Hallucinogenic drugs including LSD and Ecstasy are being used by doctors in tests to treat conditions including cancer anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Scientists are once again striving to prove that psychedelic drugs can be of medical benefit more than four decades after authorities clamped down on their use for both recreational and research purposes.
There are a handful of studies currently taking place across the U.S. with drugs like LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy) and psilocybin, the main ingredient of ‘magic mushrooms’.
While the research is still preliminary, early results from a New York University study suggest that participants are less fearful of death and have less general anxiety. They are also said to have greater acceptance of the dying process with no major side effect.
Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said: ‘There is now more psychedelic research taking place in the world than at any time in the last 40 years.
‘We’re at the end of the beginning of the renaissance.’
He said that more than 1,200 people attended a conference in California last weekend on psychedelic science.
But doing the research is not easy, Mr Doblin and others say, with U.S. government funders still leery and drug companies not interested in the compounds they can’t patent. That pretty much leaves private donors.
‘There’s still a lot of resistance to it,’ said David Nichols, a Purdue University professor of medicinal chemistry and president of the Heffter Institute, which is supporting the NYU study.
‘The whole hippie thing in the 60s has kind of left a bad taste in the mouth of the public at large.
‘When you tell people you’re treating people with psychedelics, the first thing that comes to mind is Day-Glo art and tie-dyed shirts.’
Psilocybin has been shown to invoke powerful spiritual experiences during the four to six hours it affects the brain.
A study published in 2008, in fact, found that even 14 months after healthy volunteers had taken a single dose, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. They also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they’d ever had.
Experts emphasise people shouldn’t try psilocybin on their own because it can be harmful, sometimes causing bouts of anxiety and paranoia.
But the NYU study, led by Dr Stephen Ross, is testing whether that drug experience can help with the nine months of psychotherapy each participant also gets.
The therapy seeks to help patients live fuller, richer lives with the time they have left.
Each study participant gets two drug-dose experiences, but only one of those involves psilocybin; the other is a placebo dose of niacin, which makes the face flush.
All three people in the study so far felt better, with less general anxiety and fear of death, and greater acceptance of the dying process, Dr Ross said. No major side effects have appeared. The project plans to enrol a total of 32 people.
Dr Ross’ work follows up on a small study at the University of California in Los Angeles. Results haven’t been published yet, but they too are encouraging, according to experts familiar with it.
Yet another study of psilocybin for cancer anxiety, at Johns Hopkins University, has treated 11 out of a planned 44 participants so far. Chief investigator Roland Griffiths said he suspected the results would fall in line with the UCLA work.
In interviews, some psychiatrists who work with cancer patients reacted coolly to the prospects of using psilocybin.
‘I’m kind of curious about it,’ said Dr. Susan Block of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She said it’s an open question how helpful the drug experiences could be, and ‘I don’t think it’s ever going to be a widely used treatment.’
Dr Ross, meanwhile, thinks patients might benefit from more than one dose of the drug during the psychotherapy. The study permits only one dose, but all three participants asked for a second, he said.
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In the first study of vitamin K and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk, researchers at the Mayo Clinic campus in Minnesota have found that people who have higher intakes of vitamin K from their diet have a lower risk of developing Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system and is the most common hematologic malignancy in the United States.
At the 101st Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the researchers report that the risk of developing Non-Hodgkin lymphoma was approximately 45 percent lower for participants who had vitamin K intakes in the top quartile of intake in the study (>108 ug/day), compared to participants who had intakes in the bottom quartile (<39 ug/day). This association remained after accounting for other factors such as age, sex, education, obesity, smoking, alcohol use and intake of foods with high amounts of antioxidants.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin and is derived from either plants (phylloquinone or vitamin K1) or bacterial synthesis. This study estimated intake of the plant form of vitamin K from diet and supplement use. The most common sources of vitamin K1 in the diet include leaf lettuce and spinach, with smaller amounts found in other vegetables, vegetable oils and some fruits.
Researchers at the Mayo Comprehensive Cancer Center are studying the connection between diet and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk, and they became interested in a potential role for vitamin K. While vitamin K is best known for its essential function in several proteins involved in blood clotting (the name of the vitamin is derived from the German word “Koagulations”), it also appears to be important in other biological processes, including inhibition of inflammatory cytokines thought to play a role in Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as pathways involved in cell cycle arrest and cell death.
“These results are provocative, since they are the first work we have done on the connection between vitamin K and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and this is a fairly strong protective effect,” says the study’s lead investigator, James Cerhan, M.D., Ph.D., a cancer epidemiologist. “However, as with all new findings, this will need to be replicated in other studies.”
The Mayo study enrolled 603 patients who were newly diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as 1,007 matched cancer-free “control” participants. Researchers asked the participants to answer a food questionnaire about their usual intake of over 120 food items two years prior to their cancer diagnosis or enrollment into the study (controls). They also asked about use of a variety of supplements. Vitamin K intake was estimated from this data.
