News in Brief

Florbetapir-PET may quantify amyloid, detect Alzheimer’s
Researchers discovered a strong quantitative correlation between the biomarker florbetapir F18’s signal on PET scans and the presence of beta-amyloid in the brain at death, further supporting mounting evidence that imaging biomarkers may be applied for diagnosing and determining early risks for Alzheimer disease, according to a study to be published 19 January 2011 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

IDF MENA region office begins operations
The International Diabetes Federation’s new regional office in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has recently begun operations. The new office – hosted by the Qatar Diabetes Association in Doha – will coordinate and drive diabetes advocacy and outreach work among IDF’s 20 member associations in the region. Dr Abdulla Al- Hamaq, executive director of the Qatar Diabetes Association, has been appointed as the regional manager for MENA. “Our priority is to galvanise regional support for the upcoming UN Summit on NCDs in September, and to ensure emerging issues are discussed at the World Diabetes Congress in Dubai in December,” said Dr Al-Hamaq. IDF MENA

Malaria control strategy is working
A massive scale-up in malaria control programmes between 2008 and 2010 has resulted in the provision of enough insecticide- treated mosquito nets to protect more than 578 million people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Malaria Report 2010, which indicates that after decades of stagnation, current strategies are producing results. In Africa, a total of 11 countries showed a greater than 50% reduction in either confirmed malaria cases or malaria admissions and deaths over the past decade. A decrease of more than 50% in the number of confirmed cases of malaria was also found in 32 of the 56 malaria-endemic countries outside Africa during this same time period.

Study to look at health effects of Deepwater Horizon oil spill
The US National Institutues of Health has launched a new study that will look at possible health effects of the Gulf of Mexico's Deepwater Horizon oil spill on 55,000 cleanup workers and volunteers in towns across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study) is the largest health study of its kind ever conducted among cleanup workers and volunteers, and is one component of a comprehensive federal response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study is is expected to last up to 10 years.

Global Virus Response Network set up
Leading medical virologists from around the world set up new Global Virus Response Network at a meeting in Italy. The international scientific alliance is the first of its kind and aims to be a leading global authority on viral disease. The scientists discussed the need for a fast, coordinated approach to new viral threats. In case of an outbreak, the network would appoint expert members to study it, distribute necessary funds and get first responders on the scene. The network would operate independently of other agencies, such as the WHO, but contribute to existing efforts.

Philips expand portfolio with Dameca acquisition
Philips Electronics has acquired Dameca, a global provider of anaesthesia machines and accessories for the operating room. The acquisition is in line with Philips’ strategy to expand its portfolio with integrated, advanced anaesthesia care solutions and will provide an opportunity for innovation in such areas as anaesthesia-related clinical decision support. 

Google 3D Body Browser

Google has just soft-launched its latest browser experiment, the Google Body Browser, which is essentially Google Earth for the human body. The navigable 3D rendering of the human body uses HTML5 and by downloading the new beta version of Google Chrome, you can go to and fly through the human body using the Web 3D API.

The three-dimensional layered model of the human anatomy allows you to zoom in, rotate and search. You can adjust the various layers of skin, muscles, tissues and the skeletal system and a major bonus of the app is that if you type in an organ, bone or ventricle system, you are taken directly to that area in the anatomy, zoomed in. You can turn labels on or off and the app supports multi-touch so users of track pads or multi-touch mice can zoom in with ease. It aims to be beneficial to healthcare professionals, educators and students.

FDA clears first diagnostic radiology application for mobile devices

A new mobile radiology application has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and will allow physicians to view medical images on the iPhone and iPad manufactured by Apple Inc.

The application is the first cleared by the FDA for viewing images and making medical diagnoses based on computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear medicine technology, such as positron emission tomography (PET). It is not intended to replace full workstations and is indicated for use only when there is no access to a workstation.

Radiology images taken in the hospital or physician’s office are compressed for secure network transfer then sent to the appropriate portable wireless device via software called Mobile MIM. Mobile MIM, manufactured by Cleveland-based MIM Software Inc., allows the physician to measure distance on the image and image intensity values and display measurement lines, annotations and regions of interest.

The display performance of mobile devices can experience significant variations in luminance levels even between mobile devices of the same model. The Mobile MIM application includes sufficient labelling and safety features to mitigate the risk of poor image display due to improper screen luminance or lighting conditions. The device includes an interactive contrast test in which a small part of the screen is a slightly different shade than the rest of the screen. If the physician can identify and tap this portion of the screen, then the lighting conditions are not interfering with the physician’s ability to discern subtle differences in contrast. In addition, a safety guide is included within the application.

Imperial leads the way in metabonomics research

Metabolic profiling of tissue samples could transform the way surgeons make decisions in the operating theatre, say researchers at a new laboratory launched in January 2011. Scientists at Imperial College London, in partnership with clinicians at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, have installed a high resolution solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer in St Mary’s Hospital. Researchers will use the machine to analyse intact tissue samples from patients taking part in studies, to investigate whether it can ultimately give surgeons detailed diagnostic information while their patients are under the knife.

