Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The amazing 'pixie dust' made from pigs bladder that regrew a severed finger in FOUR weeks
By FIONA MACRAE - More by this author » Last updated at 23:22pm on 30th April 2008

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Scientists are claiming an amazing breakthrough - regrowing a man's severed finger with the aid of an experimental powder.

Four weeks after Lee Spievack sliced almost half an inch off the top of one of his fingers, he said it had grown back to its original length.

Four months later it looked like any other finger, complete with "great feeling", a fingernail and fingerprint. The secret to the astonishing regrowth is said to be the powder described by Mr Spievack, a Cincinnati model shop salesman, as "pixie dust".

More properly known as extra-cellular matrix, it is bursting with collagen, the protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity, and is made from dried pig's bladder.

It was developed to regenerate damaged ligaments in horses.

"The second time I put it on I could already see growth," said Mr Spievack, 69.

"Each day it was up further.

"Finally it closed up and was a finger. It took about four weeks before it was sealed."
Mr Spievack damaged his finger in the propeller of a model plane three years ago.

He turned down a skin graft in favour of the "pixie dust" recommended by his brother, a former surgeon and the founder of the firm that makes the powder.

While it is not entirely clear how the powder works, its developers believe it kick-starts the body's natural healing process by sending out signals that mobilise the body's own cells into repairing the damaged tissue.

Dr Stephen Badylak, of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, told the BBC: "There are all sorts of signals in the body.

"We have got signals that are good for forming scar tissue and others that are good for regenerating tissues.

"One way to think about these matrices is that we've taken out many of the stimuli for scar tissue formation and left those signals which were always there for constructive remodelling."

In other words, the powder directs tissues to grow afresh rather than form scars.

He believes the powder also forms a microscopic scaffolding for the body's own cells to build round.

"We're not smart enough to figure out how to regrow a finger," said Dr Badylak.

"Maybe what we can do is bring all of the pieces of the puzzle to the right place and then let Mother Nature take its course.

"There's a lot more than we don't know than we do know."

Dr Badylak has both medical and veterinary degrees. He has had more than 180 scientific papers published and this year won a coveted Carnegie Science Centre Award for Excellence.

His work is driven by a successful heart operation he carried out on a dog in the 1980s, in which part of a pig intestine was used to fashion a makeshift aorta for its heart.

Months later, an examination revealed that the transplanted intestine part had morphed into a vessel that looked much like an aorta.

The "pixie dust" powder is made by scraping the cells from the lining of a pig's bladder.

After these are discarded, the remaining tissue is "cleaned" in acid and dried out.

Its benefits may not be limited to finger tips, with the U.S. military poised to try it out on soldiers whose fingers have been amputated.

The patients will have the end of the damaged finger or thumb reopened surgically, to allow the powder to be sprinkled on the raw flesh three times a week.

The hope is they will have enough regrowth to allow them to perform the pinching motion needed to hold a toothbrush or do up a button.

Burns victims could also benefit.
Dr Badylak, scientific adviser to the company making the powder, also intends to see if the technique will regrow oesophagus tissue removed in cancer patients.

Even entire limbs might one day be conjured up by the "pixie dust", Dr Badylak believes.

He said: "I think that within ten years we will have strategies that will re-grow the bones and promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones.

"And that is a major step towards eventually doing the entire limb."

Some animals can regenerate tissue without "pixie dust".

For example, an adult salamander can regenerate a lost leg over and over again, regardless of how many times the part is amputated.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Whiten Your Teeth the Natural Way

White teeth and strawberries may not sound like they go hand in hand, but it turns out the berries can actually lighten your smile.

The secret to this inexpensive home whitening method is malic acid, which acts as an astringent to remove surface discoloration. Combined with baking powder, strawberries become a natural tooth-cleanser, buffing away stains from coffee, red wine, and dark sodas. While it’s no replacement for a bleaching treatment at your dentist’s office, “this is a fast, cheap way to brighten your smile,” says Adina Carrel, DMD, a dentist in private practice at Manhattan Dental Arts in New York. “Be careful not to use this too often, though, as the acid could damage the enamel on your teeth.”

