Tag: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Dieter Durand and Susanne Kutter in Wirtschaftswoche feature a disputation between Alzheimer-researcher Konrad Beyreuther and author Cornelia Stolze, who has written a book claiming Alzheimer’s disease does not exist as an exactly defined disease.

While Beyreuther maintains the disease is real and can be clinically separated from other forms of dementia, he concedes that current medications are useless and that diagnosis often is inadequate. Stolze in her book “Vergiss Alzheimer” (“Forget About Alzheimer’s”) states that patients with signs of dementia often are labeled as Alzheimer’s disease patients although they are not, that they receive useless medications, that the real causes of their respective dementias, such as diabetes, depression, stroke, or dehydration, are overlooked and not treated, and that medical doctors make money with unreliable early diagnostic tests. A review of the book is to follow soon – please regularly check the akampioneer.

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) comments on a proposal by several US stem cell researchers in the “Cell Stem Cell” journal. The manifesto calls for establishing a market for human donor egg cells so that scientists can use these cells for cloning experiments. While the purpose is not cloning humans but generating pluripotent human stem cells, Müller-Jung warns that the push will once again put the “cloning humans” debate on the table – a discussion he thinks is needed like a hole in the head. He states there are plenty of experiments already demonstrating that sooner or later it will be possible to generate pluripotent human stem cells for regenerative medicine by reprogramming human body cells.

Martina Lenzen-Schulte, also in FAZ, features the first attempts to use the mirror neuron concept for clinical purposes, e.g. for the rehabilitation of stroke patients to support regain of movement control.

Hildegard Kaulen in FAZ reminds her readers that a substantial part of the research crowned by nobel prizes never received third-party funds. She expresses sympathy with the proposal put forward in “Nature” by Stanford University’s John Ioannidis to either allocate research grants by lottery, by dividing up the money so that each applicant receives the same amount, or simply by handing out money to outstanding scientists with the only specification to use it for research. He criticizes that it has never been investigated which method to allocate research grants is the best and that the current practice consumes too much valuable time that should be spent more creatively on research.

Die Welt reports in a feature by dpa on material scientists of the Technical University Dresden who use wood for pipes that are as strong and resilient as pipes made from concrete. Wood is cut to rectangular blocks, which are heated to 140°C and compressed. Subsequently, all air – which amounts to up to two third of the wood’s volume –  is removed. The resulting panels are then bonded and formed by applying steam. The team led by Peer Haller of the university’s Institute for Steel and Wood Construction calculates that a post carrying 50 tons of weight needs 155 kg of steel but only 28 kg of wood treated with the new procedure.

Katrin Blawat in Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reports that Umckaloabo, an alcoholic extract of Pelargonium sidoides roots, is under investigation by Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM). The medication, which is sold as OTC in Germany for the treatment of acute bronchitis (with annual sales of about € 40 million), is suspected to cause inflammation of the liver, with six cases reported in 2011.

The New York Times (NYT) this week deals in-depth with the recommendation of the United States Preventive Services Task Force that men no longer should have an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. Gardiner Harris interviewed the experts involved in reviewing PSA testing, citing Dr. Roger Chou, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Oregon, as saying “the idea that knowing you have a cancer isn’t always a good thing is a very difficult concept for many people.” Chou states that the vast majority of men who have prostate cancer will never be bothered by it. Urologists however view the issue differently, stating the task force chose to focus on the wrong studies and it was wrong to throw PSA testing away.

Last not least, in preparation of the coming common cold season, Ulrike Gebhard in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) explains that men suffer from the common cold more often than women. Reason is – according to researchers from Belgian Gent University – that women often carry extra portions of genes from the toll-like receptor (TLR) gene family. As a result, they produce more of the so-called miRNA molecules that support the body in fending off viral infections. The downside of women’s more powerful immune system is increased susceptibility to autoimmune diseases and a more violent reaction to certain vaccines.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Volker Stollorz in Frankfurter Allgemein Sonntagszeitung (FAS) this week in detail reports on a paper describing the generation of pluripotent stem cells from adult human testis, which has raised suspicions because as yet no one has been able to reproduce the data or cell lines. The paper published 2008 in Nature raised high hopes about the generation of pluripotent human stem cells for research and therapy without technically or ethically debatable interventions. The research originated in the lab of Thomas Skutella, then at the University of Tuebingen, Germany; lead author was Sabine Conrad. Already, researcher Hans R. Schoeler in the same journal expressed concerns that the cells used by Conrad et al. are not pluripotent as described. The article by Stollorz is not yet available online.

Stephan Sahm in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) introduces the new medical discipline of neurogastroenterology which deals with the nerve cells lining the human digestive tract. Already it is known that impairments of these nerve cells lead to motility disturbances of the colon – often seen in diabetics – and to dysfunctions of the immune system.

In the same paper, Hildegard Kaulen describes attempts to understand and cure chronic fatigue in cancer patients. The syndrome often appears after successful tumor eradication by chemo- or radiation therapy and has been neglected by clinicians and doctors in the past.

