Tag: newsworthy

Newly Discovered Hormone Implicated in Development of Diabetes

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A newly discovered hormone named fabkin helps regulate metabolism and may play an important role in the development of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in Nature.

Fabkin levels were abnormally high in mice and human patients with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and blocking the activity of fabkin prevented the development of both forms of diabetes in the animals. Fabkin likely plays a similar role in humans and the hormone complex could be a promising therapeutic target, according to the researchers.

“For many decades, we have been searching for the signal that communicates the status of energy reserves in adipocytes to generate appropriate endocrine responses, such as the insulin production from pancreatic beta cells,” said senior author Gökhan S. Hotamisligil. “We now have identified fabkin as a novel hormone that controls this critical function through a very unusual molecular mechanism.”

Many hormones are involved in the regulation of metabolism, such as insulin and leptin. Fabkin is different from traditional hormones in that it is not a single molecule with a single defined receptor. Instead, fabkin is composed of a functional protein complex consisting of multiple proteins, including fatty acid binding protein 4 (FABP4), adenosine kinase (ADK) and nucleoside diphosphate kinase (NDPK). Through a series of experiments, the researchers determined that fabkin regulates energy signals outside of cells. These signals then act through a family of receptors to control target cell function. In the case of diabetes, fabkin controls the function of beta cells in the pancreas that are responsible for insulin production.

Hotamisligil and colleagues previously discovered that a protein known as FABP4 is secreted from fat cells during lipolysis, the process in which lipids stored within fat cells are broken down, typically in response to starvation. Since then, many studies showed links between circulating FABP4 and metabolic diseases including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. However, the mechanism of action was unknown.

In the new study, the researchers showed that when FABP4 is secreted from fat cells and enters the bloodstream, it binds with the enzymes NDPK and ADK to form the protein complex now identified as fabkin. In this protein complex, FABP4 modifies the activity of NDPK and ADK to regulate levels of molecules known as ATP and ADP, which are the essential units of energy in biology. The researchers discovered that surface receptors on nearby cells sense the changing ratio of ATP to ADP, triggering the cells to respond to the changing energy status. As such, fabkin is able to regulate the function of these target cells.

The pancreas’ beta cells are a target of fabkin and the hormone is a driving force behind the development of diabetes, the researchers showed. When fabkin in mice was neutralised with an antibody, the animals did not develop diabetes. When the antibody was given to obese, diabetic mice, they reverted to a healthy state.

“The discovery of fabkin required us to take a step back and reconsider our fundamental understanding of how hormones work.” said lead author Kacey Prentice. “I am extremely excited to find a new hormone, but even more so about seeing the long-term implications of this discovery.”

Source: Harvard University

Hydroxychloroquine Effective in Slowing MS

A healthy neuron.
A healthy neuron. Credit: NIH

Promising results for a generic antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, have been seen when used to treat the evolution of disability of primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), the least treatable form of the autoimmune disease.

Research teams led by Dr Marcus Koch, MD, PhD, and Dr Wee Yong, PhD, found that hydroxychloroquine helped to slow the progression of disability during the 18-month study involving participants at the MS clinic in Calgary. The research was published in Annals of Neurology.

“With primary progressive MS, there is no good treatment to stop or reverse the progression of disease. The disability progressively worsens through time,” said Dr Koch. “Dr Yong’s research team, with whom we closely collaborate, has been screening a large number of generic drugs over several years and the results with hydroxychloroquine show some promise. Our trial is a preliminary success that needs further research. We hope sharing these results will help inspire that work, specifically larger scale clinical trials into the future.”

The experimental study followed 35 people, at least 40% of whom, or 14 participants, were expected to experience a significant worsening of their walking function, but at the end of the trial only eight participants had worsened.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malaria medication more commonly used to manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune conditions such as lupus. It was selected as it is use in rheumatological diseases is widespread and is generally well-tolerated.

“Based on research in our lab on models of MS, we predicted that hydroxychloroquine would reduce disability in people living with MS. Calgary has a vibrant bench-to-bedside MS program and the work from Dr Koch’s trial offers further evidence which we were pleased to see,” said Prof Yong.

To date, the cause of MS is unknown. This autoimmune disease generally long-lasting, often affecting the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves in your eyes. It can cause problems with vision, balance and muscle control, although the effects are different for every patient with the disease.

