Hello BMSA readers! We’re one month into the winter semester. We hope you enjoy the selection of articles we’ve hand-picked for January 2022. Keep pushing Mustangs!
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He calls himself a doctor and promises to cure cancer. Critics say he's profiting from misinformation https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/marketplace-darrell-wolfe-investigation-1.6718608 Grace Sebulsky
Over 20 years ago, Darrell Wolfe, a self proclaimed doctor of natural medicine - a degree which is not recognized by any university in Canada - was exposed for selling fake AIDS cures. He has now been caught claiming he has the one-time cure for all forms of cancer. According to Wolfe, cancer or any other disease is simply a result of corrupted emotions, which all stems from self-hatred. This Doc of Detox, or so he calls himself, has set up his practice in Ixtapa, Mexico while still advertising his services to Canadian and American clientele. Jacob Shelley, a health law professor at the university, commented to CBC, “He's not actually providing medical care. He's selling a story to try to line his own pockets…. It's preying upon people's hope”. As a last resort, people have turned to Wolfe, expending large sums of money on unproven remedies in the hope that their illnesses would be cured. Unfortunately, not only have the treatments been ineffective and costly, they have also inflicted unnecessary physical suffering on the patients. Aside from the financial costs and the potential risks from Wolfe’s treatment, it is also detrimental to patient care in that it removes patients from a setting where they’re being treated by medical professionals using proven solutions. Albeit one is entitled to caring for themselves however best they see fit, Wolfe’s treatments are taking advantage of those unbeknown to the harms. The Ministry of Health of British Columbia is “[encouraging] the public to contact the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons to file a complaint if they believe they have fallen victim to a fraudulent medical professional” according to an email statement sent to CBC.
Why do researchers think a cough medicine could help treat Parkinson's?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder impacted by both genetic and environmental factors. One common trait of patients with Parkinson’s is the reduced activity of an enzyme called glucocerebrosidase (GCase). This reduced activity of GCase appears in both patients with and without a mutation in GBA1, a common known genetic risk factor for the development of Parkinson’s disease. In 2009, a study reported that ambroxol increased levels of GCase in patients with Gaucher Disease. Ambroxol is a cough medicine that is typically used to thin and break down phlegm to clear congestion. While it is used in over 50 countries and is generally considered a safe drug, it is not approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Due to this study, researchers began to view ambroxol as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s.
A previous phase 2 clinical trial of ambroxol resulted in a 35% increase in levels of GCase in participants with Parkinson’s who received escalating doses of ambroxol over a 186-day period. The researchers also found that the drug successfully crossed the blood-brain barrier. Participants reported no adverse effects during the study. In the upcoming phase 3 clinical trial, 330 participants with Parkinson’s will take ambroxol daily for two years. Participants include those with and without mutations in the GBA1 gene. This study will help determine whether ambroxol could slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Currently, the researchers are trying to recruit participants and complete the trial quickly so that they can produce results as early as possible. For now, it is not advised for people to take ambroxol, as it may lead to side effects that can contribute to falls in some people with Parkinson’s disease.
FDA approves new Alzheimer’s drug that appears to slow progression of disease
Although Alzheimer’s disease is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the US, most FDA-approved drugs focus on alleviating the symptoms. Recently, the FDA approved a drug known as lecanemab (or Leqembi, the name it will be sold under), which slowed cognitive decline in patients during the early stages of Alzheimer’s in a clinical trial. The drug is a monoclonal antibody infusion, and it will need to be administered every two weeks. Unfortunately, it’s not a cure for the disease, but research shows that it slows the progression by removing beta-amyloid plaques from the brain. As of September 2022, Eisai and Biogen, the company that developed lecanemab, completed phase 3 of their clinical trial with 1795 patients. The results show that 18 months of lecanemab use slowed down Alzheimer’s progression by 27% in nearly all patients.
Despite the FDA’s approval and promising data, many have raised concerns regarding the side effects of the drug. Three patients experienced fatal brain swelling or bleeding in the trial. 12.6% of patients experienced non-fatal brain swelling and 17% of patients experienced non-fatal brain bleeding. Additionally, it’s estimated that the drug will cost about $25,000 per year for patients, making it inaccessible to many. In spite of this, Eisai and Biogen remain confident that the drug has more benefits than risks.
The Only H.I.V. Vaccine in Advanced Trials Has Failed. What Now?
Quynh Nhi Phi
On January 18th, 2023, the only HIV vaccine that made it to late-stage clinical trials and lasted was withdrawn by its manufacturer, Janssen, due to the drug being proven ineffective. News of the termination of this global trial came as a disappointment, as countless HIV vaccines developed in the past couple of decades have been tested and abandoned, leaving us with a fight against a stubborn virus that still has yet to be won.
An estimated 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV right now, and this infectious disease continues to infect about 1.5 million people each year, killing almost 700 000. The fact of the matter is, even though we’ve managed to produce powerful drugs that can suppress the virus in infected patients, those drugs must be painstakingly taken for the rest of those patients’ lives. On top of this, these expensive medications tend to be inaccessible to those living in countries with higher levels of HIV infections.
The terminated trial under Janssen (a subsidiary of and funded by Johnson and Johnson) employed a “mosaic” of chemical components, each designed to target different strains of HIV existing worldwide. Though the concept seemed promising, the immune response induced by the vaccine, regrettably, did not include significant amounts of neutralizing antibodies, and was just as good at preventing infections as a placebo was. Fortunately, other options are currently being studied and/or in early-stage trials. For example, PrEPVacc is an ongoing project investigating the efficacy of a combination of experimental HIV vaccines and preventative drugs. Experts say that there is hope for a successful preventative HIV vaccine in the future, and that in the interim, we should redirect our resources to make existing medications more accessible.
Dementia: Could poor mental health in middle age increase risk?
Seeing that dementia is a growing cause of concern with 10 million new cases being recorded every year, researchers tracked 67,688 individuals over a span of 25 years and discovered a link between psychological distress symptoms and the risk of developing dementia. A previous study found a link between anxiety, exhaustion, and psychological stress with a later onset of dementia. Researchers from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, the University of Helsinki, and the University of Eastern Finland followed participants that ranged from 25 to 74 years old from 1972 and 2007. They found that those who suffered from psychological distress had a 17-24% increased risk of dementia, and also found these results correlated with a study done in New Zealand. This study acknowledged the competing risk of death (researchers factor individuals with mental health issues tend to die early and therefore will not live long enough to potentially develop dementia) and stated other limitations of this study as well. In terms of future research, Dr. Sulkava suggests there should be more epidemiological studies done with a larger population, and hopes to seek studies regarding sleep problems and risks of dementia.