New hope in Sars fight


  • Health
  • Wednesday, 10 Aug 2005

China has approved a new vaccine for the pneumonia-like disease Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) to go through human trials, state media reported . 

The vaccine, developed by a Beijing-based inspection and quarantine body, was created in October and is undergoing clinical trials, the China Daily said. 

Tests on monkeys at Wuhan University in central China’s Hubei province proved successful, an official with the Beijing Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau said.  

The official claimed antibodies were found in the animals injected with the vaccine, and none of them developed symptoms of the deadly disease. 

He said the vaccine could be produced in large quantities and had a longer shelf life than other existing vaccines which could enable it to prevent an outbreak more effectively. 

“Our vaccine could be good for three years before it is injected into people,” he said. 

Another vaccine was meanwhile ready for a second phase of human trials. 

Zhong Nanshan, president of the Chinese Medical Association, said last month that scientists in Beijing would test the effectiveness of the vaccine produced by a Beijing-based company among volunteers aged 20 to 60. 

Initial trials involving 36 volunteers in Beijing found antibodies against the disease developed in all volunteers, without obvious side effects. 

Help from mother’s milk 

A team of American and Czech scientists has found that an ingredient in the milk of humans, cows and rats could be a key to preventing and treating breast cancer. 

In addition, the team reported that their research into controlling the cellular ingredient “procathepsin D” could help in the fight against ovarian and prostate cancer. 

Czech Academy of Sciences researcher Vaclav Vetvicka and colleagues from the University of Louisville spent the past 10 years experimenting with procathepsin D and its relative cathepsin D. These are molecules called peptides which are found inside cells and are controlled by hormones. 

While searching for a link between procathepsin D and cancer, they found that peptide is secreted by a cancerous cell and then apparently interacts with proteins swimming in the area between cells in ways that can help cancer spread. 

“This interaction leads to the release of a signal resulting in faster growth and division of both parent and surrounding cancer cells,” the researchers wrote. 

The researchers reported finding an “activation peptide” that influences the overproduction and secretion of procathepsin D. This led to their conclusion that inhibiting procathepsin D could stop cancer from spreading. 

The report included two suggestions for cancer treatment and prevention: immunizing a person with antibodies that recognize and “bind” procathepsin D so that it cannot help cancer spread; or using gene therapy to inhibit the body’s production of procathepsin D. 

The research builds on earlier studies which suggested that women who breastfeed and those who were breastfed apparently have a lower risk of developing cancer. 

Since procathepsin D is found in mother’s milk, as well as in the milk of cows and rats, the researchers theorized that it may play a role in naturally immunizing a woman against cancer. 

The fact that the peptide is hormone-controlled also led the scientists to theorise that it “probably” could be used against ovarian cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.  

New source of stem cells 

Scientists looking for easier and less-controversial alternatives to stem cells from human embryos said they found a potential source in placentas saved during childbirth. They described primitive cells found in a part of the placenta called the amnion, which they coaxed into forming a variety of cell types and which look very similar to sought-after embryonic stem cells. – Sources: Reuters, dpa, AFP

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