Dr Koch and the research team have been studying the impact of hydroxychloroquine on primary progressive MS for several years and that work continues, including its potential to achieve even greater results as a therapy in combination with select other generic drugs.

Source: EurekAlert!

Long-term Use of RAS Inhibitor Drugs Could Damage Kidneys

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New research is raising concerns that long-term use of renin-angiotensin system (RAS) inhibitor drugs such as ACE inhibitors could be contributing to kidney damage.

The researchers stress that patients should continue taking the medications. But the scientists are urging studies to better understand the drugs’ long-term effects.

“Our studies show that renin-producing cells are responsible for the damage. We are now focusing on understanding how these cells, which are so important to defend us from drops in blood pressure and maintain our well-being, undergo such transformation and induce kidney damage,” said UVA’s Dr Maria Luisa Sequeira Lopez. “What is needed is to identify what substances these cells make that lead to uncontrolled vessel growth.”

A billion people around the world are affected by chronic hypertension. In a study published in JCI Insight, University of Virginia (UVA) researchers were seeking to better understand why severe forms of the condition are often accompanied by atherosclerosis in the kidney, leading to organ damage.

They found that renin cells, which help regulate blood pressure through renin production, play an important role. Harmful changes in the renin cells can cause the cells to invade the walls of the kidney’s blood vessels. The renin cells then trigger a buildup of another cell type, smooth muscle cells, that cause the vessels to thicken and stiffen, resulting in impeded kidney blood flow.

Long-term use of RAS inhibitor drugs, such as ACE inhibitors, or angiotensin receptor blockers, have a similar effect. But the study found that long-term use of the drugs was associated with hardened kidney vessels in both lab mice and humans

The researchers note that the medications can be lifesaving for patients, so they stress the importance of continuing to take them. But they say additional studies are needed to better understand the drugs’ long-term effects on the kidneys.

“It would be important to conduct prospective, randomised controlled studies to determine the extent of functional and tissue damage in patients taking medications for blood pressure control,” said UVA’s Dr Ariel Gomez. “It is imperative to find out what molecules these cells make so that we can counteract them to prevent the damage while the hypertension is treated with the current drugs available today.”

Source: University of Virginia

‘Switching Off’ Over The Holidays is a Good Idea

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Not properly ‘switching off’ and disconnecting from work-related electronic communications can be more than just annoying, it can damage your health, research shows.

Researchers from the University of South Australia surveyed more than 2200 academics and professional staff across 40 Australian universities, and found that employees who responded to work emails and texts out of hours had greater odds of experiencing burnout, psychological distress, and poor physical health.

Researchers found that in 2021:

  • 26% of employees felt that they had to respond to work-related texts, calls, and emails from supervisors during their leisure time;
  • 57% said that they’d sent work-related digital communications to other colleagues in the evenings;
  • 50% reported that they often receive work-related texts, calls and emails from colleagues on the weekend;
  • 36% reported that it was the norm to respond immediately to digital communication in their organisation.

UniSA researcher Dr Amy Zadow says that the expectations for employees to be available 24-7 is putting pressure on workers.

“Since COVID, the digitalisation of work has really skyrocketed, blurring work boundaries, and paving the path for people to be contactable at all hours,” Dr Zadow said.

“But being available to work both day and night limits the opportunity for people to recover – doing things such as exercise and catching up with friends and family – and when there is no recovery period you can start to burn out.

“Our research shows that high levels of out-of-hours work digital communication can have a significant impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, affecting work-family relationships, causing psychological distress, and poor physical health.

“Conversely, workers who kept their work boundaries in check experienced less stress and pressure.”

The study found that those who were expected to respond to after-hours work communications on the weekends reported higher levels of psychological distress (56% vs 42%); emotional exhaustion (61% vs 42%); and poor physical health (28% compared to 10%).

UniSA’s Professor Kurt Lushington said that dealing with work-related stress is becoming increasingly important.

“Managing out-of-hours communications can be challenging, but organisations do have the power to discourage ‘work creep’,” Prof Lushington said.

“Setting up policies, practices and procedures to protect psychological health by developing a strong Psychosocial Safety Climate is likely to limit damaging out-of-hours digital communication. And, on a broader scale, this is already being considered in various Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and National Employment Standards.

“The starting place is measuring work demand so that an organisation can mitigate the risk in the first place. Once they do this, they can develop protective actions that can prevent the development or continuations of harmful workplace norms.

