Research briefs

Protein link to eye diseases
Two leading causes of blindness can be prevented or reversed by drugs that activate a protein found in blood vessels, US researchers have found. The study showed that activation of the protein Robo4 reversed disease progression in mouse models of macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. The protein worked by inhibiting abnormal blood vessel growth and by stabilising blood vessels to prevent leakage (Nature Med Onlin 2008).

Lifestyle risk factors for head and neck cancer
Risk factors for head and neck cancer are different depending on whether it is HPV positive or negative. A study of 240 patients at a US hospital found that HPV-positive cancer was linked to cannabis use and number of oral sex partners, while HPV-negative cancer was linked to smoking, alcohol use and poor oral hygiene. Researchers concluded that they should be considered as two distinct diseases (JNCI Online 2008).

Infant heart risk from passive smoking
Second-hand smoke has a greater impact on markers of vascular and endothelial health in younger children, a US study has found. Analysis of data from 128 children found that children aged two to five absorbed six times more nicotine than those aged nine to 14 from the same amount of smoking. They had increased inflammatory markers, delegates were told at the American Heart Association conference on cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention last week.

Treating RA cuts CVD risk
Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) also reduce cardiovascular risk, a cohort study has shown. The study of 4,363 patients from 15 countries showed that prolonged use of biologic agents reduced cardiovascular risk by more than 50 per cent. Methotrexate, leflunomide, sulfasalazine and glucocorticoid treatments were also associated with reduced cardiovascular morbidity (Arth Res Ther 2008; 10).

Breathalyser for cancer developed
An 'electronic nose' that sniffs for signs of cancer in saliva is being trialled by UK researchers. It could also detect super-bugs such as Clostridium difficile. The device, which costs £10,000, works by patients blowing into a tube where the breath is passed over sensors to pick up chemical signs of cancer. Now the team, led by Professor Hugh Parr, are planning to test the device on 80 volunteers at Gloucester Royal Hospital.

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