The price of a puff — National Cancer Society

JANUARY 10 — James Bond isn’t the only one with a licence to kill.

Today the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that smoking costs the global economy RM4.5 trillion a year, and will take eight million lives annually by 2030. For a species that has invented fire, travelled to space, and split the atom, but is still paying an industry to kill us, mankind is indeed strange.

Decades of research show that smoking is fatal. So in our education, advocacy and policy efforts in curbing smoking, we are often asked: if cigarettes cause such harm, why are they allowed to exist?

One challenge is the separation of the problem: the health industry sees tobacco as a health issue, but certain businesses and governments see it as an economic driver, or a business. Now, the same report by WHO states that the cost of smoking far outweighs revenues from tobacco taxes.

Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of death and many related illnesses. Apart from resulting in lung cancer, heart diseases and emphysema, it also worsens diabetes, mental illnesses, and substance abuse.

Treating these diseases, many of which are non-communicable, drives up the cost of healthcare: if nothing is done, non-communicable diseases will cost the global economy RM210 trillion — 75 per cent of the global GDP. Smoking specifically accounts for 0.7 per cent of China’s GDP, and around 1 per cent of U.S. GDP. In 2005, the Malaysian Ministry of Health spent 26 per cent of its budget on smoking related diseases, which accounted for 0.74 per cent of its GDP.

There’s also the environment, productivity and human development: smoke and toxic cigarette butts pollute our air and water; smokers are 30 per cent more likely than non-smokers to miss work (and for longer periods). For some families, money spent on cigarettes is money taken away from household essentials.

No other industry causes as much damage to its users and non-users alike — and remains legal, considered a ‘stakeholder’, and allowed to line its pockets. Apart from cigarettes, no other consumer product kills when they are used as intended.

Instead of protecting this industry and giving it business or trade privileges, we urge the nation to support the tobacco control efforts of Malaysia. Tobacco control can work: a study in the U.S., also published this month, reports that its efforts since 1964 have resulted in eight million fewer premature smoking related deaths.

We should want the same for our fellow Malaysians.

Let us use fire, one of man’s oldest discoveries, as intended: to ward off danger, rather than to light up a product that brings permanent and irreversible damage.

There’s still time to stop.

JANUARY 10 — James Bond isn’t the only one with a licence to kill.

Today the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that smoking costs the global economy RM4.5 trillion a year, and will take eight million lives annually by 2030. For a species that has invented fire, travelled to space, and split the atom, but is still paying an industry to kill us, mankind is indeed strange.

Decades of research show that smoking is fatal. So in our education, advocacy and policy efforts in curbing smoking, we are often asked: if cigarettes cause such harm, why are they allowed to exist?

One challenge is the separation of the problem: the health industry sees tobacco as a health issue, but certain businesses and governments see it as an economic driver, or a business. Now, the same report by WHO states that the cost of smoking far outweighs revenues from tobacco taxes.

Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of death and many related illnesses. Apart from resulting in lung cancer, heart diseases and emphysema, it also worsens diabetes, mental illnesses, and substance abuse.

Treating these diseases, many of which are non-communicable, drives up the cost of healthcare: if nothing is done, non-communicable diseases will cost the global economy RM210 trillion — 75 per cent of the global GDP. Smoking specifically accounts for 0.7 per cent of China’s GDP, and around 1 per cent of U.S. GDP. In 2005, the Malaysian Ministry of Health spent 26 per cent of its budget on smoking related diseases, which accounted for 0.74 per cent of its GDP.

There’s also the environment, productivity and human development: smoke and toxic cigarette butts pollute our air and water; smokers are 30 per cent more likely than non-smokers to miss work (and for longer periods). For some families, money spent on cigarettes is money taken away from household essentials.

No other industry causes as much damage to its users and non-users alike — and remains legal, considered a ‘stakeholder’, and allowed to line its pockets. Apart from cigarettes, no other consumer product kills when they are used as intended.

