologies.

“We do not want to simply develop and sell devices, we want to be system partners for hospitals,” explained Ebens. In addition, the biomedical engineer is taking over the worldwide consulting and management business of the Berchtold Group as the CEO of Berchtold Consulting.

New director for Pain Neuro Lab at Sheikh Zayed Institute in US

The US-based Children’s National Medical Center has appointed Zena Quezada, MD, as director of the Pain Neurobiology Laboratory at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation. The institute was made possible by a US$150 million gift from the Government of Abu Dhabi.

In a press statement, the centre says Dr Quezado joins a team of medical visionaries who are coming together at the Institute to re-imagine the entire paediatric surgical experience and create a new standard for surgical instruction and research.

Dr Quezado, a paediatric anaesthesiologist, said: “Unanswered questions drive me. We are research advocates for those with no voice – infants, premature infants, and developmentally disabled children.” Her research at the Institute will focus on the mechanisms of pain response and response to novel drugs. The Institute aims to revolutionise four key areas: pain medicine, immunology, bioengineering and personalised medicine.

UNEP report says dirty water major cause of infant mortality

Every 20 seconds a child dies from a waterrelated disease – 1.8 million children younger than five years each year. This alarming figure is from a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which says millions of tonnes of solid waste are being flushed into water systems every day, spreading disease.

“More than two billion tonnes of wastewater are being flushed into our fresh water and oceans every day, every year,” Christian Nelleman, the lead author of the report, Sick Water?, told IRIN.

The wastewater, a cocktail of agricultural and industrial runoffs and sewage, was seeping into groundwater and polluting drinking sources, like wells, in low-lying areas where the bulk of the world’s population live.

Countries should not only invest in infrastructure to manage wastewater but also in ecosystems, for instance by replanting mangroves, which acted as natural filters in coastal areas, said Nelleman.

“What is also very alarming is the amount of phosphate and nitrogen that is lost as agricultural refuse – projections show that we can run out of phosphate very soon,” he warned.

Nearly half the agricultural phosphate applied each season got washed away and ended up in rivers and oceans, where it contributed to triggering algae blooms that could damage ecosystems and fish stocks, Nelleman said. Wastewater treatment plants should be sophisticated enough to harvest the phosphates.

The report urged countries to draw up national and local strategies to cope with the wastewater production and invest in infrastructure to manage it.

Some facts from the report:

• Around 90% of diarrhoea cases, which kill some 2.2 million people every year, are caused by unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene.

• Over 50% of malnutrition cases globally are associated with diarrhoea or intestinal worm infections.

• Over half the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from illnesses linked to contaminated water.

• Almost 900 million people lack access to safe drinking water, and an estimated 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. South Asia (around 221 million) and sub- Saharan Africa (330 million)have the highest proportion of people living without basic sanitation.

• 90% of the wastewater discharged daily in developing coun tries is untreated. 80% of all marine pollution originates on land – most of it wastewater – damaging coral reef and fishing grounds.

• People in developed countries generate five times more waste water per person than those in developing countries, but treat over 90% of their wastewater.

• Agriculture accounts for 70% to 90% of all water consumed, mainly for irri gation, but large amounts return to rivers as run-off; nearly half of all organic matter in wastewater comes from agriculture.

• Industrial wastes, pesticides from agriculture, and tailings from mining also create serious health risks and threats to water resources, costing billions of dollars to monitor, much more to clean.

• Use of bottled water is increasing, but it takes three litres of water to produce one litre of bottled water. In the USA alone an additional 17 million barrels of oil per year are used to make the plastic containers. Worldwide, 200 billion litres of bottled water are produced every year, creating an enor mous problem of how to dispose of the used plastic bottles.

• Wastewater generates methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2). It also generates nitrous oxide, which is 310 times more powerful than CO2.

• It is estimated that in just a decade, wastewater-linked emissions of methane will rise by 25% and that of nitrous oxide by 50%.

• Increased flooding as a result of climate change can overwhelm ageing sewage infrastructure in cities and towns.

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