Nitric Oxide Synthase (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you’ve read even a few of the posts on BioMedNews.org, you probably know I love writing about research that involves nitric oxide (NO). I was introduced to the power of NO about ten years ago when I wrote a white paper on asthma research for the Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, that project was the reason I started this blog – I got hooked on bioscience.
Just found out that Research and Markets, a global organization dedicated to examining the state of research, the condition of markets, and the companies working to develop various therapies, has recently released a comprehensive report about the current global state of research on nitric oxide (NO) and a related enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (NOS).
The description of this report is the simplest explanation I’ve seen of the dual nature of NO – how it produces great good in the human body, and yet can cause health problems in the same areas where it’s done good. A strange and wonderful molecule to learn about.
It’s a long way off from availability, but isn’t it nice to know that some researchers who were looking for something else entirely – isn’t that how half our best discoveries are made? – have found a molecule that might be able to tell us with a simple blood test if we’ve got coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is responsible for heart attacks and strokes and is the number one cause of death in the United States, according to an article in MedNewsToday.com.
Up til now, most people have no idea they have CAD (also known as atherosclerosis and, to many folks, just plain old heart disease) until they have a heart attack. Many felt fine and noticed no warning symptoms. Then suddenly, they’re in the hospital and terrified.
Researchers noticed the molecule – malondialdehyde-acetaldehyde (MAA) – because it showed up where there was inflammation while they were investigating arthritis and liver disease.
While a blood test isn’t totally non-invasive, it’s a darn sight less so than nasty tests like angiograms and catheterizations. So here’s hoping they can hurry this research along. Once it’s developed, people will know ahead of time that they have to make diet and lifestyle changes to avoid a heart attack.
But I guess we already hear that all the time, and yet it doesn’t hit home to many. Maybe this test will come to serve as a less drastic wake-up call.
When a 61-year-old woman died recently after having received an accepted targeted treatment—known as stereotactic body-radiation therapy—doctors had to start re-thinking both the radiation dose and the treatment itself.
Non-small-cell lung carcinoma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Months after she’d received the treatment for early-stage adenocarcinoma, a type of non-small cell lung cancer, the woman came back suffering. Doctors found not only that her cancer had metastasized but also that a large portion of healthy tissue in her airway had been destroyed by the radiation. They then treated her with chemotherapy rather than radiation, but she died anyway a few months later.
Despite doctors following accepted protocol, the patient died. It took courage to report this case, according to the US News and Health article. Even though this incident is about a single patient, having it on the record can help other doctors think more carefully about how and how much to use this increasingly popular therapy.
Let us hope physicians are all as brave and forthcoming if and when they discover dangerous or devastating side effects from the new nanoparticle-based targeted cancer therapy techniques.
Image by pixieclipx via Flickr
Dogs can smell seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks, and doctors are working to see if they can be trained to detect other diseases such as cancer. A recent study suggests we humans may soon begin to emulate their powerful scenting abilities—with technology, of course.
New hope for early diagnosis comes from an electronic nose, a version of which is already in use in the food, wine and perfume industries. It generates a pattern, or “smell print”, in response to a given odor, then researchers analyze and compare that pattern with stored patterns. They’ve developed one that can tell from a person’s exhaled breath if that person has pneumonia. Now they’re studying the e-nose in the hope they can one day make it detect ashtma and some versions of lung cancer. A test of an e-nose has already been done to detect malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of lung cancer.
Image by I X Key via Flickr
So that’s how they can keep producing winning smells in food, wine and perfume! And here I thought it was magic—the way I used to think that music composition was the most wonderfully mysterious art of all, because I had no idea how they did it until I studied music. I remember the article in Time magazine a few decades ago that contained a dozen gorgeous abstract paintings—and explained that they’d been generated by numerical equations plugged into a computer. It blew my mind to realize that math and art were not only not radically different but were merely two different ways of looking at the same thing.
Even as we begin to discover more and more ways to heal the human body using the gentle tools of the universe such as stem cells, rather than violating the body with cutting, assaulting tools such as surgery and chemotherapy, we can take comfort, too, in the idea that many of the mysteries of the earth might one day be translatable to and from mathematical equations.
When death is near, do lung cancer patients live longer with chemotherapy or with early palliative care?
Of the three types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer is the most common. Oncologists have been trained to treat it aggressively, including heavy use of chemotherapy. Some researchers decided to test informal conclusions reached earlier that seemed to show that such aggressive use of chemo in the last stages of cancer improved survival.
Unlike previous looks at these alternatives, the current study was carefully designed, and it found conclusively that giving patients early palliative care—i.e., treating only to relieve symptoms rather than trying to cure the disease—along with standard oncology care, but excluding chemotherapy, actually does increase patient survival times. What’s more, it definitively improves quality of life during the last 60 days before death.
