Scientists at Strathclyde are being funded by the British Heart Foundation to conduct a two year investigation aimed at improving the treatment of hypertension.

The team- led by Dr Debbi MacMillan, of the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, with Professor John McCarron and Dr Charles Kennedy- has identified a novel mechanism for the control of blood vessel constriction, which is essential in blood pressure regulation. This may lead to the development of new treatments for high blood pressure.

The researchers have identified a hitherto unrecognised pathway which regulates calcium activity within the smooth muscle of the blood vessel wall, to control constriction and dilation of blood vessels. The constriction and dilation of the muscular walls of blood vessels is controlled by calcium, which regulates blood flow through the vessels and thus blood pressure within the vessels. Yet, until now, a mechanism whereby calcium is regulated by ATP, a purinergic drug, has not been recognised. This study will investigate the process by which ATP modifies calcium to regulate the constriction and dilation of blood vessels and how this may be altered in disease.

Dr MacMillan said: "I am delighted that we have received funding from the British Heart Foundation. This prestigious award will enable us to gain a better understanding of the normal physiology of smooth muscle and how it might be changed in disease conditions, to provide better informed treatment, which leads to better management of the disease.

"Our findings will undoubtedly present new opportunities for the development of new drugs for treating vascular disorders."

The researchers have been awarded nearly £155,000 from the British Heart Foundation.

Despite advances in medication targeting against hypertension, the underlying cause of the disease remains unclear and current medication is limited in achieving effective blood pressure control. A contributing factor is a poor understanding of the normal regulation of blood pressure and alterations which occur in the hypertensive patient. Key to understanding blood pressure control is smooth muscle, which is present within the walls of a number of organs in the body including blood vessels. It is hoped that effective drug therapy to treat the underlying cause of the disease may avoid the need for long-term anti-hypertensive medicines.

The research team is based in the new £36 million Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences building, due to be officially opened later in 2011, which houses the world-class Institute for the discovery and development of new drugs to treat global diseases.

An £8 million fundraising campaign for the new drug development facility has attracted significant philanthropic support from charities, trusts and Strathclyde alumni resulting in £7 million raised to date with additional donors still required.

Corporate Comms
University of Strathclyde

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced the approval of HepaGam B for the prevention of hepatitis B reinfection in certain liver transplant patients. HepaGam B is the first product of its kind (an immune globulin product) approved for this purpose.

Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver and can cause lifelong infection, liver cancer, liver failure and death. Liver transplant patients who have already been exposed to the hepatitis B virus (HBV) are at an increased risk of reinfection because they have weakened immune systems.

"This approval provides a new treatment option for the reduction of hepatitis B recurrence in liver transplant patients with a prior history of this serious disease," said Jesse Goodman, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. "It is the first immune globulin product--one of several classes of proteins derived from human plasma--approved for this use."

HepaGam B works by providing an immediate immune response to the virus. This immunity protects patients previously exposed to HBV. Patients must receive injections at the time of their liver transplant and throughout their lives. This product is manufactured from human plasma collected at U.S. licensed plasma centers from healthy donors.

FDA based its approval on the company's clinical data in a study of HBV-infected persons undergoing full liver transplants, which showed a reduction in the virus recurrence rate from 86 percent to about 13 percent. Adverse reactions were similar to other immune globulin products for other indications and included headache and hypertension.

In January 2006, FDA licensed HepaGam B to prevent infection with HBV for the following other purposes: after acute exposure to blood or certain body fluids containing HBV; perinatal exposure of infants to mothers previously exposed to HBV; sexual exposure to persons previously exposed to HBV; and household exposure to persons with acute HBV infection.

HepaGam B is manufactured by Cangene Corp. of Winnipeg, Canada.


A new survey of court cases against battered women living abroad shows that when the women left their abusive partners and returned with their children to the United States, half of the time, U.S. courts sent the children back, usually to their fathers.

The survey, co-authored by a University of Washington researcher, also shows that almost a third of these estranged husbands filed criminal kidnapping charges against their wives.

Released in time for Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, the survey is intended to help to establish domestic violence as a factor in whether courts send children back to their fathers. And the authors of the report hope their website serves as a resource for women and lawyers faced with Hague petitions.

The children's return is in accordance with an international treaty, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which affects thousands of children each year.

The Hague Convention does not explicitly factor in domestic violence in deciding whether to send children back to the country where they lived. But since the treaty was created 30 years ago, social science research has demonstrated that a child's exposure to domestic violence is just as harmful as direct abuse. Children who witness domestic violence are at higher risk for emotional problems, and later in life, they have a greater risk for violence in adult interpersonal relationships.

