US scientists use stem cells to reverse MS


Chicago: US researchers have reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in early stage patients by using bone marrow stem cell transplants to reset the immune system.

Commenting on the study, Helen Yates, Chief Executive of the UK’s Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre said: “This further piece of research into the use of stem cells with Multiple Sclerosis patients provides another piece of evidence that stem cells could one day provide clear therapies and treatments for MS. MSRC hopes that further work in this area proves as positive as this piece of research”

Some 81 percent of patients in the early phase study showed signs of improvement with the treatment, which used chemotherapy to destroy the immune system, and injections of the patient’s bone marrow cells taken beforehand to rebuild it.

“We just start over with new cells from the stem cells,” said Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern University in Chicago, whose study appears in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath protecting nerve cells. It affects 2.5 million people globally and can cause mild illness in some people and permanent disability in others.

Symptoms may include numbness or weakness in the limbs, loss of vision and an unsteady gait.

“MS usually occurs in adults,” Burt said in a telephone interview. Before they get the disease, their immune systems work well, he said, but something happens to make the immune system attack itself.

His approach is aimed at turning back the clock to a time before the immune system began attacking itself.

Burt said the approach — called autologous non-myeloablative hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation — is a bit gentler than the therapy used in cancer patients because rather than destroying the entire bone marrow, it attacks just the immune system component of the marrow, making it less toxic.

Burt and colleagues tried the treatment on 21 patients aged 20 to 53 with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, an earlier stage in the disease in which symptoms come and go.

Patients in the study were not helped by at least six months of standard treatment with interferon beta.

After an average follow-up of about three years, 17 patients improved by at least one measure on a disability scale, and the disease stabilized in all patients.

Patients continued to improve for up to 24 months after the transplant procedure, and then stabilized. Many had improvements in walking, vision, incontinence and limb strength.

“To date, all therapies for MS have been designed and approved because they slowed the rate of neurological decline. None of them has ever reversed neurological dysfunction, which is what this has done,” Burt said.

Other teams have seen improvements in patients using a more aggressive approach. In one study led by Dr. Mark Freedman of the University of Ottawa last year, 17 MS patients treated with the more aggressive approach were showing signs of remission two years after treatment.

Burt stressed that the treatment approach needed to be tested in a more scientifically rigorous randomized clinical trial, in which half of the patients get the transplant treatment and the other half get standard treatment.

That trial is under way.

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Free holiday ear protectors from Specsavers


London: Are you fed up with ear painwhen a plane takes off or lands? That’s the sound of permanent damage to your hearing.

Specsavers hearing centres has joined with Elxir to offer ten pairs of hearing protectors worth £15 each.The instant-fit hearing protectors are small and discreet and will protect your ears from the pressure of taking off, landing and background engine noise.

The special acoustic filters in the FlyFit earplugs protect you against excessive ambient noise. During a flight, the unpleasant pressure on the eardrum during landing and takeoff is carefully regulated.

Specsavers also offers custom fit hearing protectors, suited to those regularly working in noisy environments. For more information on these or to locate your nearest Specsavers hearing centre, please visit call 0808 143 1143.

For your chance to win a set of FlyFit Hearing Protectors please answer the following question, Which famous optical chain also offers a hearing service?

Please email your answer to us at with “Ear” in the header and your name and address by 31 May 2009. Please note that no cash equivalent is offered and the Editor’s decision is fina.

About Specsavers
• Specsavers was founded by Doug and Dame Mary Perkins in 1984 and is now the largest privately owned opticians in the world
• The couple still run the company, along with their three children. Their eldest son John is joint managing director
• Specsavers has more than 1,060 stores throughout the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Spain and Australia
• Annual turnover for the Specsavers Group is forecast to reach a record £1.05 billion for the financial year 2008/9
• The group plans to continue its successful international expansion by opening stores in New Zealand
• Specsavers optical stores and hearing centres are owned and run by joint venture or franchise partners.
• Specsavers employs more than 26,000 staff
• Specsavers was voted Britain’s most trusted brand of opticians for the seventh year running by Reader’s Digest in 2008
• One in three people who wear glasses in the UK buy them from Specsavers Opticians – eight and a half million glasses were sold during 2007
• Specsavers is the largest retail provider of home delivery contact lenses in Europe and one of the top two retail suppliers of continuous wear lenses in the world
• Specsavers is now the largest retail dispenser of digital hearing aids in the UK and will offer a hearing service from more than 400 locations by the end of 2008
• Specsavers supports numerous optical and hearing charities, including Diabetes UK, for whom they have raised more than £250,000 to fund research into diabetic retinopathy
• Since 2003 a quarter of a million glasses have been collected and recycled by Specsavers stores for Vision Aid Overseas for use in developing countries


Is your bra damaging your breasts?