You need:
1 ripe strawberry
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Directions: Crush the strawberry to a pulp, then mix with the baking powder until blended. Use a soft toothbrush to spread the mixture onto your teeth. Leave on for 5 minutes, then brush thoroughly with toothpaste to remove the berry–baking powder mix. Rinse. (A little floss will help get rid of any strawberry seeds.) Carrel says you can apply once a week.

— Karina Timmel is a former Assistant Beauty and Fashion Editor for Health.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is it time to give up the search for an Aids vaccine?

fter 25 years and billions of pounds, leading scientists are now forced to ask this question

By Steve Connor and Chris Green
Thursday, 24 April 2008

Most scientists involved in Aids research believe that a vaccine against HIV is further away than ever and some have admitted that effective immunisation against the virus may never be possible, according to an unprecedented poll conducted by The Independent.

A mood of deep pessimism has spread among the international community of Aids scientists after the failure of a trial of a promising vaccine at the end of last year. It just was the latest in a series of setbacks in the 25-year struggle to develop an HIV vaccine.

The Independent's survey of more than 35 leading Aids scientists in Britain and the United States found that just two were now more optimistic about the prospects for an HIV vaccine than they were a year ago; only four said they were more optimistic now than they were five years ago.

Nearly two thirds believed that an HIV vaccine will not be developed within the next 10 years and some of them said that it may take at least 20 more years of research before a vaccine can be used to protect people either from infection or the onset of Aids.

A substantial minority of the scientists admitted that an HIV vaccine may never be developed, and even those who believe that one could appear within the next 10 years added caveats saying that such a vaccine would be unlikely to work as a truly effective prophylactic against infection by the virus.

One of the major conclusions to emerge from the failed clinical trial of the most promising prototype vaccine, manufactured by the drug company Merck, was that an important animal model used for more than a decade, testing HIV vaccines on monkeys before they are used on humans, does not in fact work.

This has meant that prototype HIV vaccines which appear to work well when tested on monkeys infected with an artificial virus do not work when tested on human volunteers at risk of HIV – a finding that will be exploited by anti-vivisectionist campaigners opposed to vaccine experiments on primates.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), near Washington, told The Independent that the animal model – which uses genetically engineered simian and human immunodeficiency viruses in a combination, known as SHIV – failed to predict what will happen when a prototype vaccine is moved from laboratory monkeys to people. "We've learnt a few important things [from the clinical trial]. We've learnt that one of the animal models, the SHIV model, really doesn't predict very well at all," he said.

"At least we now know that you can get a situation where it looks like you are protecting against SHIV and you're not protecting at all in the human model – that's important," he said.

The NIAID spends about $500m (£250m) on HIV vaccine research each year and despite calls from some Aids pressure groups for funds to be diverted to other forms of Aids prevention, Dr Fauci said this was not the time to stop vaccine research. "I don't think you should say that this is the point where we're going to give up on developing a vaccine. I think you continue given that there are so many unanswered questions to answer," he said. "There is an impression given by some that if you do vaccine research you are neglecting other areas of prevention. That's not the case. We should and we are doing them simultaneously."

More than 80 per cent of the scientists who took part in our survey agreed that it was now important to change the direction of HIV vaccine research, given the failure of the Merck clinical trial, which was cancelled when it emerged that the vaccine may have actually increased the chances of people developing Aids.

Robert Gallo, a prominent Aids researcher in the US who is credited with co-discovering the virus in the early 1980s, likened the vaccine's failure to the Challenger disaster, which forced Nasa to ground the space shuttle fleet for years.

At the end of last month, Dr Fauci convened a high-level summit of leading HIV specialists at a hotel in Bethesda, Maryland, to discuss the future direction of research. A group of 14 prominent Aids specialists had already written to Dr Fauci suggesting that his institute had "lost its way" in terms of an HIV vaccine.