Now social scientists say that it's time for the law to catch up with science, especially as these cases are likely to dramatically increase as more binational families form and countries such as India and Japan consider adopting the treaty in the next few years.

"The law is not paying attention to the effects domestic violence have on women and their children," said Taryn Lindhorst, co-author of the report and a UW associate professor of social work. "This is like a tip of an iceberg: we've only seen some of the cases."

Lindhorst, an expert in the effects of domestic abuse for women, co-authored the report. The report is the first effort in the United States to interview mothers and attorneys about their experiences with the Hague Convention, in hopes of better preparing mothers and their lawyers for court proceedings in these cases.

The 404-page report, funded and published by the U.S. National Institute of Justice, includes analysis and excerpts of interviews with 22 mothers and 23 lawyers who represented mothers and fathers in Hague lawsuits and an analysis of court decisions on previous Hague cases involving domestic violence.

Most of the mothers had been living with their husbands in Europe, the Middle East or Latin America. They had moved abroad when their marriages were more stable or they had been tricked into moving.

In the report, the co-authors describe frequent, life-threatening domestic abuse endured by the women: beatings, threats with guns, ice picks and other weapons and - in a few cases - rape. Since most of the women were not citizens of the country where they were living, they were usually unable to obtain resources available to domestic violence victims in that country.

Moving back to the United States became the best option.

None of the women in the study knew about the Hague Convention before returning to the United States, Lindhorst said. Many of them learned about it when federal agents arrived at their homes to take their children into custody. Some mothers were required to be in court within a matter of hours. Scrambling for a lawyer, most could not find a lawyer experienced with the Hague Convention.

The court decisions were grim for the women. In almost half, 12 of 22, the court sent the children back to the country they had fled from with their mothers. In seven of those cases, the fathers gained custody. Seven women - a third of the sample - also faced criminal kidnapping charges in foreign courts.

Ironically, when the Hague Convention Treaty was created in 1980, it was intended to protect women and children. Lawmakers wanted to expedite the return of children taken by a parent - usually the father - who was unsatisfied by a child custody decision.

But, as it turns out, the law has been used primarily by fathers. Nearly 70 percent of Hague petitions are filed by fathers, said Jeffrey Edleson, co-author and professor of social work at the University of Minnesota.

"In many cases, filing a Hague petition is an attempt by the abusive father to use the court to extend control over mother and child," said Edleson, an expert on children's exposure to domestic violence in the home.

In the Hague Convention cases examined in the report, courts tended not to consider domestic violence toward the mother when assessing whether the children should be returned to their father. In cases where the children are returned and end up in the fathers' care, it's because the judges see the mother as a kidnapper, Edleson said.

Once returned to the father, the children may be exposed to more violence. Typically, the mothers move back too to be closer to their children and some were abused again. Sometimes the fathers would physically abuse their children.

The report is part of the HagueDV Project on international child abduction and domestic violence, led by Lindhorst and Edleson. On Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, the group will hold a free event in Minneapolis of actors reading the battered mothers' stories interspersed with commentary by law and social science experts. The event will also be available by webcast.

Molly McElroy
University of Washington

Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., trail-blazing researcher on the role of genetic variation in cancer, mentor of young scientists and role model for the possibilities of work-life balance, is the second winner of the Margaret Kripke Legend Award from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Rowley, the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, receives the award today at MD Anderson.

"Janet Rowley has transformed the fields of cancer and cytogenetics, and, as a result, the field of molecular oncology," said Elizabeth Travis, Ph.D., MD Anderson associate vice president of Women Faculty Programs, which sponsors the Kripke Legend Award. "Her scientific work has proven immensely influential. She has had a major impact on patient treatment.

"For more than 40 years, she's been a dedicated mentor and an excellent role model for women in science and medicine, all while being fully committed to her family, as evidenced by working part time for 20 years in order to raise her children. I can think of no one who better exemplifies the essence of this award," said Travis, who also is a professor in MD Anderson's Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.

The Kripke Legend award recognizes scientific and medical leaders who have made extraordinary efforts to hire a diverse workforce, promote women to leadership roles, nominate women for awards and otherwise advance their careers. The award was established in honor of Margaret Kripke, Ph.D., a distinguished scientist who achieved many firsts for women at MD Anderson, culminating in her promotion to executive vice president and chief academic officer.

"I have known and admired Margaret Kripke for more than 30 years, first when she and her husband were at the National Cancer Institute Frederick Cancer Research Center in Maryland and later at MD Anderson, where I was on the Scientific Advisory Board. Thus it is an especially meaningful honor to receive this award which recognizes the contributions of such an outstanding woman. She has been instrumental in bringing about many innovations at MD Anderson that advance science in medicine as well as promoting women in science," Rowley said.