“At the end of the workday, everyone should have the right to disconnect.”

Source: University of South Australia

Apaxiban is an Option in Severe Renal Dysfunction

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The anticoagulation options for patients with concomitant renal impairment are limited and until recently, warfarin was the only recommended option due to insufficient data supporting alternative drugs in such patients. A new study published in Blood Advances suggests that apixaban is a viable option in patients with severe renal dysfunction.

Apixaban in patients with impaired renal function is supported by limited data. Landmark clinical trials evaluating apixaban in patients with atrial fibrillation and/or acute venous thromboembolism excluded patients with creatinine clearance (CrCl) <25 mL/min. 

A multicentre, retrospective chart review was conducted to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of apixaban compared with warfarin in patients with CrCl <25 mL/min. Included patients were newly initiated on apixaban or warfarin for at least 45 days with a CrCl <25 mL/min.

Patients were evaluated for thrombosis and bleeding outcomes six  months following initiation of anticoagulation. The primary outcome was the time to first bleeding or thrombosis event. A total of 128 patients met inclusion criteria in the apixaban group and 733 patients in the warfarin group. 

Time to first bleeding or thrombosis event was significantly different between the apixaban and warfarin groups. After controlling for atrial fibrillation and coronary artery bypass grafting, risk of thrombotic and bleeding events was lower in the apixaban group (hazard ratio 0.47). There was no statistical difference between time to thrombosis (83 days vs 54 days, P = .648), rate of thrombosis (5.5% vs 10.3%, P = .08), time to bleeding (46 days vs 54 days, P = .886), or rate of bleeding (5.5% vs 10.9%, P = .06). The severity of bleeding and thrombotic events was not different between groups. 

The results suggest apixaban may be a reasonable option for patients with severe renal dysfunction despite the known increase in apixaban exposure, the researchers concluded. They add that, “These results add to the growing body of evidence of real-world data that apixaban is a reasonable option for patients with severe renal dysfunction.”

The researchers recommend investigating the use of apixaban in patients with a severe renal dysfunction, especially those on haemodialysis, in order to definitively determine the role of apixaban in this patient population.

Source: Blood Advances

One-sixth of Patients in PICUs Harmed by Medications

One-sixth of children in paediatric intensive care units (PICUs) were harmed by medications, of which most cases were preventable, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Researchers conducted an observational study across three PICUs in England over a three-month period in 2019.

The study included 302 patients and 62 adverse drug events were confirmed. The estimated incidence of adverse drug events were 20.5 per 100 patients, and most were preventable as judged by the expert panel. ADEs were commonly involved with medicines prescribing (46.8%) and caused temporary patient harm (67.7%). 

Medications for the central nervous system (22.6%), infections (20.9%), and the cardiovascular system (19.4%) were commonly implicated with adverse drug events. Analysis revealed that patients who stayed in PICU for seven or more days were more likely to experience an adverse event compared to patients with a shorter stay. 

“This multicentre study is the first of its kind in the UK hospitals, and its findings can guide future remedial interventions to reduce avoidable medication-related harm in this vulnerable patient population,” said lead author Anwar A. Alghamdi, PhD, of the University of Manchester.

Source: Wiley

Should Unvaccinated-by-choice COVID Patients Get Less Priority?

Credit: ATS

A new opinion piece provides an exhaustive examination of the ethics of using hospital resources on unvaccinated-by-choice COVID patients with pneumonia, versus patients with other serious but slower illnesses.

In his article published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, William F. Parker, MD, PhD, looked at cases in which hospitals delayed time-sensitive and medically necessary procedures for vaccinated adults when they were overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients who had severe, life-threatening COVID pneumonia and suggested an ethical framework for triaging these patients.

“These vaccinated patients are directly harmed when hospitals use all their resources to care for the many unvaccinated patients with COVID,” he wrote.  “For example, delaying breast cancer surgery by just four weeks increases the relative risk of death from the disease by 8%.”

Dr Parker argues for a contingency care standard prioritising emergency life-support, regardless of vaccination status, in order to save the most lives.  “Simply rejecting the use of vaccination in prioritisation of medical resources without analysis ignores the very real tradeoffs at play during a pandemic.  The pain and suffering of the vaccinated from deferred medical care require a deeper defense of caring for the unvaccinated.”