He said that one outcome of the meeting was a refocusing of the vaccine effort away from expensive clinical trials towards more fundamental research to understand the basic biology of the virus and its effects on the human immune system.

"We'll be turning the knob more towards answering some fundamental questions rather than going into big clinical trials," Dr Fauci said. "I'm certainly disappointed that we're not further ahead in the development of a vaccine but I don't say that this year I'm more discouraged than I was last year. I always knew from the beginning that it would be a very difficult task given what we know about this very elusive virus."

About 33 million people in the world are infected with HIV and some 26 million have died of Aids since the pandemic began.

The majority of scientists who responded to The Independent's survey said that a vaccine would be the most effective way of preventing the spread of the virus given the failure of many education programmes.

Winnie Sseruma, 46: 'For me, the key has been not to give up'

Ms Sseruma says she believes abandoning research for a vaccine would mean a loss of hope for millions of people. "When I was diagnosed, nearly 20 years ago, it was when the first drugs had come on the market. A lot of people had said before then that there was no hope and that all efforts should be put into prevention. But look where we are now. We cannot lose hope; we need to invest in a vaccine."

She says this latest failure needs to be seen as the first hurdle, not a signal to give up. "Yes, the scientists have not been very successful in their quest for a vaccine, but you can learn a lot from failures. Now they have realised they cannot use the normal routes used to develope simpler vaccines."

Ms Sseruma lives in London, but was born in Uganda and says that the current climate of pessimism for the vaccine is not dissimilar to the initial doubts over the likelihood of treating HIV in Africa.

"I remember when treatment started being available in the West and people were saying it would be impossible to send it to Africa. But look what's happened. We should always do whatever is humanly possible to fight Aids. It's been a long journey, but for me, the key has been not to give up, and the scientists need to have the same attitude."

'Philippe B', 42: 'People are getting resistant to drugs'

"Philippe", who wishes to remain anonymous, discovered he was HIV positive 11 years ago. The 42-year-old believes the search for the vaccination should no longer be a priority, but that it should not stop altogether.

"Unfortunately what's happening now is that people are getting more resistant to drug treatment, and more money needs to be put into finding more drugs for treatment," he said.

For people like Philippe, the fear of building an immunity to drugs and running out of options is a real one. He believes that as long as scientists are still pessimistic about the chances of successfully finding a vaccine, money needs to be invested in continuing to fund research into treatment.

"I've already become resistant to five combination treatments over the last ten years, and if I was on the last one available I'd be very afraid. HIV is not a death sentence in the way it once was, but we do need to fund further research into the drugs that treat it."

Nevertheless, Philippe thinks it is not yet time to abandon all research into a vaccine. "In my lifetime I don't think we'll have a vaccine, but there's no reason we should believe it isn't possible," he said. "But we should now be spending more on other ways of dealing with the disease."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Schizophrenia is Linked to Pre-Natal Flu

A new study by scientists at Columbia University confirmed a link between pre-natal influenza infection and schizophrenia:

One percent of the world’s population suffers from its symptoms of hallucinations, psychosis and impaired cognitive ability. The disease destroys relationships and renders many of its sufferers unable to hold down a job. What could cause such frightening damage to the brain? According to a growing body of research, the culprit is surprising: the flu.

If you are skeptical, you are not alone. Being condemned to a lifetime of harsh antipsychotic drugs seems a far cry from a runny nose and fever. And yet studies have repeatedly linked schizophrenia to prenatal infections with influenza virus and other microbes, showing that the children of mothers who suffer these infections during pregnancy are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life. In 2006 scientists at Columbia University asserted that up to one fifth of all schizophrenia cases are caused by prenatal infections.

Doctors have known for many years that microbes such as syphilis and Streptococcus can, if left untreated, lead to serious psychiatric problems. Now a growing number of scientists are proposing that microbes are to blame for several mental illnesses once thought to have neurological or psychological defects at their roots. The strongest evidence pertains to schizophrenia, but autism, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder have also been linked to bacterial, viral or parasitic infections in utero, in childhood or in maturity. Some of these infections can directly affect the brain, whereas others might trigger immune reactions that interfere with brain development or perhaps even attack our own brain cells in an autoimmune mistake.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Appendix operation through the mouth

Surgeons have removed a man's appendix through his mouth in a radical world first.