Rowley delivered the Kripke lecture, titled "MicroRNAs: The New Kid in Acute Myeloid Leukemia" at Anderson's Hickey auditorium.

Rowley demonstrated that chromosomal aberrations are a cause of cancer, rather than an effect of the disease, which had been the conventional wisdom. She also showed that genetic variations caused by those altered chromosomes drive the development and growth of cancer, establishing that cancer is a genetic disease. Her research laid the foundation for personalized cancer care and targeted therapy, the primary focus of cancer research today.

Rowley found that the Philadelphia chromosome, a shortened version of chromosome 22 associated with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), was short because it swapped a portion of one of its genes with a piece of a gene located on chromosome 9 - an event called translocation. This led to identification of the affected genes, one of which produces a fusion protein that causes CML.

Her discoveries paved the way for the development of the drug Gleevec®, which targets the fusion protein and greatly increases survival and quality of life of people with CML and one type of gastrointestinal cancer.

Rowley discovered chromosomal translocations and their associated genetic variations for a variety of leukemias and lymphomas. She and others have since discovered 1,500 translocations in a variety of cancers and identified 500 new genes. Her research today focuses on micro RNAs, tiny bits of RNA that regulate gene expression.

Remarkably, Rowley's Philadelphia chromosome discovery occurred during a 20-plus year period when she juggled her part-time research position at the University of Chicago with raising her four sons. The Philadelphia chromosome translocation was identified on images of the chromosomes spread out on her dining room table, Rowley recently told an interviewer from the American Association for Cancer Research.

In addition to serving as a role model for balancing a successful research career with family life, Rowley also excels at training scientists, many of whom have been women. Letters in support of her nomination for the Kripke award emphasize her success in this area.

"Janet has been a wonderful mentor to young colleagues, many of whom have gone on to make important contributions in the field of cancer research," wrote Michele Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and professor and chair of the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Rowley has earned a variety of major awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor for civilian accomplishment, the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, the President's National Medal of Science, the Gruber Genetics Prize and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Association for Cancer Research. She also is a member of the National Academy of the Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

Kripke is a professor emerita at MD Anderson, where she was the first woman to chair a department, the first to advance to senior vice president and chief academic officer, and then to executive vice president and chief academic officer. Throughout her career, Kripke has been a committed mentor to up-and-coming women scientists and is considered a positive role model for those in cancer science and medicine, Travis said.

Her accomplishments and leadership earned her appointment to the three-person President's Cancer Panel, which recently issued a report on the cancer threat posed by exposure to toxins in the environment that called for improved regulation of those pollutants.

Scott Merville
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

View drug information on Gleevec.

Sniffer dogs could be used for the early detection of lung cancer, according to new research published in the European Respiratory Journal.

The study, carried out by researchers from Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany, is the first to find that sniffer dogs can reliably detect lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the second most frequent form of cancer in men and women across Europe with over 340,000 deaths per year. It is also the most common cause of death from cancer worldwide.

The disease is not strongly associated with any symptoms and early detection is often by chance. Current methods of detection are unreliable and scientists have been working on using exhaled breath specimens from patients for future screening tests.

This method relies on identifying volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are linked to the presence of cancer. Although many different technological applications have been developed, this method is still difficult to apply in a clinical setting as patients aren't allowed to smoke or eat before the test, sample analysis can take a long time and there is also a high risk of interference. Because of these reasons, no lung cancer-specific VOCs have yet been identified.

This new study aimed to assess whether sniffer dogs could be used to identify a VOC in the breath of patients. The researchers worked with 220 volunteers, including lung cancer patients, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients and healthy volunteers. They used dogs that had been specifically trained.

The researchers carried out a number of tests to see if the dogs were able to reliably identify lung cancer compared with healthy volunteers, volunteers with COPD and whether the results were still found with the presence of tobacco.

The dogs successfully identified 71 samples with lung cancer out of a possible 100. They also correctly detected 372 samples that did not have lung cancer out of a possible 400.

The dogs could also detect lung cancer independently from COPD and tobacco smoke. These results confirm the presence of a stable marker for lung cancer that is independent of COPD and also detectable in the presence of tobacco smoke, food odours and drugs.

Author of the study, Thorsten Walles from Schillerhoehe Hospital, said: "In the breath of patients with lung cancer, there are likely to be different chemicals to normal breath samples and the dogs' keen sense of smell can detect this difference at an early stage of the disease. Our results confirm the presence of a stable marker for lung cancer. This is a big step forward in the diagnosis of lung cancer, but we still need to precisely identify the compounds observed in the exhaled breath of patients. It is unfortunate that dogs cannot communicate the biochemistry of the scent of cancer!"

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