In Die Welt, Joerg Zittlau introduces a new silicon-based coating developed by Nanopool GmbH. The liquid glass coating is non-toxic, heat- and scratch-resistant and extremely thin and flexible. It is made by extracting nano-sized silica crystals from sand which are subsequently mixed with water and alcohol and applied either manually or by spraying. Once the solvent has evaporated, the glass coating is ready. As it is extremely smooth it is not only suited as protectant but also stain-resistant and self cleaning.

Wolfgang S. Merkel, also in Die Welt, explains why certain materials such as asbestos or nanotubes are dangerous for cells. If particles have a rounded tip they are mistaken by the cells for a small spheric particle and taken up. As the process cannot be terminated for the length of the particle, the cell eventually dies and, if many cells are affected, inflammation and cancer may arise.

Christina Berndt in Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) deals with the latest conspiracy theory spread by ecological fundamentalists: milk is dangerous for toddlers as it blocks the mucosa with phlegm so that it cannot ward off infections. In the same paper, Berndt reports on fundamentalist Taliban in Pakistan opposing vaccination. As a result, polio cases have risen dramatically in the areas controlled by the Taliban.

Hartmut Wewetzer in Der Tagesspiegel introduces latest findings demonstrating that neither resveratrol, the highly acclaimed ingredient of grapes, nor sirtuin proteins guarantee longer, healthier life. Previously, researchers from the US had claimed that sirtuin proteins, which are activated by resveratrol, mediate longer life. In contrast, Nicholas Wade in The New York Times reports on the same study and points out that there is a trans-atlantic rift in reporting: while British scientists say sirtuins are not involved in longevity, the US colleagues under attack say they adhere to their claim. The controversy is around the genetic uniformity or diversity of the animal strains used in the experiments.

Larry Husten in Forbes is commenting on the decline of cardiovascular procedures observed in US hospitals, speculating that four factors may contribute to it: concerns about stent overuse, the payoff of preventive drug treatments, the larger economic climate and recent investigations into implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) by the US Department of Justice. Recently, doctors and hospitals in the US were accused to implant ICDs without proper evidence base in more than 1 in 5 cases.

Also in ForbesDavid Shaywitz and Dennis Ausiello in a commentary demand that doctors translate research results into clinical progress much better than today. The authors do not focus on the “translational science” buzzword but propose simple things: improvements in measurements, a less intrusive medicine and better participation of patients, e.g. by involving Facebook- or smartphone-based information transfer for better compliance and health status surveillance.

In the New Scientist, Debora MacKenzie reports on Sanofi-Pasteur signing a contract with the University of San Diego, Calif. to develop a vaccine for the prevention and treatment of acne, a disease affecting 85% of teens. The challenge: killing the disease-causing bacterium (which is benign under normal circumstances and turns nasty only in clogged sebaceous glands in the skin) is likely to disturb the important, delicate balance of the skin’s normal bacterial community. The solution may be to use an antibody directed specifically against a protein released by the acne-causing bacteria, if  oxygen levels fall below normal in the clogged glands. This approach may neutralize the acne factors and prevent inflammation while leaving the normal bacterial community on the skin undisturbed.

Last not least, physics nerds make a laughing matter of CERN’s latest discovery that neutrinos may travel faster than light, reports Holger Dambeck in Der Spiegel. Our favorite one (true Monty Python style) is as follows: “To reach the other side. Why do neutrinos cross the road?”

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Joining the recent denunciation of personalized medicine in Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), Der Spiegel this week follows suit. Markus Grill and Veronika Hackenbroch cite Dr. Baerbel Huesing, Coordinator of Business Unit Biotechnology and Life Sciences of Fraunhofer ISI, as saying that the concept of personalized medicine is a “battle cry” of public relations: “Whoever invented it needs to be congratulated.” She added: “It is not a paradigm change. There is not that much in it. However, it is very well suited to justify to Jane Doe the enormous investments made in genomics – similar to the teflon-coated frying pan which was used as an excuse for manned space research.” As an example, Grill and Hackenbroch cite a study from 2009 in colon cancer patients, stating that adding Erbitux to the treatment scheme of patients selected by a concomitant Qiagen test resulted in a survival improvement of 4 months: “Is this a medical breakthrough? Is this what  progress looks like, bought by spending billions?” Instead, Grill and Hackenbroch recommend spending money on better care at home and better palliative treatment. The article ends with a quote from Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, head of the clinic for hematology, oncology and tumor immunology at Robert-Roessle-Klinik in Berlin: “Up to date, the concept of personalized medicine is an empty promise in the first place.”

Harro Albrecht and Sven Stockrahm in Die Zeit feature the suspicion expressed by medical doctors and competent authorities in the EU that the flu vaccine Pandemrix might cause narcolepsy, in particular in children and young adults. Already, EMEA issued a recommendation to use Pandemrix in children and adults under 20 in exceptional cases only. While there were only two reported cases of narcolepsy among children in the US, there were more than 300 in the EU, with 70% of those cases coming from Scandinavia. Narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease, predominantly in humans with a certain genetic modification, and the authors feature the theory that the adjuvant used in the vaccine might have induced the disease in these patients. However, the genetic variant known does not have a bigger frequency in Scandinavia.

