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Physiology

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Apr
09
2007

Tai Chi Boosts Immune System Against Shingles

Tai chi, an exercise that features slow martial arts-like movements and meditation, significantly improves the ability of older adults' immune systems to fight the virus -- varicella zoster -- that causes shingles, a new study says.

Shingles is a painful, blistery rash. About one-third of adults over age 60 develop shingles.

The 25-week study, conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, involved 112 people, ages 59 to 86. The researchers found that Tai chi, by itself, increased immunity against varicella zoster to a level that was comparable to having received the standard vaccine against the virus.

When a person did Tai chi and received the vaccine, the immunity against the virus reached a level normally seen in middle age, said the study, which was published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The study results confirm that a behavioral intervention such as Tai chi can trigger a positive, virus-specific immune response, said lead author Michael Irwin, professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

"These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia. Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that T'ai chi is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines, such as influenza," Irwin, who is also director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, said in a prepared statement.

HealthDay News, 4/6/2007

Apr
04
2007

Humira Helps Psoriasis

The arthritis drug Humira eased symptoms of psoriasis of patients in two clinical trials and drug maker Abbott Laboratories says it will apply for U.S. and European approval to market the drug to treat the skin disease.

One study found that Humira cleared up all symptoms of psoriasis while the other study found the drug led to an 80 percent improvement in patients, Bloomberg News reported.

Symptoms of psoriasis include inflamed, scaly skin lesions that can crack and bleed. The disease affects about 125 million people worldwide.

Currently, Humira is approved to treat the immune system disorders rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, spinal arthritis, and Crohn's disease. The drug works by blocking the activity of a protein called TNF. Too much TNF can cause the immune system to attack healthy tissue, Bloomberg News reported.

Apr
02
2007

Gender May Be Reason Why More Men Get Skin Cancer

Ohio State University researchers have found that a naturally occurring amount of antioxidants in females may be the reason that males are three times more likely to get skin cancer.

The university scientists, led by assistant professor Dr. Tatiana Oberyszyn, investigated the incidence of squamous cell cancer -- a common type of skin cancer in humans -- in a controlled experiment on laboratory mice.

According to an Ohio State University news release, the researchers exposed the animals to UVB, a type of ultraviolet light that causes the most damage to the skin. They found that the naturally occurring amount of antioxidants produced by the female mice not only protected them three times as much from squamous malignancy, but also may have caused tumors that developed in females to be smaller than those in the male mice.

"It's given us clear evidence of a biological basis for the gender bias in developing squamous cell carcinoma," Oberyszyn is quoted as saying in the news release.

The study appears in the April 1 issue of the journal Cancer Research.

HealthDay News, April 1, 2007

Mar
29
2007

Suntan Gene Discovered

An anticancer gene that moonlights as a suntan gene may partly explain why people crave sunlight and even become addicted to tanning.

Scientists report that the p53 gene, which works to curb tumors, also triggers the chemical chain reaction that makes the skin tan when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light.

The p53 gene spurs the tanning process to reduce UV damage, note the researchers, who included David Fisher, MD, PhD, of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

Fisher's team found that mice without the p53 gene weren't able to tan when exposed to UV light.

And when the p53 gene triggers the tanning process, it also boosts the release of beta-endorphin, one of the body's "feel-good" chemicals.

"The induction of beta-endorphin appears to be hard-wired to the tanning pathway," Fisher says in a Cell Press news release. "This might explain addictive behaviors associated with sun-seeking or the use of tanning salons."

The study appears in Cell, along with an editorial by experts including Moshe Oren, PhD, of the molecular cell biology department at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.

One day, skin lotions may be able to activate p53 just enough to trigger tanning without allowing UV damage, the editorialists note.

In the Cell Press news release, Fisher says he is involved in a small biotechnology company working to develop such a product.

SOURCES: Cui, R. Cell, March 9, 2007; vol 128: pp 853-864. Oren, M. Cell, March 9, 2007; vol 128: pp 826-828. News release, Cell Press. News release, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

By Mirandi Hitti, WebMD, March 9, 2007

Mar
28
2007

Smoking May Increase Body Wrinkles

Smoking may increase wrinkles on parts of the body other than the face -- even on areas usually covered with clothes.

Cigarette smoking has long been linked to increased facial wrinkles. A new study shows that that may also be true of the rest of the body.

Yolanda Helfrich, MD, and colleagues studied 82 people at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor's dermatology clinic.

Participants were 22-91 years old (average age: 56). Most were white; 41 had a history of smoking.

Helfrich's team interviewed participants about smoking, sun exposure, sunscreen use, tanning, and other lifestyle factors.

A medical photographer took pictures of each participant's upper inner arm.

The photos were reviewed by three judges (two dermatology residents and one medical student) who didn't know which participants were smokers.

