Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Atrium Innovations acquires Arizona-based Nutri-Health Supplements

[Source: StockHouse.com] - Quebec-based Atrium Innovations (TSX: T.ATB, Stock Forum) announced Monday morning that it has acquired Nutri-Health Supplements, LLC of Arizona.

Atrium acquired NHS for a first consideration of US$23.9 million, with additional earn-out payments structured based on NHS' 2009 and 2010 EBITDA growth, says the company.
NHS owns proprietary Multi-Probiotic blends which include 16 probiotic strains that are “matrix encapsulated to survive stomach acid and deliver a high concentration of active cell cultures per capsule,” says Atrium.

"Buying Nutri-Health marks our first acquisition into the DTC segment with a company aligned with our values and objectives. NHS allows us to acquire complementary expertise in this market segment in which we had a limited business presence until now. This opens the door to promising, synergistic development opportunities within Atrium," said Pierre Fitzgibbon, president and chief executive officer of Atrium.

Atrium develops, manufactures and markets products for the health and nutrition industries. NHS markets, via multi-channel distribution, specialty niche products endorsed by health professionals.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Breast Cancer: Diet High In Vegetables, Fruit And Fiber May Cut Risk Of Cancer Recurrence In Women Without Hot Flashes

[Source: ScienceDaily ] - A secondary analysis of a large, multicenter clinical trial has shown that a diet loaded with fruits, vegetables and fiber and somewhat lower in fat compared to standard federal dietary recommendations cuts the risk of recurrence in a subgroup of early-stage breast cancer survivors – women who didn't have hot flashes – by approximately 31 percent. These patients typically have higher recurrence and lower survival rates than breast cancer patients who have hot flashes.

The study team, led by researchers at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, along with six other sites, including the University of California, Davis, reported its results online December 15, 2008, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The results come on the heels of a report last year on the findings of the original study, the Women's Healthy Eating and Living Trial (WHEL), which compared the effects of the two diets on cancer recurrence in more than 3,000 early-stage breast cancer survivors. That study showed no overall difference in recurrence among the two diet groups.

"Women with early stage breast cancer who have hot flashes have better survival and lower recurrence rates than women who don't have hot flashes," said Ellen B. Gold, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences and first author of the study. "Our results suggest that a major change in diet may help overcome the difference in prognosis between women with and without hot flashes."

"Our interest in looking at this subgroup came because hot flashes are associated with lower circulating estrogen levels, while the absence of hot flashes is associated with higher estrogen levels. Reducing the effect of estrogen is a major treatment strategy in breast cancer," said the WHEL study principal investigator John P. Pierce, Ph.D., Sam M. Walton Professor for Cancer Prevention and director of Cancer Prevention and Control at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Moores UCSD Cancer Center. "It appears that a dietary pattern high in fruits, vegetables and fiber, which has been shown to reduce circulating estrogen levels, may only be important among women with circulating estrogen levels above a certain threshold."

About 30 percent of the original group of 3,088 breast cancer survivors did not report hot flashes at study entry. The women had been randomly assigned to one of the two diets between 1995 and 2000 and were followed until 2006. About one-half (447) of the "no hot flashes" group were randomized to the special, "intervention" high-vegetable fruit diet while the other half (453) was given the generally recommended diet of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The team found that those on the intervention diet had a significantly lower rate of a second breast cancer event (16.1 percent) compared to those eating the government-recommended five-a-day dietary pattern (23.6 percent).

The dietary effect was even larger (a 47 percent lower risk) in women who had been through menopause.

According to Pierce, another possible mechanism has been proposed recently for why this diet may have affected only 30 percent of the WHEL study population. Women with estrogen receptor-positive cancers usually receive hormone therapy (tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors) aimed at combating the effect of circulating estrogen. However, more than 30 percent of these women appear to have a gene-drug interaction that prevents them from getting an effective dose of this therapy.

"This hypothesis says that if the endocrine therapy is working, no further reduction in estrogen levels would be needed," said Pierce. "If your genes are preventing you from getting a therapeutic dose, then following this rigorous dietary pattern may reduce estrogen levels enough to reduce risk." Because this is speculation, he said, the research team will be using biological samples collected throughout the study to further investigate the mechanisms behind the study diet's protective effects.