The Surgical Metabonomics Laboratory will be led by the surgical innovator Professor Lord Ara Darzi and Professor Jeremy Nicholson, a leading researcher in biomolecular medicine and Head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer.

The science of metabonomics, which involves comprehensively measuring the metabolic changes in a person's body, has been pioneered by the Imperial team over the last 20 years. Techniques from analytical chemistry, such as NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry, can allow researchers to measure simultaneously all of the chemicals produced by the body’s metabolism. With knowledge of which molecules correspond to which conditions in the body, this “metabolic fingerprint” can provide a wealth of information about the state of a person’s health.

Metabonomics has previously been applied to samples of bodily fluids such as blood and urine to look for indicators of disease or of how a person might respond to a particular drug. Now the Imperial team have acquired an NMR machine - the first to be installed in a hospital setting - that will analyse solid tissue samples from patients undergoing surgery with Imperial College Healthcare.

Surgeons will be able to take tissue samples and have them loaded straight into the NMR machine without the need to prepare them. The research team think it will be possible to give the surgeon a readily interpretable readout from the analysis within 20 minutes, which would provide information such as whether the tissue is infected or how good its blood supply is. Surgeons might also use the technology to determine exactly which areas of tissue are cancerous.

One project that the team will undertake at the new laboratory is to develop an “intelligent knife”. Surgeons commonly use a technique called electrocautery in operations to seal blood vessels by burning them with a hot iron. By sucking up the smoke produced in this procedure into a mass spectrometer, researchers believe they will be able to tell the surgeon whether the tissue they are burning is healthy, cancerous or infected.

To help realise the vision of the new centre to enhance surgical safety and patient care, Imperial has partnered with two of the world’s leading spectroscopic instrument manufacturers, Bruker BioSpin and the Waters Corporation, who will help to develop, optimise and implement NMR and mass spectrometric technologies for real time diagnostics and prognostic modelling.

Lifestyle factors key to reducing cancer risk

On World Cancer Day, February 4, 2011, new independent evidence was released confirming that the increasing global trend of unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles is responsible for putting millions at an unnecessarily high risk of cancer. Each year 12.7 million people discover they have cancer and 7.6 million people die from the disease. New estimates cited by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) global network suggest that across a range of countries, making lifestyle changes including maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and taking regular physical activity can reduce the risk of common cancers by up to a third.

These findings are further supported by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) new Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. This landmark report reinforces that regular physical activity has the potential to prevent many diseases such as breast and colon cancers, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. The report addresses three age groups (5-17 years old, 18-64 years old, and 65 years old and above) and provides concrete recommendations for levels of physical activity needed for health; these recommendations are especially helpful for low- and middle-income countries, where few national guidelines for physical activity exist.

“Physical activity is recommended for people of all ages as a means to reduce risks for certain types of cancers and other noncommunicable diseases,” says Dr Tim Armstrong, from WHO's Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion. “In order to improve their health and prevent several diseases, adults should do at least 150 minutes moderate physical activity throughout the week. This can be achieved by simply walking 30 minutes five times per week or by cycling to work daily”.

To help fight the global cancer epidemic, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) is urging individuals to take action and support the World Cancer Declaration. Signing the Declaration will help UICC in its effort to motivate global leaders to set realistic and achievable directives for preventing cancer during the United Nations Summit for Non- Communicable Diseases in September 2011. There has only been one UN General Assembly special session focused on health since 1947; the announcement of the 2011 summit is an unprecedented step in the battle against cancer.

Mayo Clinic, Minnesota pioneers atrial fibrillation technology

Mayo Clinic is the first in the U.S. to use the first minimally invasive freezing balloon technology for the treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF) approved in December by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The first patient received the treatment Tuesday, January 4, 2011.

The technology is used to treat drug refractory recurrent symptomatic paroxysmal AF, a type of AF in which irregular heartbeats in the upper chambers of the heart start and stop suddenly on their own. The new system uses a balloon-based technology delivered through a catheter with a coolant rather than heat to create circumferential lesions around the pulmonary vein to block the conduction of AF in cardiac tissues. “This approach provides a single ablative means of eliminating problematic AF in patients who failed drug therapy,” says Douglas Packer, M.D., Mayo Clinic cardiologist.

Mayo Clinic was a trial site for STOP AF (Sustained Treatment of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation), which led to FDA approval. The 26-site study involving 245 patients showed that 69.9% of patients treated with the balloon technology were free from AF at one year, compared with 7.3% of patients treated only with drug therapy, another method for treating AF. Dr. Packer was principal investigator of the clinical trial. “It is critical that these devices go through rigorous clinical trial testing to prove benefit and safety before they are approved,” he says.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia seen by physicians and affects more than 2 million Americans. Most individuals with atrial fibrillation have identifiable risk factors, such as high blood pressure or structural heart disease, and tend to be elderly. Long-term complications resulting from atrial fibrillation and its treatment can include death, disabling stroke, serious bleeding and/or cardiac arrest.

The new technology, the Arctic Front Cardiac CryoAblation Catheter system, is manufactured by Medtronic, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.   


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