While there was a clear trend showing that a greater intake of vitamin K from dietary sources was associated with a lower risk of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the use of vitamin K supplements presented a slightly different picture. Increasing intake of vitamin K from supplements did protect against Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but reached a point where the highest intake offered no reduction in risk. “The significance of this finding is unclear,” notes Dr. Cerhan, “but suggests that taking high doses of supplements is unlikely to be helpful.” Dr. Cerhan also notes that people taking certain oral anticoagulants or seizure medications should closely follow their physician’s dietary recommendations with respect to vitamin K intake, since vitamin K can interfere with these drugs.
“Whether the protective effect we observed is due to vitamin K intake, or some other dietary or lifestyle exposure, cannot be definitely assessed in this study,” notes Dr. Cerhan. “But these findings add to a lot of other data that support a diet that includes plenty of green leafy vegetables in order to prevent many cancers as well as other diseases.”
The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute.
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A diet rich in olive oil, nuts, fish, poultry and certain fruits and vegetables may have a powerful effect at staving off Alzheimer’s disease, researchers reported on Monday.
People who ate nutrients specifically selected for brain health had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared with others, Yian Gu, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at Columbia University in New York and colleagues found.
“Diet is probably the easiest way to modify disease risk,” said Gu, whose study appears in Archives of Neurology.
She said because there are no cures for Alzheimer’s, prevention is key, especially as the population ages.
“If we follow this diet, that means the risk of getting the disease will be lowered for the population,” Gu said in a telephone interview.
While other studies have looked at individual nutrients, Gu’s team studied groups of foods high in nutrients that have been shown to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk.
To study this, the team collected information on the diets of 2,148 healthy people over 65 for an average of 4 years. They were checked for Alzheimer’s disease every 18 months.
Of these, 253 developed Alzheimer’s, which has no cure.
Those least likely to develop the disease ate more olive oil-based salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, fruits, and dark and green leafy vegetables and ate less red meat, organ meat or high-fat dairy products.
“People who adhered mostly to this dietary pattern compared to others have about a 40 percent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Gu said.
She said the diet likely works in two ways. Because it is rich in heart-healthy foods, it may be protecting the brain from strokes that could make it more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.
Current treatments helps with some symptoms, but cannot reverse the course of Alzheimer’s, a mind-robbing form of dementia that affects more than 26 million people globally.
Source: Chicago April 12, (Reuters) http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N12112729.htm
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Scientists in China have demonstrated how arsenic — a favorite murder weapon in the Middle Ages — destroys deadly blood cancer by targeting and killing specific proteins that keep the cancer alive.
“Our study showed how arsenic directly targets these proteins and kills them,” lead researcher Zhang Xiaowei at the State Key Laboratory of Medical Genomics in Shanghai, China, told Reuters.
“Unlike chemotherapy, the side effects of arsenic (in treating acute promyelocytic leukemia) are very low. There is no hair loss or suppression of bone marrow (function). We are interested in finding out how arsenic can be used in other cancers,” Zhang said by telephone.
Well known for its toxicity, arsenic was regarded in the past as the king among poisons because its symptoms are like those of cholera and can often go undetected.
In China, however, it has long served a dual purpose. Apart from intentional poisoning, it has been used for at least 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine.
In 1992, a group of Chinese doctors reported how they used arsenic to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a blood and bone marrow cancer that has surprisingly high cure rates of over 90 percent in China.
However, the actual workings of arsenic and how it interacts with cancer tissues has never been clear — until Zhang and his colleagues used modern technology to find out.
In a paper published in the journal Science, Zhang and his team, which includes Health Minister Chen Zhu, described how they used modern equipment and saw how arsenic attacked specific proteins that would otherwise be keeping the cancer alive and well.
“This shows how Western technology can be used to find out about the mysteries of Chinese medicine,” Zhang said.
“Although many countries are now using arsenic to treat APL, some countries are resistant to the idea. It depends a lot on whether doctors recommend it and whether patients accept it.”
In APL, there is a drop in the production of normal red blood cells and platelets, resulting in anemia and thrombocytopenia. The bone marrow is unable to produce healthy red blood cells. Until the 1970s, APL was 100 percent fatal and there was no effective treatment.
“The clinical result of arsenic in treating APL is well-established. More than 90 percent of APL patients in China have (at least) five years of disease-free survival,” Zhang said.
In a separate commentary in Science, Scott Kogan at the University of California San Francisco Cancer Center wrote that proper case selection and combination therapy with arsenic may lead to improved outcomes for treating not only promyelocytic leukemia, but other diseases as well.
