Nysha Recent News

Hospital News Part 2

February 27, 2017        

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Does vitamin D reduce respiratory infections?

A review of 14 previous studies finds evidence that vitamin D lowers risk of respiratory infections.  The review, published mid-February in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), correlated taking regular vitamin D with 12 percent less cases of acute respiratory tract infections.  Does it prove that vitamin D prevents respiratory infections?  No.  But it does add another indication to an already-sizable body of evidence that vitamin D is good for you.

Exercise helps counter cancer-linked fatigue

Cancer can be physically and emotionally exhausting, whether from the treatment or the disease itself.  But in countering cancer-related fatigue, a study of 113 previous studies now finds that exercise and/or behavioral and educational therapy seem more effective than prescription drugs.

The upshot is that doctors should consider exercise and psychological interventions as “first-line therapy” instead of more medications when it comes to tackling cancer-related fatigue, lead researcher Prof. Karen Mustian of the University of Rochester Medical Center told health news outlet MedlinePlus.

The study was published March 2 in JAMA Oncology.

New eczema drug promising in early trial

An experimental new drug called nemolizumab significantly reduces itching and skin appearance in people with moderate to severe eczema, a recent clinical trial has found.  Eczema, a.k.a. dermatitis, is a genetic and chronic skin disorder that usually causes dry, itchy skin and rashes.

The 12-week clinical trial randomly assigned 264 patients to one of three injectable doses of nemolizumab or placebo—administering those every four weeks.

After 12 weeks, researchers found significant improvement in those regularly getting nemolizumab compared to patients getting placebo shots. 

Specifically, patients getting the second-highest dose of nemolizumab had a 60 percent reduction in itching, compared to a 21 percent reduction among placebo patients.  They also saw more reduction in size of eczema-affected areas.

However, 17 percent of patients had to withdraw due to side effects including worsening eczema, infections, or swelling of the ankles or feet.

The study was published Mar. 2 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In related news, a Mar. 1 report in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that over 85 million Americans—or one of every four—are affected by any number of 24 common skin diseases, to an estimated $75 billion in total U.S. costs for year 2013 alone.

First-borns still doing better on thinking tests

Older research has found that first-borns do better on average than younger siblings or school peers on thinking-skills tests—possibly because first-borns get more attention from parents than younger siblings.  A new study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology now confirms that notion.

Bone-break ultrasound no benefit: expert panel

In a detailed review published Feb. 21 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), an international expert panel consisting of bone surgeons, physical therapists and doctors concluded that the low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) treatment does not speed the healing of broken bones.

The LIPUS device was approved by the FDA in 1994 as a fracture healing aid.  The device, which can costs up to $5,000, is now widely used by doctors across the country.

The initial theory behind low-intensity pulsed ultrasound was that it mechanically stimulates bone cells to produce more bone and calcium, thus helping fractures heal faster.

The panel noted that up to ten percent of people with broken bones face slow or complicated healing processes—but that there’s little data or other evidence that LIPUS accelerates healing, eases patient pain, or reduces number of subsequent operations.

Based on the review, the panel now advises against using LIPUS to enhance recovery from broken bones or the surgical realignment of bones.

Study on diet studies lays down universal basics

If you’re wondering what works and what doesn’t when it comes to dieting, especially with new diets constantly trending, new research by Denver’s National Jewish Hospital should help.

In their study, National Jewish researchers reviewed 40 years’ worth of studies on diets and dieting—summarizing what experts have independently said over the years, especially regarding heart-healthy diets.

The research concluded that the most heart-healthy diet is one that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and includes nuts in moderation.  In contrast, people should avoid saturated fats, “trans” fats and solid fats, as well as sodium, added sugars, refined grains.

Conversely, “there is a great amount of misinformation about nutrition fads, including antioxidant pills, juicing and gluten-free diets,” said study co-author Dr. Andrew Freeman in a statement.

On those, here’s what the study (of studies) found.

Juicing: Few studies have compared juicing fruits and vegetables versus eating them whole.  Plus, consuming fruits and vegetables in liquefied form creates more calories, making it harder to know how many you’ve actually eaten, and easier to eat too many.

Antioxidant supplements: Studies have not found any heart health benefits from these supplements, with current evidence still finding fruits and vegetables their healthiest and most beneficial source.

Gluten-free diets: These are good for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy, but there’s no evidence that avoiding gluten will help people without these conditions.

Coconut and palm oils: Coconut oil and palm oil are high in the saturated fatty acids known to raise blood cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association.  There’s little evidence that these oils are beneficial for heart health, the researchers said, and some studies even suggest that palm oil may increase heart disease risk.

Nuts: Don’t eat too many because they are high-fat and high-calorie, the researchers said.  Still, nuts are a good source of protein and can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

So why is there so much confusion about which diets are best for preventing which diseases?

One reason, according to researchers, is that people who eat healthy also tend to live healthy—meaning, not only do they not eat junk, but also regularly exercise and don’t smoke. 

So are they healthy because of how they eat?  Or because of how they live?  The National Jewish researchers say it’s hard to tell.

And if that leaves you confused, well… you just may have to start eating healthy and exercising!

Blood cancer gene therapy passes major approval hurdle

On Feb. 28, California biotechnology firm Kite Pharma announced that a 101-patient clinical trial of its new CART-T cancer treatment produced complete remission in 36 percent of patients.

In all, 82 percent of patients had their cancer shrink at least by half at some point in the study.

But the therapy is not without risk.  Three of the 101 patients in the study died of causes unrelated to cancer, and two of those deaths were deemed due to the treatment.

The new treatment is currently geared specifically for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer.

It involves filtering the patient’s blood to remove key immune system soldiers called T-cells.  Those cells are then genetically altered in Kite’s lab to contain a gene that targets cancer and then introduced back into the patient’s bloodstream via injection. 

The treatment apparently works by functioning as a “living drug”—permanently altering T-cells that multiply in the body into an army to fight the disease.

The CART-T technique was initially developed at the NIH’s National Cancer Institute and then licensed to Kite. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society helped sponsor the study.

While results are encouraging at February’s six-month point into the study, some experts caution that more time is needed to wait and watch for any long-term side effects or negative outcomes.

Meanwhile, Kite Pharma is racing Novartis AG to get the first U.S. approval of the treatment.  The company plans to seek FDA approval by the end of March.

Company officials would not say what the treatment might cost, but other immune system therapies have been very expensive.

If successful, CART-T could become the nation’s first approved cancer gene therapy.

A doctor named Doctor, working on artificial blood

Increasingly-organic artificial limbs and organs have been around for some time now—so why not artificial blood?

That biotechnological hurdle is one that modern medicine has been trying—and failing—to overcome for over 50 years.

A key hurdle is hemoglobin, the iron proteins inside each red blood cell.  Inside blood cells, hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.  But outside blood cells, iron is toxic to body tissue and can cause blood vessels to constrict.

So far, no artificial blood contains safe formulations of hemoglobin.

But Dr. Allan Doctor, a critical-care pediatrician and Washington University researcher, is now working on a new artificial blood called ErythroMer. 

In ErythroMer, hemoglobin is encased in a synthetic polymer (natural or artificial substance made of one or two ingredients, like plastic or Styrofoam).  Researchers hope to safety-test ErythroMer on small animals and eventually humans.

The need for such a product is clear.  But if it’s ultimately successful (it’s currently years away from approval), ErythroMer could be freeze-dried into a powder and stored safely for years so that when it’s needed, it can be mixed with sterile water and administered.