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The East African : Aug 16th 2015
36 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK AUGUST 15-21,2015 S CI E N C E fering from chronic pancreatitis had significantly lower levels than cancer patients. When combined, the three proteins formed a robust panel that can detect patients with stages I-II pancreatic cancer with over 90 per cent accuracy. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is the lowest of any common cancer, standing at 3 per cent. This figure has barely improved in 40 years. There is no early diagnostic test available. “We’ve always been keen to de- velop a diagnostic test in urine as it has several advantages over using blood. It’s an inert and far less complex fluid than blood and can be repeatedly and non-invasively tested,” said Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic, the study lead researcher. Although there is no universal People at higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer include heavy smokers, the obese and people over 50 years with new-onset diabetes. Picture: File Urine test could tell cancer of pancreas in early stages A combination of some th≥ee p≥oteins can give ove≥ 90pc accu≥ate ≥esults, scientists say By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent A combination of three proteins found in high levels in urine can accurately detect early-stage pancreatic cancer, according to a new study. The discovery could lead to a non- invasive, inexpensive test to screen people at high risk of developing the disease. Researchers at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, found that the threeprotein “signature” can both identify the most common form of pancreatic cancer when still in its early stages and distinguish between this cancer and the inflammatory condi- tion chronic pancreatitis, which can be hard to tell apart. With few specific symptoms even at a later stage of the disease, more than 80 per cent of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed when it has already spread. This means they are not eligible for surgery to remove the tumour — currently the only potentially curative treatment. The study, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research looked at 488 urine samples: 192 from patients known to have pancreatic cancer, 92 from patients with chronic pancreatitis and 87 from healthy volunteers. A further 117 samples from patients with other benign and malignant liver and gall bladder conditions were used for further validation. Around 1,500 proteins were found in the urine samples, with approximately half being common to both male and female volunteers. Of these, three proteins — LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 — were selected for closer examination, based on biological information and performance in statistical analysis. Patients with pancreatic cancer were found to have increased levels of each of the three proteins when compared with urine samples from healthy patients, while patients suf- With few specific symptoms, more than 80pc of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed when it has already spread. cause of pancreatic cancer, people at higher risk of developing the disease include those with a family history of pancreatic cancer, heavy smokers, the obese and people over 50 years with new-onset diabetes. By examining samples from donors who went on to develop pancreatic cancer, this “longitudinal” information will allow the researchers to see if the 3-biomarker signature is present during the latency period — the time between the genetic changes that will cause the cancer to develop and the clinical presentation. “For a cancer with no early stage symptoms, it’s a huge challenge to diagnose pancreatic cancer sooner, but if we can, then we can make a big difference to survival rates,” said co-author and director of Barts Cancer Institute, Nick Lemoine. “With pancreatic cancer, patients are usually diagnosed when it is already at a terminal stage; if diagnosed at stage 2, the survival rate is 20 per cent, and at stage 1, the survival rate for patients with very small tumours can increase up to 60 per cent.” He added: “Early diagnosis is an important part of our overall efforts against this aggressive cancer, alongside developing new treatments to tackle the disease once diagnosis is made.” Health ca≥e expe≥ts seeking bette≥ access to mo≥phine By EVELYN LIRRI Special correspondent TERMINALLY ILL patients in Uganda and medical experts are pushing for increased access to morphine, a narcotic used to relieve moderate to severe pain. The World Health Organisation recommends it for patients with life-threatening and terminal illnesses such as cancer, HIV/Aids, diabetes, sickle cell, late-stage kidney and liver disease. It is usually given as part of palliative care services, but only 10 per cent of terminally ill patients in Uganda have access pain management care including oral morphine and palliative care, according to the Health Ministry. “This is a challenge we need to address,” said Dr Jacinto Amandua, the commissioner for clinical services at the ministry. Dr Fred Sebisubi, a senior palliative care spe- cialist and pharmacist at the Health Ministry, said that the uptake of palliative care services remains low due to lack of awareness and support from policy makers. An estimated 700,000 to 1.5 million people, areas, still cannot get the drug,” said Ms Kiwanuka, The health workers administer morphine at health facilities, and train patients in how to self administer so that they can continue usage when they return home. “It is taken regularly after every four hours to ensure that the pain is kept under control all the time,” said Ms Kiwanuka.” So far adherence is 100 per cent because the patients don’t want to experience pain.” Dr Samuel Guma, the president of the pallia- Morphine drugs. In Uganda, only 10 per cent of terminally ill patients can access pain management care Picture: File mostly those living with cancer and HIV, need palliative care, according to the ministry. The country director of the Uganda Pallia- tive Care Association Rose Kiwanuka, said that there are over 200 qualified specialists and clinical care providers in different parts of the country who have helped to increase access to and use of oral morphine. “However, many people, especially in rural tive care association said for people with terminal illnesses, palliative care should be promoted as a crucial part of treatment. “Health workers should be made aware that if they have patients suffering from pain and they don’t do anything about it, they are violating the rights of those patients,” said Dr Guma. . A national policy on palliative care is current- ly in the offing and one of its key provisions is to make morphine available to all patients who need it in the country. The policy will also ensure that palliative care is integrated into the health care system. BRIEFS Cancer drug could flush HIV out of body - study HIV can be flushed out of its hiding places in the body using a cancer drug, researchers claim. The cornerstone of treatment, anti-retroviral therapy, kills the virus in the bloodstream but leaves “HIV reservoirs” untouched. The study, published in PLoS Pathogens, showed the drug was “highly potent” at reactivating hidden HIV. Experts said the findings were interesting, but it was important to know if the drug was safe in patients. Ebola crisis: West Africa not out of the woods yet The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the three West African countries at the centre of the Ebola epidemic are not yet out of the woods, despite a sharp reduction in new cases. In a statement, the director of CDC Dr Thomas R. Frieden, said African countries needed to borrow a leaf from East Africa in the rapid response to Ebola that was the key to ending the outbreak. In its latest situation report on the Ebola epidemic, the World Health Organisation recorded the lowest weekly number of new cases last week — seven. An Ebola campaign poster in Monrovia. Pic: AFP Loss of key receptor to blame for brain disorders The loss of a critical receptor in a special class of inhibitory neurons in the brain may be responsible for disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, according to new research by Salk scientists. The researchers found that without this receptor, called mGluR5 in the parvalbumin cells, there were many serious behavioural deficits. The results suggest that an alteration in mGluR5 receptors in these brain cells may be a critical step in the formation of some neurodevelopmental disorders. US agency gives nod to making of 3D-printed pill The US Food and Drug Administration has given the green light for a 3D-printed pill to be produced. The FDA has previously approved medical devices — including prosthetics — that have been 3D-printed. The new drug, dubbed Spritam, was developed by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals to control seizures brought on by epilepsy. Printing the drugs allows layers of medication to be packaged more tightly in precise dosages. A separate technology developed by the firm, known as ZipDose, makes high-dose medications easier to swallow.
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