Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Manfred Lindinger takes up the issue whether nanotechnology poses danger to human health and the environment in an article and an interview with Jochen Flasbarth, president of the German Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA). Flasbarth points out that UBA’s nanotechnology study published last year, highlighting gaps in knowledge about potential health hazards, was misunderstood by the media and the public as a sweeping warning of all things nano. He also dismisses calls for introducing a label for products containing nanotechnology: “If there is no risk, we don’t need to put up a warning sign.”

Several German papers feature and discuss an ad-hoc statement on preimplantation diagnosis  issued January 18 by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. It was drafted by 13 eminent German academians from biology, medicine, law and philosophy & ethics, among them nobelist Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard. The statement calls for admission of PID under narrowly defined circumstances (high risk of serious monogenic disorder, chromosomal dysfunction, miscarriage or stillbirth). The parliament needs to to regulate PID after the German Federal Supreme Court last year ruled that Germany’s ban on PID was based on misinterpretation of the country’s Embryo Protection Law.

John Tierney in The New York Times provides new insights on people who underwent personal genetic testing to learn about their risk for conditions from obesity to cancer and Alzheimer’s. It is widespread belief among experts and politicians that personal DNA testing needs careful supervision and cannot be offered without expert guidance. The NYT introduces two studies – one follow-up study of about 2,000 people who had a genomewide scan by Navigenics  and one representative sample of 1,500 people – and found that the medical field overestimates the level of psychological anxiety or trauma caused by the results and is way too paternalistic about the tests. One researcher is quoted by saying: “We should recognize that consumers might reasonably want the information for nonmedical reasons. People value it for its own sake, and because they feel more in control of their lives.”

Gardiner Harris reports that the Obama administration has become so concerned about the slowing pace of new drugs coming out of the pharma industry that it has decided to start a federal billion-dollar drug development center. The “National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences” will open in October this year and will beef up early research results by finding leads against new targets or even perform preclinical studies so that projects become attractive to the pharma industry. NIH director Francis S. Collins who is behind the idea, is quoted by NYT as saying: “I am a little frustrated to see how many of the discoveries that do look as though they have therapeutic implications are waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to follow through with them.” In a first step, more than $700 million in research projects from other NIH institutes will be brought together at the new center.

Gina Kolata reports on an FDA advisory committee recommending approval of a new brain scan that can detect the typical plaques in the brains of living Alzheimer disease patients. The test has been developed by Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, now a subsidiary of Eli Lilly (see akampioneer, June 24, 2010).

In the New Scientist, Anil Ananthaswamy features findings from Australian researchers suggesting that Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and maybe other, more common diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, might be cured by antibiotics and subsequent (re-)colonization of the colon with bacteria from healthy people. The hypothesis was derived from case studies of Parkinson’s patients treated for colon infections, in which the treatment also abated the Parkinson’s symptoms. The researchers from the Center of Digestive Diseases in New South Wales are now planning a pilot study in Parkinson’s patients. Already, neuroanatomists from German Ulm University have suggested in 2003 that Parkinson’s might be caused by a bug that breaks through the mucosal barrier of the GI tract and enters the central nervous system via the vagus nerve (Journal of Neural Transmission, DOI: 10.1007/s00702-002-0808-2).

Linda Geddes reports on how cytokines associated with inflammation can enter the brain under certain circumstances and cause depression. Unfortunately, the article fails to mention German biotech company Affectis which already has Cimicoxib, an anti-inflammatory COX-2 inhibitor, in Phase II trials for the treatment of depression, after researchers discovered that COX-2 inhibitors can alleviate depression.