3 share Nobel medicine prize for new tools to kill parasites

MEDICAL RESEARCH

3 share Nobel medicine prize for new tools to kill parasites

Getting a flu shot.jpg

A pharmacy manager for Walgreens administers a flu vaccine on site. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Three scientists from Ireland, Japan and China won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering drugs against malaria and otherparasitic diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people every year.

The Nobel judges in Stockholm awarded the prestigious prize to Irish-born William Campbell, Satoshi Omura of Japan and Tu Youyou — the first-ever Chinese medicine laureate.

Campbell and Omura were cited for discovering avermectin, derivatives of which have helped lower the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, two diseases caused by parasitic worms that affect millions of people in Africa and Asia.

Tu discovered artemisinin, a drug that has helped significantly reduce the mortality rates of malaria patients.

“The two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the committee said. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immensurable.”

River blindness is an eye and skin disease that ultimately leads to blindness. About 90 percent of the disease occurs in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

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Lymphatic filariasis can lead to swelling of the limbs and genitals, called elephantiasis, and it’s primarily a threat in Africa and Asia. The WHO says 120 million people are infected with the disease, without about 40 million disfigured and incapacitated.

Campbell, born in 1930, is a research fellow emeritus at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Omura, 80, is a professor emeritus at Kitasato University in Japan and is from the central prefecture of Yamanashi. Tu, 84, is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

“I wonder if I deserve the prize. I have learned so much from microorganisms and I have depended on them, so I would much rather give the prize to microorganisms,” Omura told Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Omura isolated new strains of Streptomyces bacteria and cultured them so that they could be analyzed for their impact against harmful microorganisms, the Nobel committee said.

Campbell showed that one of those cultures was “remarkably efficient” against parasites in animals. The bioactive agent was purified and modified to a compound that effectively killed parasitic larvae, leading to the discovery of new class of drugs.

Tu turned to herbal medicine to discover a new anti-malarial agent, artemisinin (pronounced ar-tuh-MIHS’-ihn-ihn), that was highly effective against malaria, a disease that was on the rise in the 1960s, the committee said.

The last time a Chinese citizen won a Nobel was in 2012, when Mo Yan got the literature award. But China has been yearning for a Nobel Prize in science. This was the first Nobel Prize given to a Chinese scientist for work carried out within China.

“This is indeed a glorious moment,” said Li Chenjian, a vice provost at prestigious Peking University. “This also is an acknowledgement to the traditional Chinese medicine, for the work began with herbal medicine.”

The medicine award was the first Nobel Prize to be announced. The winners of the physics, chemistry and peace prizes are set to be announced later this week. The economics prize will be announced next Monday. No date has been set yet for the literature prize, but it is expected to be announced on Thursday.

The winners will share the 8 million Swedish kronor (about $960,000) prize money with one half going to Campbell and Omura, and the other to Tu. Each winner will also get a diploma and a gold medal at the annual award ceremony on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel.

Last year’s medicine award went to three scientists who discovered the brain’s inner navigation system.

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New diabetes breakthrough ‘bigger than the discovery of insulin’

New diabetes breakthrough 'bigger than the discovery of insulin'

In this April 29, 2012, file photo, a 19-year-old diagnosed with diabetes gives herself an injection of insulin at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Commerce. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

There’s no known cure for Type 1 diabetes, so for 3 million Americans, an insulin pump or regular insulin injections form an imperfect and temporary solution. And it’s one that doesn’t always keep some of the disease’s worst outcomes, including blindness and limb amputation, at bay.

Scientists have long sought a better solution, and a team at Harvard is now announcing that, 15 years into its research, it has successfully coaxed human embryonic stem cells into ones that produce insulin.

When those cells were transferred to diabetic mice, they behaved as healthy cells do and regulated blood sugar. “We can cure their diabetes right away—in less than 10 days,” researcher Doug Melton tells NPR.

Six months later, that was still the case, reports CBS News, which calls the research possibly “the biggest breakthrough in years toward a cure.” Because while scientists have been able to achieve a similar end with insulin-producing cells sourced from cadavers, they’ve struggled with how to get the quantity they needed.

Now researchers have “the ability to make hundreds of millions of cells,” Melton says. “It’s a huge landmark paper,” an outside researcher tells NPR. “I would say it’s bigger than the discovery of insulin.” For Melton, the issue is deeply personal: Both his children, now in their 20s, were diagnosed with the disease as kids.

Among the next steps is to move to clinical trials in humans, possibly in as few as three years. (Another announcement related to blood sugar made waves last month.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Huge Breakthrough in Quest for Type 1 Diabetes Cure

Tiny 3D-printed organs could enable better drug testing

Tiny 3D-printed organs could enable better drug testing

By Jeremy Hsu

Published September 16, 2013

LiveScience
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    Hyun-Wook Kang oversees the 3D printer that will be used to print miniature organs for the “body on a chip” system. (WIFM.)

Miniature human organs made by 3D printing could create a “body on a chip” that enables better drug testing. That futuristic idea has become a new bioprinting project backed by $24 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The 2-inch “body on a chip” would represent a realistic testing ground for understanding how the human body might react to dangerous diseases, chemical warfare agents and new drugs intended to defend against biological or chemical attacks. Such technology could speed up drug development by replacing less-ideal animal testing or the simpler testing done on human cells in petri dishes and perhaps save millions or even billions of dollars from being wasted on dead-end drug candidates that fail in human clinical trials.