“If so, an ancient medicine, revived through careful clinical and biological studies in modern times, will have an even greater impact on human health,” wrote Kogan, who was not linked to the Chinese study.
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Scientists believe people who live to 100 years or more hold valuable secrets in their genes that can reveal targets for medicines to tackle a wide range of age-related diseases, as well as improving longevity itself.
“If you make it to 100, you must have had good health and a good life — otherwise you wouldn’t be at the tail end of the age distribution curve,” Kaare Christensen of the Danish Aging Research Center told Reuters in an interview.
“So basically, we’re trying to figure out how they do it.”
Of course, genes are not the whole story: experts believe genetic factors account for a only fraction of longevity. Other factors like a healthy lifestyle, good diet and safe environment combine to play a role in determining when we die.
Yet so-called “longevity genes” certainly exist, and their importance grows the longer a person lives, so identifying them and finding out what they do to fight off killer diseases is a hot area of research.
With lifespans already increasing at a breathtaking rate — an average of three months is being added to life expectancy every year at the moment — scientists stress that a “magic pill” to help people live ever longer is not what anyone should be seeking.
Instead the aim is known as “compression of morbidity” — improving the health of rapidly aging populations and squeezing to a minimum the amount of time at the end of their lives when they are sick, in pain, or dependent.
“None of us, probably, wants another five years in a nursing home,” said Linda Partridge, director of University College London’s Institute of Healthy Aging.
“But an additional five years without any particular health problems would be another matter.”
LONGEVITY GENE POOL
One thing is sure: the pool of people to work with is growing fast. There are around 450,000 centenarians in the world today and experts estimate that thanks to aging baby-boomers, there could be a million across the world by 2030.
Genetic science and technology is developing rapidly too, allowing scientists to scan the genes of the super-old in search of the secrets of long life — and drugs to mimic them are starting to appear.
“The drug companies have got lots of patents out on some of these targets,” said Partridge. “Nothing has actually emerged yet, but they are clearly working on them.”
Until recently, only one candidate had shown any promise as a potential “longevity gene.”
It is known as APOE. On the one hand, its variants have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and of developing the brain-wasting disease, Alzheimer’s. On the other, it is associated with a greater chance of a longer, healthier life.
Scientists have found that a particular variant known as APOE4, which gives carriers a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and heart disease, is about 50 percent less common in centenarians than in younger people, suggesting that those without it are more likely to live longer.
Other “longevity gene” candidates are now starting to emerge, including one called FOXO3A and another called humanin, both of which have links to the body’s insulin pathways.
With them comes more evidence that genes associated with long life are also linked to decreased risk of major killers like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York has been conducting studies with a group of several hundred centenarians in the United States to see if he can find gene patterns that can be chemically copied.
“We are assuming that the 100 year-olds are enriched with longevity genes,” he said in an interview. “And when you find genes, you discover the pathway, and then you can try to modulate the pathway with drugs.”
As well as with the humanin gene, his team has been working with variations of a gene known as cholesteryl ester transfer protein, or CETP, which they have linked to long life, good heart health, a reduced risk of cognitive decline with age, and a smaller chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Drug companies are already targeting the CETP gene with an eye to helping prevent heart disease by upping so-called “good” or HDL cholesterol.
The U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co, for example, has a CETP drug in late-stage clinical trials to test its effectiveness in raising good cholesterol.
But Barzilai thinks it may turn out to do much more than that: “We believe that once this drug is out it could be the first drug to be used as an anti-aging drug,” he said.
Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche also has a CETP drug, called dalcetrapib, in late-stage clinical trials in partnership with Japan Tobacco, in which it sees great potential.
LONGER, HEALTHIER LIVES?
The emerging link between long life and disease resistance has already been seen in animal experiments.
Last week, British scientists found in experiments with laboratory worms that the DAF-16 gene, similar to FOXO genes in humans, is linked to aging and immunity.
And several studies have shown that when scientists successfully target the underlying aging process to make an animal live longer, they also protect them against aging-related diseases.
Resveratrol, a drug being developed by Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline and based on a compound found in red wine, has been shown in studies on mice to give them longer and healthier lives.
And the antibiotic rapamycin, sold under the brand name Rapamune by Pfizer and designed to suppress the immune system in transplant patients, has also been shown to slow age-related disease and extend life-span in mice.
“These things are all very interwoven in each other,” said Christensen.
Partridge also sees this as a sign that some medicines now on the horizon may be bigger hitters than previously thought.
“What it shows very clearly is there is an underlying aging process which acts as the major risk factor for aging-related diseases, and if you can somehow ameliorate its effects, then the animals become relatively disease-free,” she said.
“They (the drugs) may be being developed specifically for dementia, or cancer, or some specific age-related disease, but the biological research is telling us that they’re probably going to turn out to have surprisingly broad-spectrum effects.”