Instead of protecting this industry and giving it business or trade privileges, we urge the nation to support the tobacco control efforts of Malaysia. Tobacco control can work: a study in the U.S., also published this month, reports that its efforts since 1964 have resulted in eight million fewer premature smoking related deaths.

We should want the same for our fellow Malaysians.

Let us use fire, one of man’s oldest discoveries, as intended: to ward off danger, rather than to light up a product that brings permanent and irreversible damage.

There’s still time to stop.

- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/the-price-of-a-puff-national-cancer-society#sthash.vMRmpbwJ.dpuf
  • Published in World

New potential treatment for cancer metastasis identified

Breast cancer metastasis, the process by which cancer spreads, may be prevented through the new use of a class of drugs already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mayo Clinic researchers have identified that a key drug target, CDK4/6, regulates a cancer metastasis protein, SNAIL, and drugs that inhibit CDK 4/6 could prevent the spread of triple-negative breast cancer. This is the finding of a paper published online in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal Nature Communications. CDK4/6 inhibitors are approved for treating estrogen positive breast cancer, but not triple-negative breast cancer.

"Metastasis is a hallmark of cancer and a leading cause of cancer death," says the study's senior author, Zhenkun Lou, Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic. "Despite great progress in cancer therapy, the prevention of cancer metastasis is still an unfulfilled challenge."

For this study, Dr. Lou and his colleagues focused on triple-negative breast cancer, which is difficult to treat, because it does not exhibit receptors for estrogen, progesterone or the HER-2/neu gene, which are targets for many current breast cancer treatments.

"Prior published data suggested that CDK 4/6 inhibitors were not effective in reducing the growth rates of estrogen receptor negative breast cancer," says Dr. Lou. "Our data confirmed that, while the rate of growth of triple-negative breast cancer was not affected by CDK 4/6 inhibitors, this class of drugs was able to significantly inhibit the spread of triple-negative breast cancer to distant organs when tested in multiple different triple-negative breast cancer models, including patient-derived xenografts." Patient-derived xenographs involve the implantation of tumor tissue into an immunodeficient mouse which becomes an avatar to help identify which drug or drug combinations are most likely to be effective for an individual cancer patient.

Dr. Lou cautions that more research is necessary, however. If his findings are corroborated, it would be an important discovery that could expand the use of CDK 4/6 inhibitors to prevent the metastasis of many other cancers that exhibit a high level of the SNAIL protein.

"These findings may provide a new treatment for the prevention of cancer metastasis," says study co-author Matthew Goetz, M.D., an oncologist and co-leader of the Women's Cancer Program at Mayo Clinic. "Mayo Clinic is now developing new studies that will focus on the role of CDK 4/6 inhibitors and their potential to inhibit cancer metastasis in women with triple-negative breast cancer who are at highest risk for cancer metastasis."


New unknown risk factor for arteriosclerosis identified

Following a blood infection, the first class of antibodies produced by the immune system are IgM antibodies. They form the "vanguard" of the immune response, before other cells are activated to fight the infection. Some people are deficient or completely lack these antibodies, so that they develop congenital immune deficiency. Together with the CeMM (the Austrian Academy of Sciences Research Center for Molecular Medicine), researchers from MedUni Vienna's Division of Medical-Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics have now discovered how this deficiency can also lead to an increased risk of arteriosclerosis and consequently even to serious cardiovascular diseases.

In the human immune system, IgM antibodies (immunoglobulin M) not only play a primary role in the immune response but also maintain an important balance: they control the physiological development of B cells, which are responsible for producing and disposing of antibodies. They therefore also regulate the blood concentration of IgE antibodies and make sure that this is kept in check and always restored to the correct level to keep the immune system in balance.

However, if there is a lack of IgM antibodies, this balance cannot be maintained. The uncontrolled IgE antibodies, which also play a significant role in the development of allergic reactions, lead to the increased formation of plaques, activation of mast cells and inflammatory processes and constrict and damage blood vessels. This was proven by the team headed up by Christoph Binder and lead author of the study, Dimitrios Tsiantoulas, in an animal model.