The judges used a nine-point scale developed by Helfrich's team. A rating of 0 indicated no fine wrinkling; severe fine wrinkling yielded the maximum score of 8.

Smoking and Wrinkles

Nearly two-thirds of the participants had low wrinkle scores ranging from 0-2 points. Smokers generally had the highest scores, indicating deeper wrinkles.

The wrinkle risk was particularly strong for people who had smoked heavily for many years.

"We examined nonfacial skin that was protected from the sun, and found that the total number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day and the total years a person has smoked were linked with the amount of skin damage a person experienced," Helfrich says in a University of Michigan news release.

The study doesn't prove that smoking caused or worsened wrinkles. But the results held when the researchers took other factors, including participants' age, into account.

The study appears in the Archives of Dermatology.

By Miranda Hitti, WebMd, March 19, 2007

Mar
23
2007

The Truth About Chemicals, Mineral Oil, Squalene and Fillers

By Rebecca Jame Gadberry

This guru sheds light on common misunderstanding regarding these ingredients.

Mar
21
2007

Sunscreen Technology, Regulations and Formulations

By Ken Klein

Learn about the state of sunscreens in the United States today and how a better understanding of them can lead to enhanced customer service for your clients.

Mar
21
2007

Duct Tape Won't Treat Warts

Duct tape has many uses, but the claim that it's a cheap, effective treatment for warts is challenged by a new U.S. study in the March issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology.

A small study in 2002 suggested that duct tape helped treat warts on children and young adults. The theory is that the tape irritates the skin and prompts the immune system to attack the virus that causes warts, the Associated Press reported.

But this new study found that warts disappeared in 21 percent of 39 patients who used duct tape for seven days, compared to 22 percent of 41 patients who used moleskin, a cotton-type bandage used to protect the skin.

This new study used transparent duct tape, while the 2002 study used the better-known gray duct tape. Grey duct tape contains rubber while transparent duct tape does not, the AP reported.

"Whether or not the standard type of duct type is effective is up in the air," said study co-author Dr. Rachel Wenner of the University of Minnesota. "Theoretically, the rubber adhesive could somehow stimulate the immune system or irritate the skin in a different manner."

HealthDay News, March 20, 2007

Mar
08
2007

Cancer-Fighting Gene Guards Against Sun Damage

A gene that is known to play a key role in suppressing cancer also seems to protect against sun damage while promoting a golden tan.

The revelation could one day lead to better ways to prevent skin cancer, which roughly 1 million Americans develop each year.

"This finding provides us an opportunity to look at human populations with a varied risk of developing skin cancer and start to identify precisely what is regulating the risk of developing skin cancer rather than estimating," said senior study author Dr. David Fisher, director of the melanoma program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School. "Right now, we're incredibly inaccurate in identifying risk and, therefore, in ameliorating risk."

The findings are published in the March 9 issue of Cell.

People who tan easily or have darker skin are much less likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

"The tanning response is a protective response to injury, which can prevent further injury," explained Dr. Robin Ashinoff, medical director of Dermatologic, Mohs and Laser Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey. "On the one hand, the skin is the most common organ to be affected by cancer and, in principle, it ought to be preventable because we know the carcinogen which causes it, the sun."

Still, rates of skin cancer remain high.

"That's a terrible state of affairs in 2007," Fisher said. "We really want to understand the impact of ultraviolet radiation on the skin and what is the molecular cascade that is occurring downstream."

Six months ago, Fisher and his team published a paper documenting the fact that keratinocytes -- cells closer to the surface of the skin -- react to sun exposure. Previously, it had been thought that pigment-producing melanocytes played this role.

Once keratinocytes are exposed to rays from the sun, they produce melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH), a growth factor which binds to the pigment cells (melanocytes) and stimulates them to produce pigment.

Differences in the MSH receptor explain differences in ability to tan. Redheads, for example, have a variant which doesn't respond at all to MSH, explaining why the Nicole Kidmans of this world don't turn a tawny bronze.

Fisher and his colleagues still didn't know, however, what happened within keratinocytes to stimulate MSH production.

"We knew that ultraviolet radiation causes MSH to be induced," Fisher said. "How is the ultraviolet radiation doing that? What is perceiving the radiation and translating that signaling into making more MSH?"

The key happens to be the tumor-suppressor gene known as p53, which is induced in almost every keratinocyte of human skin samples within an hour of being exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays. "That activity is completely regulated by this protein," Fisher said.

The finding is biologically plausible, experts said.

"It makes sense that most skin cancers and cancers, for that matter, have mutations in the p53 because it functions to protect us. It basically causes abnormal cells to be killed or die, and regulates all sorts of pathways that protect us," Ashinoff said. "It's not surprising that something that would protect us would also stimulate mechanisms in the skin known for protecting us."

"Knowing this, we can now identify exactly where we would like to interfere with the risk," Fisher added. "Knowing that p53 is part of this process allows us to potentially identify drugs that might be able to restore this response at different steps, depending on where the person might need it, where their block is."

