A Little Health Sciences Reading

Fear not, there will be a Friday Blogaround. But as a bonus, here are a few health science-related stories I've come across this morning, in case you want a little not-so-light reading for the weekend.

Public Library of Science's PLoS Medicine: PLoS Medicine and The New York Times Unseal Ghostwriting documents
PLoS Medicine and The New York Times intervened in a court case against the pharmaceutical company Wyeth and helped release documents that showed Wyeth paid ghostwriters to generate papers highlighting the benefits and understating the risks of taking hormone therapy.
PLoS Medicine's blog, Speaking Of Medicine, has a number of posts on the issue.

ScienceDaily: Scientists Begin To Untangle Root Cause Of Alzheimer's Disease
ScienceDaily (Sep. 4, 2009) — "N60" might not be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Alzheimer's disease, but thanks to researchers from the United States, South Korea and France, this might change. That's because these researchers have found that the N60 section of a protein called "RanBP9" might be the key that unlocks an entirely new class of Alzheimer's drugs, and with them, hope.
The research was published in FASEB Journal on 3 September. If you have access you can read the paper. Even if you don't have access, the abstract is free.

ScienceNOW Daily News: A Breathalyzer for Cancer:
By Sam Kean
ScienceNOW Daily News
31 August 2009
A team of researchers may have come up with a golden idea for diagnosing lung cancer. By coating tiny nuggets of gold with a thin layer of organic material, the researchers have developed an "electronic nose" that, with some additional work, could spot lung cancer instantly by analyzing someone's breath.

Hossam Haick and colleagues at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa embedded the 5-nanometer-long gold nanoparticles in a silicon wafer and then collected exhaled air from 40 cancer patients and 56 people with healthy lungs. All the subjects had to breathe deeply through a purifying filter for 5 minutes. After this "lung washout," they filled five 750-milliliter Mylar bags with air. A machine blew this air over the silicon-gold circuit, and the electrical resistance of the gold nanoparticles rose or fell depending on the presence or absence of certain compounds.

Cancer cells exude different compounds than healthy cells do, Haick explains, and the circuit picks up this difference. Tumor growth causes stress in cells, leading to a build up of free radical molecules that attack the lipids in cell walls, tearing out molecules with long chains of carbon atoms. The team identified 42 such molecules and settled on four to track with the nanoparticles: decane, trimethylbenzene, ethylbenzene, and heptanol. These four molecules appear at relatively high concentrations and, after binding to the organic coat on the nanoparticles, cause the resistance to electric current in the circuit to fluctuate in a predictable way. The sensors respond rapidly and are completely reusable, the team reported online 30 August in Nature Nanotechnology.
Haick et. al. are essentially figuring out how to do electronically what dogs can do already. This gold nanoparticle technology is a big improvement over the last generation of electronic noses, which used carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are affected by humidity, so breath to be tested often had to be dehumidified first.

More on this story from Reuters Health.

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