"For the first time, we were able to show that IgE antibodies can themselves provoke inflammatory reactions in vessels and that inhibition of these IgE antibodies prevents damage to the vessels," explains Binder. In future, this knowledge could open up new treatment options by restoring the balance of the immune system. "We were able to identify a completely new function of IgM antibodies, which also probably plays a major role in the development of allergies," adds Tsiantoulas, lead author of the study.

Deficiency in or total absence of IgM antibodies is very rare. However, reduced IgM antibody levels are found in up to 2.5% of the total population.

Researchers Discover Jet Stream in Earth’s Molten Iron Core

A jet stream within the Earth’s core has been discovered by researchers using data from ESA’s Swarm satellite mission.

Launched in 2013, the three Swarm satellites are measuring and untangling the different magnetic fields that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere.

Together, these signals form the magnetic field that protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles that stream towards Earth in solar winds.

The field exists because of an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core. Like a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo, this moving iron creates electrical currents, which in turn generate our continuously changing magnetic field.

Tracking changes in the magnetic field can, therefore, tell researchers how the iron in the core moves.

“We know more about the Sun than Earth’s core because the Sun is not hidden from us by about 1,870 miles (3,000 km) of rock,” noted Dr. Chris Finlay, a senior scientist in the Division of Geomagnetism at DTU Space at the Technical University of Denmark and senior author of a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The accurate measurements by Swarm satellites allow the different sources of magnetism to be separated, making the contribution from the core much clearer.

Previous research had found that changes in the magnetic field indicated that iron in the outer core was moving faster in the northern hemisphere, mostly under Alaska and Siberia.

But the new Swarm data have revealed these changes are actually caused by a jet stream moving at more than 25 miles (40 km) per year — three times faster than typical outer-core speeds and hundreds of thousands of times faster than Earth’s tectonic plates move.

“We can explain it as acceleration in a band of core fluid circling the pole, like the jet stream in the atmosphere,” said lead author Dr. Phil Livermore, from the University of Leeds.

So, what is causing the jet stream and why is it speeding up so quickly?

The jet flows along a boundary between two different regions in the core. When material in the liquid core moves towards this boundary from both sides, the converging liquid is squeezed out sideways, forming the jet.

“Of course, you need a force to move the fluid towards the boundary. This could be provided by buoyancy, or perhaps more likely from changes in the magnetic field within the core,” said co-author Prof. Rainer Hollerbach, also from the University of Leeds.

As for what happens next, the Swarm team is watching and waiting.

“Further surprises are likely,” said ESA’s Swarm mission manager Dr. Rune Floberghagen, who was not involved in the current study.

“The magnetic field is forever changing, and this could even make the jet stream switch direction.”

How bacteria survive antibiotic treatment

Multiresistant bacteria Scientists around the world are working hard to win the battle against multi-resistant bacteria. A new publication from the BASP Centre, University of Copenhagen now presents how even sensitive bacteria often manage to survive antibiotic treatment as so-called 'persister cells'. The comprehensive perspective on this phenomenon may help to improve current options of drug treatment and could even inspire the discovery of novel antibiotics targeting these notoriously difficult-to-treat persister bacteria.

In the current issue of the journal Science, Alexander Harms and colleagues from the BASP Centre, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen summarise newly discovered molecular mechanisms explaining how bacteria manage to survive antibiotic treatment and cause chronic and recurrent infections.

Post-Doc Alexander Harms explains: "This amazing resilience is often due to hibernation in a physiological state called persistence where the bacteria are tolerant to multiple antibiotics and other stressors. Bacterial cells can switch into persistence by activating dedicated physiological programs that literally pull the plug of important cellular processes. Once they are persisters, the bacteria may sit through even long-lasting antibiotic therapy and can resuscitate to cause relapsing infections at any time after the treatment is abandoned."

Using novel detection methods, recent work in the field has uncovered the molecular architecture of several cellular pathways underlying the formation of bacterial persisters -- and these results confirmed the long-standing notion that persistence is intimately connected to slow growth or dormancy. Bacterial persistence can therefore be compared to hibernation of animals or the durable spores produced by many mushrooms and plants.