Sven Stockrahm, also in Die Zeit, features miniature, flexible electronic devices that stick to the skin by physical means. They can be hid by a tattoo motif and are able to measure and transmit physiological data for medical purposes. One company developing these devices is mc10 Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Martina Lenzen-Schulte in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) gives an overview on the arrival of maggot therapy as a means to clean wounds, stating it has become standard therapy in many German clinics already. Maggots not only remove dead tissue and eschar, they also kill bacteria. Therefore, they are increasingly being used in infections with bacteria carrying multiple resistance to antibiotics. However, maggot therapy is not yet approved in Germany (in contrast to the US).

Sebastian Matthes in Wirtschaftswoche interviews Jackie Fenn, analyst at Gartner and co-author of Gartner’s Hype Cycle Report. Fenn forecasts computers with the ability to understand spoken questions and to put out spoken answers as well as printing of organs and arteries.

Roland Fischer in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) looks back at 50 years of the influential Science Citation Index SCI. Originally founded to make the identification of relevant scientific papers easier, it soon became a tool for sociologists of science and led to the birth of scientometry as a new discipline. However, SCI also was used to take quantity for quality, measuring quality of science as number of citations, and it is a well-known episode that in the UK funding of clinical research was cut because preclinical research generates more citations. While this controversy is still ongoing, the taking of quantity for quality is already spilling over into search engines, Fischer describes.

Alex Knapp in Forbes describes a novel approach to broad spectrum antivirals. It is based on a bi-specific drug: one arm binds to double-stranded RNA which is specific for viruses. Once bound, a second arm triggers a mechanism that leads to the destruction of the cell it is in. The experimental drug named DRACO has been successful at eliminating cells infected by 15 different viruses from the common cold to polio in vitro and in vivo (mice).

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Does Germany need more than 500 cancer centers? After attending a meeting of representatives from 10 university cancer centers and the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), Rainer Flöhl in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) is skeptical. While the university cancer centers are similar to the successful Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the US – linking basic and clinical research (which is called “translational research” nowadays), they do not yet provide nationwide cancer care. Therefore, the German Cancer Society supported the adding of further centers: “clinical oncology centers” and “organ centers”. At present, Flöhl writes, the landscape is dominated by organ centers (e.g., 200 each for breast and colon cancer), however they lack a multidisciplinary approach and are hampered by poor documentation standards and poor financing. As a result, patients do not get optimum treatment and many cancer centers may have to close sooner or later.

In Die Zeit, Gianna-Carina Grün is dealing with the aftermaths of the German EHEC epidemic. Not only modern sequencing technology but also a collection of strains played a crucial role in the rapid identification of the EHEC strain. However, Europe does not have comprehensive collections of microbial strains – building such databases is tedious and does not provide for scientific glory in terms of publications and inventions. Grün explains that not lack of funding, but structural deficits in academic and public institutions have prohibited the building of valuable databases so far.

Gert Antes, director of the German Cochrane Center in Freiburg, in Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) introduces the Cochrane library which meanwhile lists 600,000 randomized, controlled clinical studies from all over the world. He also features efforts by the US, Canada and various European countries to provide patients and health care professionals with reliable information distilled from the library. Germany, Antes states, does not invest in any attempts to turn research results into practice and to find what really works in health care. He is also disappointed by the German government´s plans to cut funding of clinical research. Antes’ conclusion: “Germany has never had a role as trailblazer in patient-oriented research, and now it seems it is heralding the end of it.”

Ulrike Gebhardt in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) provides an overview on how immune cells cooperate with cancer cells. As an example, she mentions M2 macrophages which are tricked by a tumor so that they mistake it for a wound. As a result, they start a support program to direct blood vessels and nutrients into the area. In addition, they support cancer cells in forming metastases. The findings, Gebhardt states, may lead to novel ways to cure cancer and to prevent metastasis.

Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (NYT) introduces the latest health-related Apps and gadgets to monitor activities and body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. Joshua Brustein, also in NYT, introduces the latest internet startup prone to change our way of life: Taskrabbit, a market where busy people can hire others to help them with everyday tasks such as picking up groceries, making reservations and assembling IKEA furniture.

Finally, for people who always wanted to know whether they are descendants of Tut Ankh Amon, Swiss iGenea offers an answer. Turn in a swab of your DNA, and if your genes are the closest match to the pharao’s DNA, you get your money back. iGenea’s regular business is genealogical DNA analysis, and the company promises to provide its customers with insights about origins and migrations of their ancestors and information on whether they stem from ancient tribes suchs as vikings, celts or jews. However, as Matthias Glaubrecht explains at length in Die Welt, it is far from being clear that iGenea has obtained the mummy’s full DNA profile, let alone that the DNA derived from the mummy is indeed DNA from the pharaoh and not a contamination. In addition, as Eva Zimmerhof writes in Focus, preliminary tests demonstrate that about 45% of German, 50% off Swiss, and up to 80% of Spanish males are descendants of Tut Ankh Amon.

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