Eliminating double standards
He stated: “Even though the vast majority of patients who develop life-threatening COVID pneumonia are unvaccinated, hospitals still have ethical obligations to expand capacity and focus operations on caring for them—even if it means making vaccinated patients wait for important but less urgent care like cancer and heart surgeries.”

“If tertiary care centers turn inward and stop taking transfers of COVID patients from overwhelmed community hospitals, this will result in de facto triage in favor of lower benefit care and cause systematic harm to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated in vulnerable communities,” he adds.  “Hospitals must justify their nonprofit status by accepting transfers and prioritizing life-saving care during a pandemic surge.”

He cited the example of a surge in Los Angeles, when the public health department had to issue an order forcing elite hospitals to stop doing financially lucrative elective procedures and accept patient transfers from community hospitals with ICUs overwhelmed by COVID.

Reciprocity and proportionality
The principle of reciprocity supports a possible tiebreaker role for vaccination status when two patients have equivalent survival benefit from a scarce health care resource. However, a universal exclusion of the unvaccinated from life support during a pandemic surge fails the test of proportionality for reciprocity, according to Dr Parker.

Reciprocity is rewarding one positive action with another. One example of this principle is giving vaccinated people access to sporting or entertainment events that are off limits to the unvaccinated (even if negative for COVID). Proportionality is the principle that ‘payback’ should be proportional to the magnitude of the act.  For example, living kidney donors get moved way up the waitlist- the equivalent of four years of waiting time on dialysis.  This satisfies the proportionality principle.

Dr Parker points out that while the increased relative risk of death of 8% from deferring breast cancer surgery is awful, the absolute increase in risk is only one per 100, and perhaps only one per 200 for a two-week deferral.
“After the surge is over, the hospital can catch up on deferred elective surgeries,” he wrote. “The harm from a coronary artery bypass or cancer surgery delayed two weeks is real, but tiny in comparison to certain death from denying life support for respiratory failure.”

He concluded that: “There is a defensible role for vaccination status in triage as a limited tiebreaker, not as a categorical exclusion, but only in the context of a well-defined and transparent triage algorithm.  Despite the enormous financial pressure to do otherwise, elite academic centres are obligated to prioritise life support for emergency conditions to save as many lives as possible during COVID surges.”    

Source: EurekAlert!

A Surprising Benefit of Dapagliflozin in Patients with Heart Failure

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Dapagliflozin, widely used to treat type 2 diabetes, was shown to improve symptoms and physical limitations in patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, according to clinical trial results reported in Nature Medicine.

Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) occurs when the heart’s lower left chamber is unable to fill with blood properly. The condition accounts for approximately half of all heart failure cases and disproportionally affects older individuals. Patients with HFpEF can experience a host of debilitating symptoms linked to cardiometabolic abnormalities, including physical limitations, impaired cognition and poor quality of life. Life expectancy is also reduced for patients with this diagnosis, with 50% of patients with the diagnosis not expected to survive more than five years.

Finding ways to improve patients’ health and developing or identifying therapeutic interventions that not only reduce hospitalisation but also improve patient survival is key, the researchers said, but at present there are no available treatments that improve patient survival for patients with HFpEF.

Previous studies have shown that sodium glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors – which inhibit SGLT2 receptor proteins produced by the kidneys and are used to treat type 2 diabetes – reduces risk of cardiovascular death and heart failure-related hospitalisation in patients with HFpEF.

For this trial, the researchers measured patient-reported symptoms, physical limitations and function in patients with HFpEF who were taking dapagliflozin, an SGLT2 inhibitor drug.

A total of 324 patients with HFpEF, 56.8% women, were randomised to receive either dapagliflozin or placebo for 12 weeks and at the end of the trial were evaluated using the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire Clinical Summary Score, a measure of heart failure-related health status.
“It’s important to note the percentage of women that were enrolled in this study because usually women are under-enrolled in clinical trials,” pointed out study co-author Professor Sadiya Khan.

Compared to the placebo group, an overall improvement in patient-reported symptoms, physical limitations and exercise function was seen in the dapagliflozin group. Adverse events were also similar between both groups, the authors reported.

“It was definitely surprising and very exciting to see such a stark difference between the treatment group and the placebo group, that there was this clear separation that happened even over a short period of time,” Prof Khan said, adding that next steps will be to investigate dapagliflozin’s precise molecular mechanisms that enable its effectiveness.

