News & Views

b Blocker response may have gene link......

Malaria-parasite genome database goes up on web........

WHO panel urges six months' exclusive breast feeding........

Hair and Hair-after..........

UK sets up gene bank to protect rare sheep breeds.......

Do you need DNA, tissue or serum samples........

Companies join forces to crack the human proteome.........

Leishmaniasis Protection........

Genes and HIV Infection.........

AIDS vaccine gets off to a promising start.........

Sniff sniff … is it diabetes, epilepsy or cancer.........

Blood product from cattle wins approval for use in humans.......

Screen saver can help find cancer cure............

Alliance pledges new cheap TB drug by 2010.......

US stockpiles smallpox vaccine to counter bioterrorism ........

A more stable Leucine Zipper........

Sudden death.......

Promising new vaccine to fight colon cancer.......

Genes determine effect of anti-smoking therapy..........

Tribal triumph.............

Spirituality may help relieve arthritis pain......

Biological Insulators......

Heart disease : New technique better than cholesterol test........




b Blocker response may have gene link

Patients with congestive heart failure and who have a mutation in the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) gene are likely to respond especially well to b blockers, a new study has suggested.

The current findings relate to people with the mutation known as the ACE deletion (so called because it lacks a small piece of DNA found in the normal ACE gene). Activation of the reninangiotensin system is known to adversely affect progression of heart failure. Although the ACE deletion allele is known to increase rennin-angiotensin activation, until now its influence on patient outcomes was uncertain, and its pharmacogenetic interactions with b blocker treatment have not been previously evaluated.

"In the near future  we are going to be able to target specific medical therapies to individual patients based on genetic background, and this study is a first step to that end," said the study's lead author, Dr. Dennis McNamara from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

April 7, 2001, BMJ Vol. 322


Malaria-parasite genome database goes up on web

Malaria researchers will be able to access the genome database for the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum free of charge on the web for the first time, as the result of work done by an international collaboration led by the University of Pennsylvania.

Individual partners were already running their own databases, but their information has now been compiled in a form that will be easier to use. Specially developed datamining tools will allow easy searching of the raw data on the parasite's 14 chromosomes, the collaboration says.

Sequencing material for the database was provided by the Institute for Genomic Research and Naval Medical Research Centre in Maryland, Stanford University in California, and Britain's Sanger Centre.

April 12, 2001, NATURE Vol. 410


WHO panel urges six months' exclusive breast feeding

An expert group set up by the World Health Organization has recommended that mothers should exclusively breast feed their babies for six months-not for four to six months, as the WHO's current guidelines specify. The advice will become official WHO policy if the agency's member states accept it at their annual assembly next month. The International Baby Food Action Network claims that the baby milk industry makes an extra $1bn (£714m) a year from formula bought for babies aged 4 to 6 months.

April 7, 2001, BMJ Vol. 322


Hair and Hair-after

Chemotherpy-induced alopecia (hair loss) is a frequent and emotionally distressing side effect of cancer treatment. The epithelial cells in the hair follicle are especially susceptible to cytotoxic drugs because they divide so rapidally. Small-molecule inhibitors of cyclin-dependent kinase 2, a protein that promotes cell cycle progression has been found to be effective to overcome the problem. Topical application of these compounds to neonatal rats prior to administration of chemotherapy significantly reduced hair loss in the animals.

  January 5, 2001, Science Vol.291


UK sets up gene bank to protect rare sheep breeds

A gene bank to protect rare sheep breeds facing extinction because of Britain's foot-and-mouth epidemic has been launched by scientists at York and Leeds universities.

The Heritage Gene Bank  will collect and freeze semen, eggs and embryos to protect the identities and diversity of British sheep breeds. The gene bank also plans to cover other rare and speciality breeds that are under threat.

April 12, 2001, NATURE Vol. 410


Do you need DNA, tissue or serum samples ?

Genomics Collaborative (GCI) is ready for the industry's transition to large-scale association studies. GCI has developed a worldwide network of investigators for resourcing and analyzing thousands of human DNA, tissue and serum samples. Each sample is matched with a control and linked to extensive phenotypic data from appropriately consented patients. GCI's Global Repository TM includes samples from patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis and various central nervous system diseases. GCI's proprietary discovery platform will expedite improvements in diagnosis, prediction, prevention, and treatment of disease.

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                                                                          April 12, 2001, NATURE Vol. 410


Companies join forces to crack the human proteome

Ambitious plans to compile a catalogue of all human proteinsand analyse their

interactions were unveiled in Washington.

Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, Utah, is  forming a $185 million collaboration with software company Oracle and electronics corporation Hitachi to characterize the human proteome over the next three years. They hope to produce a proprietary database with "all human protein interactios, all biochemical pathways and a comprehensive catalogue of purified proteins".

Structural biologists will use data on protein structure to identify regions within a protein that are therapeutically important. The partners hope that this information will then play an important role in drug design.

April 5, 2001, NATURE Vol. 410


  Leishmaniasis Protection?

Strategies to control infectious diseases transmitted by arthropod vectors have often included measures such as pesticides to keep the vectors at bay. But now, animal studies suggest a surprising potential source of protection against leishmaniasis, disfiguring disease caused by bites from sandflies infected with the Leishmania parasite: bites from uninfected sandflies.

Scientist at NIAID and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found that mice bitten by infected flies did not get the disease if they had first endured bites by uninfected sandflies. Thus immunity was associated with a strong delayed-type hypersensitivity response.

"For this and possibly other vector-borne diseases, salivary antigens might be effective components of a vaccine directed against transmitted pathogens," the researchers noted.

December 20,2023 JAMA Vol. 284 No.23


Genes and HIV Infection

New findings from the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) reveal that a minuscule variation in an immune system gene called RANTES paradoxically both increases susceptibility to HIV infection and slows disease progression in people who have that particular genetic variant.

In the study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), researchers examined the RANTES gene of HIV-positive and at risk HIV-negative participants in the MACS project, a long-term study of HIV-infected people and those at risk of infection. They found that a particular single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) of the RANTES gene-a difference involving just one DNA base pair - is associated with twice the risk of HIV infection. But they also discovered that people with this SNP who become infected with HIV take about 40% longer to develop AIDS.

"The study offers the first genetic evidence that RANTES affects the risk of HIV transmission," said NIAID director Anthony S. Fauci, MD. "It also add to the evidence that RANTES can slow the progression to AIDS in HIV-positive individuals, leading support to the search for a drug that mimics this gene's action."

December 20,2023 JAMA Vol. 284   


AIDS vaccine gets off to a promising start

An AIDS vaccine has shown promising signs in experiments with monkeys, researchers at pharmaceutical company Merck announced this week.

The vaccine consists of an inactivated cold virus into which the gene for the outer shell of HIV has been inserted. When injected into monkeys, the virus delivers the gene to the immune system, teaching it to recognize and attack HIV. Three monkeys that received the vaccine are still healthy eight months after being injected with a highly virulent form of HIV. Six out of eight control monkeys deprived of the vaccine have died.

The vaccine will not prevent HIV infection, but it might prolong the lives of people HIV, without the need for drugs. Merck estimates that at least six years of clinical testing will be necessary before the vaccine is ready for widespread use.

April 5, 2001, NATURE Vol. 410


Sniff sniff … is it diabetes, epilepsy or cancer?

Not everyone needs fancy diagnostic equipment to tell them they're sick. Sometimes, the family dog can do what sophisticated medical equipment cannot. A recent study observed how a border collie sniffed out a cancerous mole on its owner's leg. It constantly sniffed, licked and even tried to bite off the lesion. In India, researchers claim that dogs can be trained to smell cancers in people.  Some doctors also described how family dogs were attuned to oncoming seizures. Scientists have many theories to explain but they really can't say how dogs spot such early signs of illness. Many illnesses induce chemical or hormonal changes, which have profound effects on the body. Dogs may pick up electrical disturbances in the brain, alterations in smell, muscle tremors, or behavioural changes in their owners. They have 200 million scent-receiving cells in their nose, which, if spread out, would cover an area greater than their body surface. Now you know, the next time your dog sniffs you, it could be well be a red alert.

    May 13, 2001, TOI


Blood product from cattle wins approval for use in humans

An animal-derived blood substitute has been approved for use in human in South Africa. Hemopure, an oxygen-carrying compound derived from bovine haemoglobin, has been given the go-ahead for treating acute anaemia and for use during surgery. Luc Noel, head of the World Health Organization's blood safety unit, says that treatment could be useful in South Africa's rural areas where safe blood is in short supply.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in five adult South Africans are infected with HIV. Noel says that he welcomes the new product if it reduces reliance on blood transfusions.

The raw haemoglobin used in Hemopure is harvested from US beef cattle bound for slaughter. Biopure requires the farmers to keep records of the cows' origin, feed, medical history and condition. The company says that its purification process removes infectious agents such as HIV, hepatitis C and transmissible spongiform encephalopathy agents

April 19, 2001, NATURE Vol. 410


  Screen saver can help find cancer cure

British scientists on Tuesday enlisted the help of thousands of home computer owners in an experiment which they hope will help find new treatments for cancer.