Across many different bacteria, these programs are controlled by a regulatory compound known as "magic spot" that plays a central role in the persistence phenomenon. These important discoveries, many of which were accomplished by the BASP Centre, may in the future facilitate the development of improved drug treatment regimens and eventually lead to the development of novel antibiotics.


People can control a robotic arm with only their minds

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have made a major breakthrough that allows people to control a robotic arm using only their minds. The research has the potential to help millions of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases.

The study is published online today in Scientific Reports, a Nature research journal.

"This is the first time in the world that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant," said Bin He, a University of Minnesota biomedical engineering professor and lead researcher on the study. "Just by imagining moving their arms, they were able to move the robotic arm."

The noninvasive technique, called electroencephalography (EEG) based brain-computer interface, records weak electrical activity of the subjects' brain through a specialized, high-tech EEG cap fitted with 64 electrodes and converts the "thoughts" into action by advanced signal processing and machine learning.

Eight healthy human subjects completed the experimental sessions of the study wearing the EEG cap. Subjects gradually learned to imagine moving their own arms without actually moving them to control a robotic arm in 3D space. They started from learning to control a virtual cursor on computer screen and then learned to control a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in fixed locations on a table. Eventually, they were able to move the robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in random locations on a table and move objects from the table to a three-layer shelf by only thinking about these movements.

All eight subjects could control a robotic arm to pick up objects in fixed locations with an average success rate above 80 percent and move objects from the table onto the shelf with an average success rate above 70 percent.

"This is exciting as all subjects accomplished the tasks using a completely noninvasive technique. We see a big potential for this research to help people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases to become more independent without a need for surgical implants," He said.

The researchers said the brain-computer interface technology works due to the geography of the motor cortex -- the area of the cerebrum that governs movement. When humans move, or think about a movement, neurons in the motor cortex produce tiny electric currents. Thinking about a different movement activates a new assortment of neurons, a phenomenon confirmed by cross-validation using functional MRI in He's previous study. Sorting out these assortments using advanced signal processing laid the groundwork for the brain-computer interface used by the University of Minnesota researchers, He said.

The robotic arm research builds upon He's research published three years ago in which subjects were able to fly a small quadcopter using the noninvasive EEG technology.

"Three years ago, we weren't sure moving a more complex robotic arm to grasp and move objects using this brain-computer interface technology could even be achieved," He said. "We're happily surprised that it worked with a high success rate and in a group of people."

He anticipates the next step of his research will be to further develop this brain-computer interface technology realizing a brain-controlled robotic prosthetic limb attached to a person's body or examine how this technology could work with someone who has had a stroke or is paralyzed.

In addition to Professor He, who also serves as director of the University of Minnesota Institute for Engineering in Medicine, the research team includes biomedical engineering postdoctoral researcher Jianjun Meng (first author); biomedical engineering graduate student Bryan Baxter; Institute for Engineering in Medicine staff member Angeliki Bekyo; and biomedical engineering undergraduate students Shuying Zhang and Jaron Olsoe. The researchers are affiliated with the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering and the Medical School.

The University of Minnesota study was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the University of Minnesota's MnDRIVE (Minnesota's Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy) Initiative funded by the Minnesota Legislature.

El Niño conditions in Pacific precedes dengue fever epidemics in South Asia

Researchers have found a strong association between El Niño-Southern Oscillation conditions in the Pacific to observed weather and dengue epidemics in Sri Lanka. According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, el Niño activity -- measured in sea surface temperature in the pacific -- impacts rainfall and temperatures in Sri Lanka and thus contributes to exacerbated dengue epidemics six months later.

"Dengue is the major public health burden in Sri Lanka and the Kalutara district is one of the most affected areas. So understanding how reoccurring weather patterns drive dengue is vital in controlling and preventing the disease spread," says Joacim Rocklöv, researcher at the Unit for Epidemiology and Global Health at Umeå University in Sweden and co-author of the article.