London: Women could be damaging their breasts without realising it, according to scientists at the University of Portsmouth.

As well as discovering that some women’s breasts could be damaged and fragile ligaments irreparably stretched by wearing the wrong bras, scientists in the Department of Sports Science have also found that women could be damaging their breasts through ignorance or embarrassment.

The University’s research team has tested about 50 bra designs on hundreds of women over the past three years under the leadership of Dr Joanna Scurr, a breast biomechanics expert. Her research proves that breasts move up to 21cm during exercise and they move up and down, in and out and from side to side. Most bras are designed to limit just vertical movement.

Wendy Hedger, a researcher on Dr Scurr’s team, said: “Many women have strong preferences for certain styles of bra and won’t buy anything else. They won’t even look at anything that doesn’t look like the sort of bra they are used to wearing. In sports bras, for example, many women won’t buy a bra that resembles their everyday bra and does up at the back — they think if it can’t be pulled over their heads like a crop top then it’s not a real sports bra. But this is not true and many sports bras do up at the back in the same way as a traditional bra and do a very good job of supporting women.

“And some women cause breast pain or discomfort by not buying the right sized bra. There’s a social stigma about certain sizes; many women don’t want to be seen as too small or too big and buy a bra that doesn’t fit well in order to be what they consider to be a normal size.

“Many other women are unaware that they are wearing a badly fitting bra or unknowingly wear the wrong bra size because they are routinely being sold ill-fitting bras.

“Some women forget that their shape and size change and they might have to go through several changes in bra size over their lifetime especially after breastfeeding and the menopause.”

The breast biomechanics research team started testing bras and the movement of women’s breasts more than three years ago. They have also helped design a new sports bar for women who play high-impact sports. Dr Scurr agreed to help a New Zealand bra manufacturer give their existing high-impact bra a major overhaul and the new bra goes on sale in Europe this summer.

Miss Hedger said: “They came to us because they knew their bra protected women in high-impact sports but they weren’t sure it supported women well enough. The tests incIuded measuring precisely how much breasts moved in all three directions, as well as more subjective tests about how women felt about the fit, the shape, the strap design and the underband and so on.

“We are really excited about seeing it. It’s the first chance we have had to be involved in the design process of a new bra, though we have tested many over the past few years. We started breast biomechanics research just testing bras but we want to do more research that benefits women.”

Photo ageing

The ageing of the skin caused by the environment, particularly the sun and pollution.

Can Botox damage the human brain?


Pisa: A new study has found that the popular anti-wrinkle treatment Botox may travel from its injection site to the brain.

The study in which botulinum toxin — the active ingredient in Botox — was injected into the whisker muscles of rats, may disrupt brain activity, is published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Following the injection the scientists looked at the connected brain areas for signs of the toxin. Within three days of the injection, they found remnants of a protein broken down by the toxin in an area of the brainstem.

The toxin also moved from one hippocampus, which controls long-term memory and spatial navigation, to the hippocampus on the opposite side of the brain, and from the superior colliculus, the part of the brain associated with eye-head coordination, back to the eye.

The study found that brain cell activity was disrupted both where botulinum neurotoxin was injected and in some of the distant-but-connected sites.

The study’s author, Matteo Caleo of the Italian National Research Council’s Institute of Neuroscience in Pisa, called the finding a concern and noted that the effects of the botulinum injection on the hippocampus were still present six months later.

He said more work is needed to better understand how the toxin spreads along nerves and how to prevent the spread or use it therapeutically.

In February, the Food and Drug Administration warned that Botox and a competitor had been linked to dangerous botulism symptoms in some users, including cases so bad that a few children given the drugs for muscle spasms had died.

Two weeks earlier, the nonprofit organization Public Citizen petitioned the FDA to strengthen warnings to users of Botox and competitor Myobloc, citing 180 reports of US patients suffering fluid in the lungs, difficulty swallowing or pneumonia, which resulted in 16 deaths.

The FDA is probing reports of illnesses in people of all ages who used the drugs for a variety of conditions, including at least one hospitalization of a woman given Botox for forehead wrinkles.