Volunteers can download software over the Internet which, when their personal computer is idle, will get to work screening molecules for anti-cancer activity which could be used in cancer drugs.

"People now have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the disease by donating their unused computer power." He added that the project "will enable us to accelerate our programme of research, and come up with many new molecular candidates that could be developed into cancer drugs."

The software can be downloaded free of charge from

April 5, 2001, TOI 


Alliance pledges new cheap TB drug by 2010

A new initiative to tackle tuberculosis, the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, was launched at the international conference on health research for development in Bangkok.

The alliance has pledged to have an effective new antituberculosis drug on the market, at a price developing countries can afford, by 2010. Set up with huge international support, the alliance will function organisation and outsource its projects to public and private partners as a virtual research and development.

October 21, 2000, BMJ Vol. 321


US stockpiles smallpox vaccine to counter bioterrorism

Ora Vax, the US subsidiary of the Peptide Therapeutics Group, based on Cambridge, England, has been awarded a $343m (£245m) contract by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and manufacture a new smallpox vaccine. The vaccine will be used to create a national stockpile to counter the threat of bioterrorism.

 September 30, 2000, BMJ Vol. 321


  A more stable Leucine Zipper

Incorporation of unnatural amino acids into peptides and proteins modifies their properties in unique ways. New functionalities that do not exists in peptides containing only natural amino acids can be introduced, which may be important in applications from drug design to enzyme catalysis.  Tang et al. have incorporated a "hyperhydrophobic" modification of leucine, trifluoroleucine, into leucine zipper peptides in bacterial cultures. The extent of leucine replacement was 92% when the bacteria were grown in medium containing only the trifluorinated leucine. The resulting leucine zippers were more stable to denaturation than those of the wild-type protein, while the overall structural characteristics remained the same. In contrast, substitution of leucine by other natural amino acids results in reduced structural stability. In the future, the in vivo incorporation of trifluoroleucine and similar hyperhydrophobic residues may be useful for stabilizing a variety of other hydrophobic protein cores.

May 4, 2001, SCIENCE Vol. 292


 Sudden death

A MYSTERY disease afflicted Siliguri in West Bengal in February, 2001 and claimed 39 lives. The disease, with symptoms such as high fever, respiratory problems and paralysis, caught the city's medical and civic system unaware.

Experts from National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD), Delhi, National Institute of Virology, Pune, and World Health Organisation (WHO), who visited the areas, identified the disease in their preliminary report as a killer pathogen 'mutating measles virus', that had caused similar havoc in Maharashtra a few years ago. The mutating measles virus attacks the respiratory and renal system.

Several microbiologists also sounded skeptical about the 'mutating measles virus' as they feel that "it is very unusual that a mutant virus variety establishes itself so quickly in a population." The state's health secretary has admitted that the report sent by Lalit Kant of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi, has not been confirmed.

 March 31, 2001 Down To Earth:10


Promising new vaccine to fight colon cancer

A new vaccine to treat colorectal cancers using genetically-altered cells has shown promising results among patients in late stages of the disease, according to a study presented at an oncological symposium here.

The vaccine, which helps boost the ability of a patient's immune system, was effective in helping produce dendritic cells-immune system indicator cell-which then targeted the cancerous cells. According to Stanford University researcher Lawrence Fong, the lead author of the study, cancerous cells have an over-abundance of a protein known as Cea that is diminished when "attacked" by the boosted dendritic cells.

Among the 12 patients tested in the study, four displayed clinical improvement in their colorectal or lung cancer. In two patients, all tumors regressed, with one patient in remission for almost a year. None of the patients experienced side effects, a benefit that could be extended to patients suffering from lung and breast cancer.

    May 16, 2001, TOI 


Genes determine effect of anti-smoking therapy

Genes appear to influence the response of cigarette smokers to smoking cessation therapy with an antidepressant drug, researchers have found. Smokers carrying one form of a gene that affects brain cell receptors to the neurochemical dopamine respon-ded to an antidepressant medicine, the researchers explain, while smokers with another form of the gene did not.

Dopamine is a brain chemical that helps produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Abnormalities in dopamine activity in the brain have been linked to addiction. "What we were all excited about in this study was that this was a demonstration of a pharmacogenetic effect," said Dr. Paul Cinciripini of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the study's lead author. "That is, we were able to give a particular drug to a group of people who were characterized on the basis of their genetic profile, and show that this drug could work better for them than it could work for others."  