Other co-authors include: Cheryl Rock, Ph.D., Barbara Parker, M.D., Lisa Madlensky, Ph.D., Loki Natarajan, Ph.D., Linda Wasserman, M.D., Vicky Jones, M.D., Gail Laughlin, Ph.D., Nazmus Saquib M.D., Ph.D., Sheila Kealey MPH, Shirley Flatt, Jennifer Emond and Minya Pu, UCSD; Joanne Mortimer, M.D., City of Hope; Marcia Stefanek, Ph.D., Stanford University; Bette Caan, Dr.P.H, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Cynthia Thomson, Ph.D., University of Arizona, Njeri Karanja, Ph.D., Kaiser Permanente, Portland, OR; Richard Hajek, Ph.D., M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The Gold Standard: Nanoparticles Used To Make 3-D DNA Nanotubes

[Source: ScienceDaily ] - Arizona State University researchers Hao Yan and Yan Liu imagine and assemble intricate structures on a scale almost unfathomably small. Their medium is the double-helical DNA molecule, a versatile building material offering near limitless construction potential.

In the January 2, 2009 issue of Science, Yan and Liu, researchers at ASU's Biodesign Institute and faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, reveal for the first time the three-dimensional character of DNA nanotubules, rings and spirals, each a few hundred thousandths the diameter of a human hair. These DNA nanotubes and other synthetic nanostructures may soon find their way into a new generation of ultra-tiny electronic and biomedical innovations.

Yan and Liu are working in the rapidly proliferating field of structural DNA nanotechnology. By copying a page from nature's guidebook, they capitalize on the DNA molecule's remarkable properties of self-assembly. When ribbonlike strands of the molecule are brought together, they fasten to each other like strips of Velcro, according to simple rules governing the pairing of their four chemical bases, (labeled A, C, T and G). From this meager alphabet, nature has wrung a mind-bending multiplicity of forms. DNA accomplishes this through the cellular synthesis of structural proteins, coded for by specific sequences of the bases. Such proteins are fundamental constituents of living matter, forming cell walls, vessels, tissues and organs. But DNA itself can also form stable architectural structures, and may be artificially cajoled into doing so.

In his research, Yan has been much inspired by nanoscale ingenuity in the natural world: "Unicellular creatures like oceanic diatoms," he points out, "contain self-assembled protein architectures." These diverse forms of enormous delicacy and organismic practicality are frequently the result of the orchestrated self-assembly of both organic and inorganic material.
Scientists in the field of structural DNA nanotechnology, including Dr. Yan's team, have previously demonstrated that pre-fab DNA elements could be induced to self-assemble, forming useful nanostructural platforms or "tiles." Such tiles are able to snap together—with jigsaw puzzle-piece specificity—through base pairing, forming larger arrays.

Yan and Liu's work in Science responds to one of the fundamental challenges in nanotechnology and materials science, the construction of molecular-level forms in three dimensions. To do so, the team uses gold nanoparticles, which can be placed on single-stranded DNA, compelling these flexible molecular tile arrays to bend away from the nanoparticles, curling into closed loops or forming spring-like spirals or nested rings, roughly 30 to 180 nanometers in diameter.

The gold nanoparticles, which coerce DNA strands to arc back on themselves, produce a force known as "steric hindrance," whose magnitude depends on the size of particle used. Using this steric hindrance, Yan and Liu have shown for the first time that DNA nanotubules can be specifically directed to curl into closed rings with high yield.

When 5 nanometer gold particles were used, a milder steric hindrance directed the DNA tiles to curl up and join complementary neighboring segments, often forming spirals of varying diameter in addition to closed rings. A 10 nanometer gold particle however, exerted greater steric hindrance, directing a more tightly constrained curling which, produced mostly closed tubules. Yan stresses that the particle not only participates in the self-assembly process as the directed material, but also as an active agent, inducing and guiding formation of the nanotube.

With the assistance of Anchi Cheng and Jonanthan Brownell at the Scripps Research Institute, they have used an imaging technique known as electron cryotomography to provide the first glimpses of the elusive 3-D architecture of DNA nanotubules. "You quickly freeze the sample in vitreous ice," he explains, describing the process. "This will preserve the native conformation of the structure." Subsequent imaging at various tilted angles allows the reconstruction of the three-dimensional nanostructure, with the gold particles providing enough electron density for crisp visualization.

DNA nanotubules will soon be ready to join their carbon nanotube cousins, providing flexible, resilient and manipulatable structures at the molecular level. Extending control over 3-D architectures will lay the foundation for future applications in photometry, photovoltaics, touch screen and flexible displays, as well as for far-reaching biomedical advancements.