HealthDay News, March 8, 2007 By Amanda Gardner

Feb
27
2007

Poorly Executed Cosmetic Procedures Can Leave Lasting Damage

A visit to a skin treatment clinic in a Florida suburban mall in late 2004 changed 52-year-old Jordan Miles' life forever.

She had responded to an ad from the clinic that promised help for her teenage son's acne. He didn't get the treatment, but Miles made an appointment for herself for laser treatments to remove sunspots on her arms, back and chest.

Two women ended up performing the procedure -- neither, Miles later found out, had the necessary training.

"They started with the laser on my chest, and when they got to my back, they decided the sunspots were worse, and so they upped the laser, further intensifying the procedure," Miles recalled.

The outpatient procedure left Miles, a mental health counselor, in such excruciating pain that she vomited on her way home. Getting no helpful response from the clinic, she consulted a dermatologist, who confirmed that she was covered in red, stripe-like second- and third-degree burns that would leave lasting scars.

The redness subsided, but each burn drained the pigment from her skin, leaving Miles open to further skin problems should she ever expose the affected areas to the sun.

"I now have what looks like zebra stripes everywhere," Miles said. "I'm restricted from a lot of activities and types of clothing. It's terrible."

Miles' experience is hardly unique. In the past few years, reports of fraudulent or shoddy cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures have grabbed headlines:

  • In 2003, New York City financial analyst Maria Cruz died after a fatal reaction to lidocaine, delivered by Dean Faiello, a 46-year-old from Newark, N.J., who had been posing as a cosmetic surgeon. Faiello fled to Costa Rica but was apprehended by U.S. authorities in 2006 and is now in prison.
  • In 2004, four people in Florida became paralyzed after Bach McComb, an osteopath with a suspended license, administered lab-strength botulism toxin -- not the much weaker Botox -- to himself, his girlfriend and two others. McComb was later sent to prison for three years.
  • In 2005, a 46-year-old California woman died of multiple organ failure after receiving a buttock injection of what had been billed as a "French polymer" but was actually cooking oil. The beautician who delivered the shot, 39-year-old Martha Mata Vasquez, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in January.

It's tough to tell how often these types of dangerous procedures are being performed in the United States, experts said.

"I think that, especially in big cities, it's more common than you think, because I see lots of patients with problems who have been treated in hotel rooms, for example," said Dr. Rhoda Narins, past president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) and a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

"Sometimes, when I ask patient what it is that they have had, they really have no idea," she said. In many cases, procedures are performed in non-medical settings -- hotel rooms, private homes, beauty clinics and spas, Narins said. "I've seen several patients who had spa treatments and got comfortable there, and then they were offered non-medical-grade silicone. They ended up having horrendous reactions."

Dr. John W. Canady, vice president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), said that the underground nature of these sub-par procedures makes them especially hard to track.

He and Narins said consumers should watch out for the following "red flags" when seeking out cosmetic injections or surgeries:

  • Check for credentials. It's not enough that your "doctor" is wearing a white lab coat and has a certificate on the wall. A number of organizations -- the ASDS, the ASPS, the American Board of Plastic Surgery and state medical boards -- have online resources that people can check to verify credentials and experience.
  • Be wary of cheap deals. "If a procedure has an unbelievable price that nobody else is offering, then you really have to slow down and examine why it's so cheap -- why is it so out of line with the rest of the market?" said Canady, who is also professor of plastic surgery at the University of Iowa.
  • Look for nearby medical support. Even procedures conducted by the best-qualified staff can go awry, so make sure your practitioner has equipment and qualified personnel on hand to deal with allergic reactions, clotting and other events. Most reputable clinics will have hospital affiliations. "As a patient, you want to know what things are available if things don't go right," Canady said.

Most of all, the experts said, ask questions.

"It's important to be a responsible consumer, to do your homework, to not be afraid to ask the tough questions," Canady said. "If you ask people legitimate questions in a non-offensive way, and they get angry or hostile with you, then you need to go find somebody else."

Narins agreed that an educated, proactive consumer is the best defense against fraud and abuse in her industry.

"People shouldn't take chances with their health. When you inject something into your body, this is not the same as getting a massage," she said. "This is something that can seriously affect you, and for a long time."

That's a lesson Miles said she learned the hard way, but she's hopeful that her story can at least help others. The clinic she received her laser treatment from has since closed down, and Florida state law was recently toughened to mandate that all laser procedures be done under a doctor's supervision.

But Miles said her scars are a daily reminder that patients remain vulnerable.

"Make no assumptions, and don't be afraid to ask questions," she advised. "The mistake I made was that I never asked these women if they were a nurse practitioner, or if they had any experience doing this before, or how many times they had done it before. All of those were major mistakes."

HealthDay News, 2/26/2007, By E.J. Mundell