“The question is whether can you have a better system to test these drugs, so that you can bypass cell testing and animal testing by going straight to miniature organs,” said Tony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Atala’s group has pioneered 3D printing methods that aim to build human organs with layer upon layer of cells. Their bioprinting methods lay down the cell layers along with artificial scaffolding to keep an organ’s structure intact as it takes shape a technique that has allowed the group to make tiny, less complex versions of full-size human organs. [See Photos of the 3D-Printed ‘Body on a Chip’ System]

“We’re printing miniature solid organs: miniature livers, hearts, lungs and vascular structures (blood vessels),” Atala said.

The tiny organs intended for the “body on a chip” project don’t represent fully functional hearts, livers and kidneys. Instead, they represent small chunks of human tissue from such organs connected together by a system of fluid channels that circulate blood substitute to keep the cells alive all placed on a 2-inch (5 centimeters) chip with sensors to monitor everything.

Having an artificial circulatory system means researchers can introduce biological or chemical agents into the “blood” to see how it affects the different organs. The system’s sensors would measure the temperature, oxygen levels, pH (how acidic or basic a fluid is) and other factors affecting the “body on a chip.”

The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is leading the $24-million effort funded by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific (SSC Pacific), on behalf of Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

But the group of experts building the “body on a chip” also hails from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the University of Michigan, the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Morgan State University in Baltimore, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Together, they hope to create a drug development tool for the 21st century that helps modern medicine rapidly respond to fast-moving pandemics or bioterrorism attacks.

“We will know not just how a drug affects one organ, but how a drug affects major body systems together in a chip,” Atala said.

Major progress toward ‘artificial pancreas’

Doctors report major progress toward ‘artificial pancreas’

Published June 23, 2013

Associated Press
  • diabetesap.jpg

    October 2012: This image provided by Medtronic shows the MiniMed Integrated System device, which doctors are reporting as a major step toward an “artificial pancreas.” (AP)

Doctors are reporting a major step toward an “artificial pancreas,” a device that would constantly monitor blood sugar in people with diabetes and automatically supply insulin as needed.

A key component of such a system — an insulin pump programmed to shut down if blood-sugar dips too low while people are sleeping — worked as intended in a three-month study of 247 patients.

This “smart pump,” made by Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc., is already sold in Europe, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing it now. Whether it also can be programmed to mimic a real pancreas and constantly adjust insulin based on continuous readings from a blood-sugar monitor requires more testing, but doctors say the new study suggests that’s a realistic goal.

“This is the first step in the development of the artificial pancreas,” said Dr. Richard Bergenstal, diabetes chief at Park Nicollet, a large clinic in St. Louis Park, Minn. “Before we said it’s a dream. We have the first part of it now and I really think it will be developed.”

He led the company-sponsored study and gave results Saturday at an American Diabetes Association conference in Chicago. They also were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study involved people with Type 1 diabetes, the kind usually diagnosed during childhood. About 5 percent of the 26 million Americans with diabetes have this type. Their bodies don’t make insulin, a hormone needed to turn food into energy. That causes high blood-sugar levels and raises the risk for heart disease and many other health problems.

Some people with the more common Type 2 diabetes, the kind linked to obesity, also need insulin and might also benefit from a device like an artificial pancreas. For now, though, it’s aimed at people with Type 1 diabetes who must inject insulin several times a day or get it through a pump with a narrow tube that goes under the skin. The pump is about the size of a cellphone and can be worn on a belt or kept in a pocket.

The pumps give a steady amount of insulin, and patients must monitor their sugar levels and give themselves more insulin at meals or whenever needed to keep blood sugar from getting too high.

A big danger is having too much insulin in the body overnight, when blood-sugar levels naturally fall. People can go into comas, suffer seizures and even die. Parents of children with diabetes often worry so much about this that they sneak into their bedrooms at night to check their child’s blood-sugar monitor.

In the study, all patients had sensors that continuously monitored their blood sugar. Half of them had ordinary insulin pumps and the others had pumps programmed to stop supplying insulin for two hours when blood-sugar fell to a certain threshold.

Over three months, low-sugar episodes were reduced by about one-third in people using the pump with the shut-off feature. Importantly, these people had no cases of severely low blood sugar — the most dangerous kind that require medical aid or help from another person. There were four cases in the group using the standard pump.

“As a first step, I think we should all be very excited that it works,” an independent expert, Dr. Irl Hirsch of the University of Washington in Seattle, said of the programmable pump.

The next step is to test having it turn off sooner, before sugar falls so much, and to have it automatically supply insulin to prevent high blood sugar, too.

Dr. Anne Peters, a diabetes specialist at the University of Southern California, said the study “represents a major step forward” for an artificial pancreas.

One participant, Spears Mallis, 34, a manager for a cancer center in Gainesville, Ga., wishes these devices were available now. He typically gets low-sugar about 8 to 10 times a week, at least once a week while he’s asleep.

“I would set an alarm in the middle of the night just to be sure I was OK. That will cause you to not get a good night of rest,” he said.

His “smart pump” stopped giving insulin several times during the study when his sugar fell low, and he wasn’t always aware of it. That’s a well-known problem for people with Type 1 diabetes — over time, “you become less and less sensitive to feeling the low blood sugars” and don’t recognize symptoms in time to drink juice or do something else to raise sugar a bit, he said.

Besides Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson and several other research groups are working on artificial pancreas devices.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/06/23/doctors-make-progress-toward-artificial-pancreas/#ixzz2XRpRvDmO