    May 25, 2001, TOI 


Tribal triumph

The Kani tribals are awarded a patent

The New Delhi-based National Patent Office has granted a patent of an anti-diabetic medicine to the Kani tribals of Kerala. The medicine, now scientifically proven to be potent and safe, is derived from the roots of the creeper Humboldita decurrens (Chembravalli in Malayalam). The herb has been used traditionally by the Kanis for the treatment of diabetes and some allergies. The patent was awarded on an application moved jointly in 1997 by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Shri Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), Thiruvananthapuram, and the Kerala government's Kerala Institute for Research Training and Development Studies for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (KIRTADS).

The institutes have now filed an international patent for Chembravalli with the office of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Geneva-based organisations under the World Intellectual Properties Organi-sation, to thwart any transnational move to appropriate rights on the herb. The three institutes will remain joint owners of all intellectual property rights emerging from the initiative, but the profits from their commercial exploitation will go to the Kanis. Tests show that Chebravalli could reduce blood sugar levels by 51 percent, which is comparable to the therapeutic effects of Daonil, a popular allopathic anti-diabetic pill.

May 31,2001, Down To Earth


Spirituality may help relieve arthritis pain

Patients who use religion or spirituality to cope with the chronic pain of rheumatoid arthritis can reduce their pain and boost their sense of well being. A report found that patients who felt a desire to be closer to God, felt touched by the beauty of creation or reported other daily spiritual experiences were more likely to be in a good mood and to have social support. Individuals who used religion as a key coping strategy for their pain reported much higher levels of emotional, social and disease-related support, findings show.

"One might expect that people coping with chronic illness or chronic pain might find it difficult to maintain a positive outlook or feel connected to God or the beauty of life. The results of this study suggest otherwise," write Dr. Francis J. Keefe of Duke University Medical School in Durham, North Carolina and colleagues. In the study, 35 people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis were asked to keep daily diaries of their moods, religious and/or spiritual experiences levels of pain and coping strategies.

"Persons who reported being able to control and decrease pain using positive religious and spiritual coping strategies were less likely to experience joint pain and more likely (to experience) positive mood and higher levels of social support," Keefe said. In addition, these patients used positive religious and spiritual strate-gies for coping with their disease more much more frequently than they used negative religious and spiritual coping strategies, for example "God is punishing me for my sins," Keefe said.

The authors stress that the types of spiritual experiences patients reported using in their diaries were not "unusual phenomena, such as seeing visions or having out body exper-iences, but rather spiritual experiences that ordinary people have in the context of daily life."

The study, Keefe said, suggests that understanding the daily spiritual and religious experiences of patients is important in key to understanding their experiences of their disease.

    April 13, 2024 TOI


Biological Insulators

Insulators or chromatin boundary elements are specialized chromatin structures that regulate gene activity. These structures block the action of transcriptional enhancers or silencers when located between the gene regulatory element and the gene's promoter. Experiments indicate that insulators are likely to affect enhancer-promoter interaction by stimulating the formation of chromatin loop domains through the interaction of protein-bound insulator complexes.

January 19,2001, Science Vol. 291


Heart disease : New technique better than cholesterol test

Relying mainly on cholesterol levels to predict a woman's risk of coronary artery disease may overlook many older women with diseased arteries, researchers report. A new study shows that an imaging technique called electron beam tomography (EBT) detected potentially dangerous calcium deposits in the arteries of women with normal cholesterol levels.

"This is the mammogram of the heart," lead author Dr. Harvey S. Hecht of the Arizon Heart Institute and Foundation in Phoenix said. The advantage the screen has over tradi-tional measures of risk such as cholesterol levels is that EBT "tells you what effect the risk factors have had on arteries," according to Hecht.

EBT measures the amount of calcification in coronary arteries, and these calcium deposits are thought to signal an increased risk of heart disease. EBT, a relatively new type of x-ray imaging that takes about 30 seconds to perform, has not been recommended for widespread scre-ening.

Hecht and colleague Dr. H. Robert Superko performed EBT on about 300 women who had no symp-toms of heart disease. The researchers also evaluated the women's risk of artery disease based on the national guidelines for healthy cholesterol levels. Compared with the cholesterol guidelines, EBT was a more accurate indicator of woman's risk of coronary artery disease, the researchers report. Using the severity of calcification as a measure of coronary artery disease, cholesterol guidelines correctly iden-tified only about 59 per cent of women as having a higher or lower heart disease risk.

    May 3, 2001, TOI