The pioneering operation - dubbed "cakehole surgery" - means no unsightly scars, and the patient was doing sit-ups three days afterwards.

Today, doctors released the first pictures of the bizarre-looking procedure on Jeff Scholz, which was undertaken using miniaturised surgical tools.

It is hoped this new approach could slash waiting times, cut down on infection and reduce post-operative pain.

Doctors say Mr Scholz, 42, an ex-US marine, has made a speedier recovery than he would have done with standard keyhole surgery.

Surgeons at the University of California San Diego Medical Centre threaded tiny instruments, including a camera, down Mr Scholz's throat. After emptying his stomach they cut into its lining to cut away the inflamed appendix. The rogue organ was placed in a bag and pulled back up though Mr Scholz's stomach and throat and out of his mouth.

Amazingly, he was discharged after just 17 hours in hospital and claimed to be back at work the day after.

Mr Scholz said: "I was eating pizza and doing sit-ups three days later. You'd think the way it was done, going through the stomach wall, I'd have stomach pains, but there was nothing."

It is the first time the procedure has been publicly shown, although a team of Indian surgeons claim to have carried out a similar one.

Through-the-mouth surgery is still in the experimental stages, but surgeons are confident their new methods reduce the risk of infections like MRSA.

Centre director Professor Santiago Horgan said: "My dad was a surgeon and back then the larger the incision, the better the surgeon. Today we're moving away from that to minimise trauma. We can improve pain and complications."

Vitamins A, C and E are 'a waste of time and may even shorten your life'

Vitamins taken by around a third of the population do not extend life and may even cause premature death, according to a respected group of international scientists.

After reviewing 67 studies involving more than 230,000 men and women, the experts say there is no convincing evidence that taking supplements of the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E can make you healthier.

The alarming findings, published today, will shock Britons who spend £333million a year on supplements.

Forty per cent of women and 30 per cent of men take a vitamin pill each day.

The review involved trials on beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium.

It says in-depth analysis of the different trials does not support the idea that vitamins extend lifespan.

'Even more, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seem to increase mortality,' says the review.

Vitamin A was linked to a 16 per cent increase in mortality, beta-carotene - the pigment found in carrots, tomatoes and broccoli which the body converts into vitamin A - to a 7 per cent increase and vitamin E to a 4 per cent increase. However, there was no significant detrimental effect caused by vitamin C.

'There was no evidence to support either healthy people using antioxidants to prevent disease or for sick people to take them to get better,' said the review.

It said more research was needed on vitamin C and selenium.

Antioxidants are used by the body as protection against free radicals, which are molecules produced during normal metabolism.

These can damage the body if they flourish in an uncontrolled way as a result of illness, overexposure to toxins or ageing.

It is thought antioxidants such as vitamin C confer health benefits by 'grabbing' or neutralising free radicals, and many people take them as health 'insurance'.

The theory behind using antioxidants is to combat oxidation - the chemical reaction that causes metals to rust - which in cells can damage DNA, thus raising the risk of cancer, other diseases and the changes associated with ageing.

Previous human and animal laboratory research suggested that boosting antioxidant levels in the body might extend life, but other studies produced neutral or even harmful results.

The review is published by the Cochrane Library, a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organisation which evaluates healthcare research.

Altogether 47 trials involving 180,938 people were classified as having a low risk of bias which showed 'antioxidant supplements significantly increased mortality'.

Goran Bjelakovic, who led the review at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, said: 'We could find no evidence to support taking antioxidant supplements to reduce the risk of dying earlier in healthy people or patients with various diseases.

'The findings of our review show that if anything, people in trial groups given the antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E showed increased rates of mortality.