A part of that QOL improvement in the study came because, in stopping the aggressive treatment, doctors were not inadvertently leading patients to believe that such treatment might still potentially save their lives. The patients better understood the truth of their situation.
I am glad to hear there is now scientific backing for this quieter end to life. It’s hard enough knowing you’re going to die, but even worse to have to meanwhile suffer the discomforts and indignity of having your body bombarded with and fighting the effects of poisonous chemicals. This is a time when you may want all your strength and clarity of mind to find closure with your loved ones and peace with the end of your life.
Blood flow in the brain - Image via Wikipedia
Stroke is the #3 killer in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. Plus, the death of brain cells as a result of a stroke can induce disability at one level or another across a critical range of human functions—speech, movement, thought processing, writing, etc.
Nitric oxide (NO) doesn’t normally affect blood flow in the brain. But now a few studies have shown a stroke can change that. Inhaling nitric oxide with an oxygen/air mix actually increases blood flow into areas of the brain where arterial blood was blocked during the stroke. They’ve confirmed this phenomenon in two studies in mice and one with large animals.
Another accomplishment for NO, this miraculous substance we produce in our bodies. Read a few more posts about nitric oxide here.
Most deaths from cancer come after the primary tumor has been treated—usually with some combination of surgery and chemo or radiation—when stray cancer cells from the tumor escape and spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
Image via Wikipedia
Since not all cells from cancer tumors behave the same way or have the same DNA, researchers have been looking for a way to study single cells. The problem was separating them. Now this new nanoparticle approach uses magnets to detect whether cells are growing, dividing or dying. It spins the cells in a magnetic field where each type rotates at a different speed. Larger, dying or dividing cells rotate more slowly and in specific patterns. so they can be separated into a group of single cells. Thus the researcher can focus on investigating the behavior of those particular cells.
One of the big promises of this approach is that scientists may now be able to test drugs on just the cells themselves instead of on the entire human organism—thus avoiding some of the worst side effects for patients. And, instead of throwing everything they have at the patient in hopes of affecting the disease, doctors can work with the cells and then with greater confidence prescribe medicine they’ve been able to test as working best for this individual person.
What a blessing for cancer patients this will be.
Image via Wikipedia
As we’ve discussed in previous posts, nitric oxide is a “crucial biological mediator” that helps the body in a dozen different ways—from sexual performance enhancement to easing arthritis to potentially preventing or reversing atherosclerosis. So scientists have been searching for ways to improve the delivery of nitric oxide to critical systems when needed. In their efforts they’ve discovered what they call nitric oxide donor drugs, logically enough, since their main purpose seems to be to help the body generate more nitric oxide and use it more effectively.
Just read about a new such drug, naproxcinod, they’ve tested in comparison with placebo and naproxen, which is a standard NSAID for arthritis. Looks promising for treating the hip pain of osteoarthritis. Having been a hip replacement patient—and having spent more than 10 months in twice-a-week therapy trying to recover semi-normal activity levels—I can vouch for what a great thing it would be to be able to relieve that pain and keep from having that terribly invasive surgery. But of course my real hope for future hip-and-knee-pain-sufferers is that researchers will find a way—they’re already saying it’s promising—to use stem cells to regenerate lost cartilage in our joints. The big issue with that is getting the stem cells to differentiate into the three needed types of cells for cartilage, including the “scaffolding” that has the powerful weight-bearing capabilities of our natural cartilage.
What an amazing thing is the human body. I hope I’m around long enough to see these studies result in actually saving someone from a brutal hip replacement operation.
Image via Wikipedia
If you find yourself not being able to breathe very well—gasping or huffing and puffing on slight exertion or on lying down—your doctor can go down a number of different routes to find out what the problem is. Since I know from personal experience they don’t necessarily go down the right road, even when they keep reaching dead ends on the ones they do pursue, this could be a good thing for you to know yourself.
If you already know you have heart trouble, your doc will probably look down that route first. And now there’s a way for even your internist to tell if your troubled breathing might be due to congestive heart failure rather than to a respiratory or other issue. A simple blood test for BNP (B-type natriuretic peptide) can tell whether you have much higher levels than someone who’s breathing trouble is lung- or other-related. Any doctor can read the test–doesn’t have to be a cardiologist. And even happier, the BNP test can be done quickly–as in emergency room speed–so docs can treat for the right thing right away.
Earlier treatment can vastly improve quality of life and potentially extend a patient’s lifespan. It can also mean savings in treatment costs over the course of the condition. So it’s good news for hospitals as well as for patients.
Well, I guess it’s never too early to learn the truth if docs can give you medications to ease the symptoms. Plus, it gives you more time to decide if there’s anything you want to get done before your number’s up.