Archive for March 13th, 2009

A Full Head of Hair and No Cancer

March 13th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Am. Urological Assoc., Washington Post

Finasteride cuts the risk of developing prostate cancer by 25%. Yes, that finasteride, the stuff millions of guys use to stop hair loss and pee like a garden hose!

yeababy!The heartening news derives from a final analysis of the Prostate Cancer Prevention trial, a multicenter prospective randomized study of 19,000 men.

The survival benefit had actually been reported years ago, but at the time it was bundled with the disquieting news that finasteride seemed to cause an uptick in more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

But now it’s official and strange though it may seem, the apparent negative association turned out to be a manifestation of yet another benefit of finsateride–it facilitates diagnosis of the more virulent cases.

“The goal of developing a chemo-preventive agent that can reduce the risk of prostate cancer has been achieved, and that is…major,” NIH Barnett Kramer told the Washington Post.

In fact based on the newly interpreted findings, Kramer-led guidelines development teams at the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Urological Association co-released statements encouraging men that normally get screened for prostate cancer to speak to their physicians about the matter.

waittillyahearthisThe guidelines stopped short of recommending that guys should take the drug.

A call like that would precipitate ten million  finasteride prescriptions in the blink of an eye.

That would be a windfall for Merck but it may not be cost-effective from a societal perspective.

Roughly 71 men would have to take the drug for 7 years in order to prevent one case of prostate cancer.  That’s a lot of exposure to potential side effects which, although rare and reversible, include impotence and decreased libido.

And since finasteride can run 3 bucks a day, it would cost $500,000 for each “prevented” case of prostate cancer, a high figure since in many cases the disease is rather indolent.

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About Facebook

March 13th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: FindLaw, PCWorld, Wall Street Journal

Responding to a hundred thousand howls and narrowly heading-off the filing of a formal complaint with the FTC by privacy advocates, Facebook announced last week it had pulled the plug on changes it proposed to make to its Terms of Service.

facebookfolliesWithout properly notifying users, Facebook tried to amend its TOS in a way that gave the burgeoning social network perpetual rights to use member content for commercial gain, even after a user Xed out an account deleting all content in the process.

Facebook introduced the changes via an early February post by its General Council on the company blog.

Few people noticed until Consumerist.com posted this gem on its blog: “Facebook’s New Terms of Service: ‘We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.’”

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg initially defended the policy shift.

Then he heard that the plan wasn’t sitting well with Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

When asked by Facebook reps, Rotenberg disclosed he had prepared a legal brief against the company and was one keystroke away from emailing it to the Feds.

An hour later Facebook called back to say it was dropping the changes. 

Several days later, Facebook turned the situation around by revealing plans for an open governance system in which Facebook users could comment and vote on the site’s policies regarding the management of personal information.

that'smyfriend'slist“As people share more information on…Facebook, a new relationship is created,” Zuckerberg concluded.

“The past week reminded us that users feel a real sense of ownership over Facebook itself, not just the information they share.”

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Flu’s Achilles Heel

March 13th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Boston Globe, MedPageToday, Nature

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the CDC have produced monoclonal antibodies that can destroy most strains of flu virus, a new line of attack that promises to overcome the virus’ maddening ability to mutate and thus fool today’s vaccines.

offwithit'sheadSuch antibodies “could provide broad protection against all seasonal and pandemic influenza A viruses,” according to Wayne Marasco of Harvard Medical School and colleagues.

The potion targets the flu virus near its base, a region that turns out to be genetically stable.

The base mediates viral entry into cells, Marasco’s team wrote in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Today’s vaccines stimulate antibody production against the viral head, a region that demonstrates extraordinary genetic polymorphism. That’s why flu vaccines are useless after one year at best and queueing-up for a jab has become an annual ritual for millions.

Coauthor Ruben Donis of the CDC is confident his group has flu by the short hairs, pointing out to MedpageToday that “By mutating (at the base, the flu virus) commits suicide.” 

The monoclonal antibodies appear to work against multiple strains of flu, including H5N1 avian flu and the H1N1 Spanish flu strain that killed 50 million people in 1918.

They also were shown to prevent flu symptoms in animals even when given 24 hours after exposure to flu virus, so long as they’re given in higher but “achievable” doses, according to the scientists.

The next step is to see whether the antibodies work in ferrets, which strangely enough have immunologic responses to flu virus more like humans than any other species.

Clinical trials could begin in 2 years.
 
The Dana-Farber holds patents on the discovery of the static region and the monoclonal antibodies against it.

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