'There was no indication that vitamin C and selenium may have positive or negative effects. So, regarding these antioxidants, we need more data from randomised trials.

'The bottom line is that current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general healthy population or in patients with certain diseases.'

The review does not offer any biological explanation as to why supplements can cause harm, although it has been suggested that betacarotene, for example, might interfere with the body's use of fats.

There is no suggestion from the review that a healthy diet including plenty of vegetables and fruit - natural sources of antioxidants - is harmful.

The latest scare has infuriated many in the vitamins industry and nutritionists such as Patrick Holford who believe there is a campaign by the medical establishment to discredit their products and their role in optimising health.

Mr Holford said the review was 'a stitch-up' because all the studies were chosen strictly for reducing mortality, and not for the many advantages reported in other studies.

He said: 'The only way this review could produce the negative results was by finding reasons to exclude most of the positive studies, including all the positive ones on selenium.'

Although the authors claimed to be assessing antioxidant supplements for the prevention of mortality, they excluded all studies - 405 of them - which reported no deaths.

Mr Holford said: 'Antioxidants are not meant to be magic bullets and should not be expected to undo a lifetime of unhealthy habits.

'But when used properly, in combination with eating a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables, getting plenty of exercise and not smoking, antioxidant supplements can play an important role in maintaining and promoting overall health.

'I take, and will continue to take an all-round antioxidant supplementing containing these nutrients as well as CoQ10, lipoic acid and resveratrol - the "red wine" factor - and also eat a diet high in fruit and vegetables.'

Pamela Mason, of the industry-backed Health Supplements Information Service, said: 'Antioxidant vitamins, like any other vitamins, were never intended for the prevention of chronic disease and mortality.

'They are intended for health maintenance on the basis of their various physiological roles in the body and in the case of antioxidant vitamins, this does, in appropriate amounts, include a protective antioxidant effect in the body's tissues.

'These vitamins are essential for health and many people in the UK do not have an adequate intake.

'A vitamin supplement taken in recommended amounts can be beneficial for health, especially for those people whose intakes are poor.'

Monday, April 7, 2008

10 Reasons to Work Out That Have Nothing to Do With a Sexy Bod

1. Testosterone

This one is mostly for the gents (sorry ladies) and it applies to weight training. Testosterone is the essence of manhood. When you lift weights and gradually increase the level of resistance, your muscles produce testosterone. This gives you the energy, stamina, and aggressiveness you need to take on the world.

On days after a big weight training work out, I’ve experience a significant increase in energy. I tend to pop out of bed (I’m usually groggy) and feel more vigorous over the course of the day.

2. Clarity and Concentration

An active body has been linked to an active mind. The more consistently you exercise, the less prone you’ll be to grogginess and lapses in concentration. As anecdotal evidence of this, my best cure for writer’s block has always been going for a long walk, run, or hitting the gym.

3. Reflection

Exercise is a time to let your mind unwind while your body does the work. Strangely, when you stop actively trying to solve a mental challenge, the solution often pops into your head. Exercise is an opportunity for your subconscious mind to put together the pieces.

4. Enjoyment

Working out needn’t be seen as a chore or obligation. There are tons of enjoyable ways to exercise. For example, if you live in a scenic area, going for a run or bike ride along a beautiful route can brighten things up. Since I moved to Los Angeles a couple months ago, running on the beach has gotten me out the door much more frequently.

Other great options include: using exercise as a chance to spend time with friends and family, playing a sport or game, striving to achieve new personal bests, week after week.

5. Cleansing

Have you ever gone a couple weeks without exercise and noticed that you begin to sweat an exorbitant amount? That’s because sweat, along with toxins, tends to build up over time. Sweating regularly through exercises removes these toxins and will help you feel more comfortable.

6. Better Sleep

Studies have shown that exercise improves sleep. I love my sleep, so this is big for me.

7. Longer Life

When you choose to exercise, you’re making an investment, not just in your present physical appearance, but in the rest of your life. People who exercise regularly live longer and stay healthier into old age. If not for yourself, consider the family members that love and depend on you.

