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Friday, June 4, 2010

Edition 20: Love Earphones , hear this

Love Earphones? Hear This!
Young people who listen to personal music players for several hours a day at high volume could imperil their hearing, an expert warns.
Peter Rabinowitz, professor at Yale University School of Medicine, says music devices like the MP3 players can generate levels of sound in excess of 120 decibels, almost as intense as a jet engine, especially when used with earphones that insert into the ear canal.
The use of these devices is high in young people - more than 90 percent in surveys from Europe and the US - and 'has grown faster than our ability to assess their potential health consequences,' he writes.
However, evidence that music players are causing hearing loss in young people is mixed, suggesting that the true effects may only now be starting to be detectable, says the author.
Other health effects may also need to be considered. For example, some studies have shown that use of personal music players can interfere with concentration and performance while driving, in a similar way to mobile phones.
Rabinowitz believes that the importance of hearing loss as a public health problem makes it reasonable to encourage patients of all ages to promote 'hearing health' through avoidance of excessive noise exposure, a Yale release says.
'Personal music players provide a reminder that our hunger for new technology should be accompanied by equally vigorous efforts to understand and manage the health consequences of changing lifestyles,' he concludes.
The write-up was published in the British Medical Journal.
Some Hope For Treatment On Cancer
Cancer researchers in Berlin are working on a genome sequencing project. It promises an individualized approach to a disease that still defies complete medical comprehension.

With almost half a million people in Germany expected to fall prey to cancer this year, some 1,800 of them under the age of 15, scientists at Berlin's Charité hospital are working on a new form of treatment. They hope it will help transform cancer into a chronic rather than a fatal illness.

They are beginning to understand that each tumor -- an accumulation of genetic mutations -- has its own genetic makeup. And as Reinhold Schafer, deputy director of the Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center in Berlin explained, in keeping with that discovery, they are now working on personalized approach for individual patients.
"We are beginning to understand that a cancer genome carries many more mutations than we would have anticipated," he told Deutsche Welle. "So far we are dealing with a handful of mutations, so called driver mutations, which drive the onset and are also responsible for the maintenance of the cancer phenotype."

Impotent Mix
As things stand, cancer patients can expect to be treated with a concoction of different and expensive drugs, some of which will have absolutely no effect on certain tumors, but which will do serious harm to other tissues in a given patient's body.
That is where genome sequencing technology comes in. As it becomes less expensive and more accessible, the potential for an individualized approach to cancer treatment is becoming a reality. And that is good news for Schafer and his colleagues on the Treat1000 project, which plans to do as its name suggests.
"The idea is to use deep sequencing technology to comprehensively assess the cancer genomes of these thousand patients and to compare the cancer genomes with a constitutive situation in order to find out which are the cancer-specific molecular alterations in these patients."
Conventional cancer medicine has focused on driver mutations, which are a kind of common denominator between cancers of the same type. Schafer, however, is exploring "passenger mutations," which are unique to each patient.
"There's a bunch - hundreds, thousands - of mutations that occur in cancer patients, and so far we don't have any idea what they are doing at the functional level, but they are there."

Bar code for cancer
The researcher describes the combination of passenger mutations as an "individual bar code" for cancer. As personalized treatment becomes more advanced, oncologists will be able to target specific mutations with combinations of drugs they know have a high probability of working.
Hans Lehrach, head of Vertebrate Genomics at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, says using computer modeling makes it possible to sort through thousands of drug candidates in search of a combination which can combat a tumor while minimizing damage to a patients' overall health.
The procedure requires researchers to take DNA samples from patients' blood and tumor and decode the genetic information of both.
"We can combine that with the results from decades of cancer research which has given us a very large amount of information on the pathways which connect the different components we see in the sequencing," Lehrach told Deutsche Welle.
Scientific evolution
Improvements in genome sequencing technology have made Treat1000 a viable project. It currently takes Lehrach and his team about 10 days to sequence a human genome. By comparison, the original Human Genome Project took from 1990 to 2003 to first identify and sequence human DNA. But both science and technology have moved on since then.
"We can try the wrong treatment thousands of times on the computer model but before we go to the patient we should be very sure that whatever we do will help the patient, it will not have any unacceptable side effects," Lehrach said.
Lehrach hopes an individualized approach to cancer treatment would enable doctors to respond to changes in tumors and better control them. But personalized medicine doesn't only have the potential to change the fates of cancer patients, it is also likely to drastically change the way clinical trials of drugs are conducted.
More personal all-round
Clinical trials aren't currently stratified by the genetic profiles of their participants. Patients suffering from the same tumor all receive identical treatments, a practice which may have caused research on some drugs to be discontinued on account of their apparently low rate of effectiveness.
However those drugs may be highly effective if tested on a subset of patients who share similarities in their 'bar code' of passenger mutations. And that, says Schafer, means the cancer battle of the future will become about tailoring treatments to the genetic profiles of individual patients.
"Some people even believe it's the big revolution in medicine, but time will tell," Schafer said. "I guess it's more or less a series of little revolutions, little progress, but steady progress. Hopefully."

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