Source: Northwestern University

About 1% of Hospitalised COVID Patients Develop Neurological Complications

49-year-old female with past medical history of mitral valve disease and tricuspid valve regurgitation who developed headache followed by cough and fever presented to the ER with right upper eyelid ptosis (drooping). Credit: Radiological Society of North America and Scott H. Faro, M.D.

Approximately one in 100 patients hospitalised with COVID will likely develop complications of the central nervous system, according to a large international study. These can include stroke, haemorrhage, and other potentially fatal complications. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“Much has been written about the overall pulmonary problems related to COVID, but we do not often talk about the other organs that can be affected,” said study lead author Scott H. Faro, MD, FASFNR, professor of radiology and neurology at Thomas Jefferson University. “Our study shows that central nervous system complications represent a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in this devastating pandemic.”

Dr Faro initiated the study after finding that only a small number of cases informed existing literature on central nervous system complications in hospitalised COVID patients.

To build a more complete picture, he and his colleagues analysed nearly 40 000 cases of hospitalised COVID patients, admitted between September 2019 and June 2020. Their average age was 66 years old, and two thirds were men.

Confusion and altered mental status were the most common causes of admission followed by fever. Comorbidities such as hypertension, cardiac disease and diabetes were common.

There were 442 acute neuroimaging findings most likely associated with the viral infection, with central nervous system complications in 1.2% of this large patient group.

“Of all the inpatients who had imaging such as MRI or a CT scan of the brain, the exam was positive approximately 10% of the time,” Dr Faro said. “The incidence of 1.2% means that a little more than one in 100 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID are going to have a brain problem of some sort.”

Ischaemic stroke, with an incidence of 6.2%, was the most common complication, followed by intracranial haemorrhage (3.72%) and encephalitis (0.47%).

A small percentage of unusual findings was uncovered, such as acute disseminating encephalomyelitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, and posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome, a syndrome that mimics many of the symptoms of a stroke.

“It is important to know an accurate incidence of all the major central nervous system complications,” Dr Faro said. “There should probably be a low threshold to order brain imaging for patients with COVID.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Viral RNA Levels Can Predict COVID Mortality

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Viral RNA levels in the blood is a reliable indicator in predicting COVID mortality, according to a study published in Science Advances.

“In our study, we were able to determine which biomarkers are predictors of mortality in the 60 days following the onset of symptoms,” said Université de Montréal medical professor Dr. Daniel Kaufmann, the study’s co-lead author alongside colleagues Nicolas Chomont and Andrés Finzi.

“Thanks to our data, we have successfully developed and validated a statistical model based on one blood biomarker,” viral RNA, Prof Kaufmann said.

Despite advances in COVID management, identifying patients at greater risk of dying of the disease has been difficult. Other studies identified various biomarkers, but assessing so many parameters is not possible in a clinical setting and gets in the way of doctors’ quick clinical decision-making ability.

Using blood samples from 279 patients hospitalised for COVID of differing severity, Kaufmann’s team measured amounts of inflammatory proteins, looking for any that stood out.

At the same time, Chomont’s team measured the amounts of viral RNA and in Finzi’s the levels of antibodies targeting the virus. Samples were collected 11 days after the onset of symptoms and patients were monitored for a minimum of 60 days after that.

The goal: to test the hypothesis that immunological indicators were associated with increased mortality.

“Among all of the biomarkers we evaluated, we showed that the amount of viral RNA in the blood was directly associated with mortality and provided the best predictive response, once our model was adjusted for the age and sex of the patient,” said Elsa Brunet-Ratnasingham, a doctoral student in Kaufmann’s lab and co-first author of the study.

“We even found that including additional biomarkers did not improve predictive quality,” she added.

Prof Kaufmann and Brunet-Ratnasingham tested the model on two independent cohorts of infected patients from Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital (recruited during the first wave of the pandemic) and the CHUM (recruited during the second and third waves).

No matter which hospital the patients were treated at, nor which period of the pandemic they fell into: in all cases, the predictive model worked. Now Prof Kaufmann and his colleagues want to put it to practical use.

“It would be interesting to use the model to monitor patients,” he said, “with the following question in mind: when you administer new treatments that have proven effective, is viral load still a predictive marker of mortality?” 

Source: University of Montreal