"The ability to build three-dimensional structures through self-assembly is really exciting, " Yan says. "It's massively parallel. You can simultaneously produce millions or trillions of copies."
Yan and Liu believe that controlled tubular nanostructures bearing nanoparticles may be applied to the design of electrical channels for cell-cell communication or used in the construction of various nanoelectrical devices.

Arizona Health Query Uses SAS® to Create a Unique Community Health Data System

[Source: Business Wire] - A model collaboration between academia and the healthcare community is benefiting Arizona communities and citizens, thanks to advanced analytics software from business analytics leader SAS. The Arizona Health Query database (AZHQ) is using SAS® software to integrate and analyze millions of anonymized healthcare records. Analyzing data over time and across health systems, researchers identify specific community health needs, inform public policy and, ultimately, lower costs.

Created by Arizona State University’s Center for Health Information and Research (CHiR), AZHQ consolidates health information from dozens of healthcare organizations in Arizona to form a community health data system. Previously, patient data was spread across different healthcare providers, which hindered effective research of community health issues. With more than 40 data partners, including the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) – the state’s Medicaid system – that is no longer an issue.

“With the participation of many public and private healthcare data partners, we’re able to apply SAS data integration and analytics capabilities to track patients over time and location, and identify trends and patterns in healthcare within and across communities,” said Wade Bannister, creator of the AZHQ database and Associate Director for CHiR.

Researchers have also used AZHQ to analyze health disparities in Hispanic and non-Hispanic children, the evolution of Valley fever, asthma patterns in Arizona, and the efficacy of hospitals in serving the needy. It has also been used to conduct community health assessments.

A good example of how AZHQ is affecting community health is the program’s study of MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics. By tracking the disease’s spread by zip code, researchers were able to postulate how and why it was spreading.

Since its inception, AZHQ has consolidated data on 9 million people and 200 million healthcare encounters, pulling data from more than 60 healthcare delivery institutions, including hospitals, insurers and employers. Patient privacy is paramount; AZHQ complies with HIPAA regulations and is regularly audited to ensure continuing compliance. AZHQ received the university’s President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness in 2005 and 2008.

SAS predictive analytics present an opportunity for cost savings, according to William Johnson, who founded AZHQ and directs CHiR. Using SAS, he and fellow researchers analyzed AHCCCS data to develop a model that predicts risk associated with future high-cost Medicaid users.
“By assessing risk factors and predicting costs of patient care years in advance, steps can be taken to alleviate costs through intervention and more informed budget decisions,” said Johnson.

“The breadth of data in the system makes it unique in the US,” said Johnson. “With the advanced research capabilities we have, we’re confident our partnership with the community impacts Arizona healthcare in a very positive way.”

Blind man "sees," cruising through obstacle course without a hitch

[Source Scientific American, Coco Ballantyne ] - A man left totally blind by a massive stroke navigated a complex maze of boxes, chairs and other objects without stumbling or colliding into any of the obstacles.

Brain scans showed that after suffering two consecutive strokes, the man, 56, lost all function in his visual cortex, the brain's primary vision-processing center. But despite the loss, an international research team (from the U.S. and five other countries) reports in the journal Current Biology that "he could successfully navigate down the extent of a long corridor in which various barriers were placed."

Neuroscientists call this ability blindsight. People with blindsight, "usually tell you that they cannot see a thing…. They cannot consciously see but they have some type of awareness," says Susana Martinez-Conde, a neuroscientist at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. For instance, she notes, they will correctly guess the number on flashcards more than 50 percent of the time even though their eyesight is shot.

In a person with normal vision, information is passed from the retina (light sensitive area at the back of the eyes) to the visual cortex (the brain's vision center), which relays it to other brain processing areas such as the posterior parietal cortex. In this man's case, the retinas worked perfectly well, but the information highway to the brain was blocked at the visual cortex.

This means that the man must have been using alternative pathways (that bypassed the visual cortex) to connect to the other brain processing regions, Martinez-Conde says, noting that most people likely have these alternate routes but don't rely on them because the dominant visual cortex pathway functions properly.

This study is not the first to document blightsightness, but it is first to describe the phenomenon in a patient who had suffered destruction of the visual cortex in both hemispheres of the brain, according to Nature News.

Over the past several years, scientists have identified brain circuits that may serve as alternative routes, but have yet to pinpoint which ones enable blindsightness, and exactly how they function. But Martinez-Conde says that a combo of electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain over time, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which shows blood flow to areas of the brain that are active, may shed light on these circuits.