"These new findings allow disease early warning systems to provide warnings for upcoming epidemics with much longer lead time than before," says Prasad Liyanage, doctoral student at Umeå University and Medical Officer for dengue control in Kalutara district at the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health.

In the study, researchers used the Oceanic Niño Index, which is a measure indicating el Niño activity by sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean, along with local weather and epidemiological data to quantify data associations in 10 healthcare divisions of Kalutara in southwestern Sri Lanka. Weekly weather variables and data on dengue notifications, gathered by Prasad Liyanage for the Ministry of Health between 2009 and 2013, were analysed to estimate locally specific and overall relationships between weather and dengue.

The results showed an increasing relative risk of dengue with increasing rainfall starting at above 50 mm per week. The strongest association between rainfall and dengue was found around 6 to 10 weeks following rainfalls of more than 300 mm per week, which amounts to very wet conditions and floods. With increasing temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius or higher, the overall relative risk of dengue increased steadily starting from a lag of 4 weeks.

"Looking at weather and dengue incidents over longer periods, we found a similar strong link between how increased rainfall and warmer temperatures resulting from the reoccurring el Niño phenomenon are associated with elevated risks of dengue epidemics. In the longer perspective, our data further confirms this association and suggests that dengue fever thrives whenever el Niño visits our island," says Prasad Liyanage.

Improving epidemic warning lead times

According to the researchers, the findings can be used to improve predictive surveillance models with lead times of up to six months. This would give health officials longer time to increase preparedness and mount control effort responses prior to the epidemics. Today, such control efforts usually have limited effects as they start when signs of an epidemic can be seen within the hospital and primary care surveillance system.

2016 'very likely' to be world's warmest year

2016 looks poised to be the warmest year on record globally, according to preliminary data.

With data from just the first nine months, scientists are 90% certain that 2016 will pass the mark set by 2015.

Temperatures from January to September were 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The body says temperatures should remain high enough for the rest of the year to break the previous record.

El Nino has had an impact, but the most significant factor driving temperatures up continues to be CO2 emissions.

What is climate change?

The provisional statement on the status of the global climate in 2016 has been released early this year to help inform negotiators meeting in Morocco, who are trying to push forward with the Paris Climate Agreement.

The document says the year to September was 0.88 above the average for the period between 1961-90, which the WMO uses at its baseline.

The whole of 2015, which broke the previous record by a significant amount, was 0.77 above the 1961-90 average.

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While there are still a couple of months to go this year, a preliminary analysis of the October data indicates that 2016 is very much on track to surpass the 2015 level, which in turn broke the previous high mark set in 2014.

"Another year. Another record. The high temperatures we saw in 2015 are set to be beaten in 2016," said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

"In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6C to 7C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and north-west Canada were at least 3C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different," said Mr Taalas.

The report highlights the fact that other long-term climate change indicators are also breaking records. The amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued on its upward march in 2016.

Arctic sea ice continued to melt in significant amounts, while the Greenland ice sheet displayed very early melting this year.

Experts believe that the El Nino weather phenomenon played a role in the record warm temperatures seen in 2015 and 2016.

They quantify it as roughly 0.2 of a degree - but the bulk of the warming is coming from the accumulation of greenhouse gases. And the impacts of that warming are being widely felt.

"Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen," said Petteri Taalas.

"'Once in a generation' heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular. Sea level rise has increased exposure to storm surges associated with tropical cyclones," he said.

The surprise election of Donald Trump as president of the US has increased expectations that he will bring a more sceptical view of climate change to the White House.

Scientists are stressing that the evidence for the reality of climate change is getting stronger all the time.

"We are seeing the impacts of climate change on extreme weather," said Dr Peter Stott, who leads the climate attribution team at the UK Met Office.

"One degree may sound a relatively small number but in the context of such a stable climate that we've had over the past millennia, and the rapidity of that warming, we are seeing this real world evidence that doesn't come from a model or a projection."

According to the WMO analysis, 16 of the 17 warmest years have been recorded this century. The only exception was 1998.

 

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