8. Stress Relief

Exercise has also been shown to reduce stress. This is a combined result of the benefits of cleansing, reflection, and a physical outlet for frustration.

9. Superior Strength and Endurance

About 4 years ago I went through a rough stretch where I gained 15-20 pounds in only a few months. Being unfit drastically changed the way I could move my body. It threw off my balance and made everyday tasks more difficult and uncomfortable. By exercising regularly, you’ll be better able to live and act, and in the event of an emergency, seize the moment.

10. Self Confidence

The sum of all these benefits is self confidence. (And, yes, looking good will help here too.) Greater self confidence is drives success, so its value can’t be underestimated. Exercise and fitness are an enormous part of reaching your potential.

Blood test that gives 'a six-year early warning' of Alzheimer's

A blood test the makers claim can detect Alzheimer's and Parkinson's up to six years before they take hold is to be launched this summer.

The test will allow doctors to alert those at risk of developing the conditions, and advise them of lifestyle changes such as improvements to their diet or more exercise.

It could also allow earlier treatment with drugs which slow the progress of the diseases.

But the breakthrough has raised fears that insurance companies could force people to undergo the check - and raise premiums for those deemed at risk.

Said by its creators to be 90 per cent accurate, the test measures the blood for proteins which can indicate the risk of brain disease, according to a report in Chemistry & Industry magazine.

U.S.-based manufacturer Power3 Medical Products plans to market the test in the U.S. and Greece later this year.

Chief executive Steve Rash said: "There is currently no diagnostic test for any neurodegenerative disease on the market. Diagnoses are currently based solely on a clinical diagnosis of symptoms.

"We are on the brink of offering this blood serum-based test that will meet a tremendous need for early detection methods of neurodegenerative disease."

The company says that by measuring a collection of 59 protein "biomarkers", the Nuro Pro test can even distinguish between Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and motor neurone disease.

Patients are provided with a probability score based on the test result, which compares their blood sample with a biological and statistical model developed by the company.

Scientists are in the final stages of testing with a study of 300 patients - 100 of whom have Alzheimer's, 100 Parkinson's sufferers and 100 healthy patients.

At present, doctors rely on interpreting physical signs when a patient complains of symptoms, in some cases backed up by brain scans.

But genetic analysis has made it possible to detect proteins in the blood linked to the diseases.

Power3 has used this technique to develop a blood serum test which involves a blood sample taken from a vein.

Kieran Breen, director of research at the Parkinson's Disease Society, welcomed the test but warned the research was in its early stages.

He said: "While the test seems promising, larger studies need to be conducted before it can be confirmed as being helpful in making a diagnosis."

Dr Susan Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society said: "There are 700,000 people living with dementia in the UK, 62 per cent have Alzheimer's disease and this will rise to more than a million in less than 20 years.

"An effective blood test would present those diagnosed and their families with an opportunity to prepare for the impact of this devastating illness and make crucial decisions about their future."

Last year the drugs rationing watchdog, the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence, ruled that the drug Aricept should only be given in the later stages of Alzheimer's.

Its decision was later upheld by the High Court. FISH OIL BRAIN BOOST

A major breakthrough in the battle against Alzheimer's is being claimed by British scientists who believe it can be fought with omega-3 oils.

They are found in nuts, seeds and oily fish like mackerel and salmon.

Researchers at Aberdeen University found that some older people whose diets are high in omega-3 oils do better in mental tests than those without the oils in their diets.

The research also found a genetic link that explains why some fish oil studies have been inconclusive in the past.

Scientists studied 120 over-64s who had sat intelligence tests in Scottish schools in 1947.

They were tested again at the ages of 64, 66 and 68, with blood samples taken to identify those who possessed a gene that made them more likely to develop Alzheimer's.

For those aged 68 without the crucial ApoE e4 gene there was a clear link between better results and the presence of omega-3s in their blood.

However, in those with the gene, which is linked to contraction of the disease earlier than usual, the oils made no difference to their scores.