Friday, May 21, 2010

Below the Microscope Brain Research and Therapies

Newswise — Many of the nation’s leaders in the fields of brain science and brain mapping will participate in the Seventh Annual World Congress of the International Brain Mapping & Intraoperative Surgical Planning Society (IBMISPS), May 24-27, 2010, on the campus of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Experts from aerospace, military and civilian science, research and medicine will discuss the latest research and therapies related to brain injuries, spinal cord mapping and image-guided therapy for treating traumatic injuries.
Scientific sessions will include a look at how scientists are using National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) technologies for discovering galaxies to identify tumors in humans. Other sessions will focus on how robotics are being used to enhance functional restoration by leveraging the brain-machine interface. Looking at the brain on a more molecular level, researchers will discuss how biomarkers are helping to better identify and enhance brain injury diagnosis, which has implications for military and civilian populations. Additional sessions will focus on non-impact blast induced traumatic brain injuries, brain imaging and neuro-regenerative medicine.
Keynote speakers for the four-day conference include The Honorable L. Tammy Duckworth, Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ms. Duckworth, a decorated combat veteran, was severely wounded when her Black Hawk helicopter was ambushed on a mission north of Baghdad in 2004. Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of one arm in the attack and since her recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has dedicated her life to advocating on behalf of disability rights and Veterans. Other keynote speakers will include Charles F. Bolden Jr., USMC (Ret), the 12th administrator of NASA and former space shuttle commander; Susan B. Roberts, Principal Deputy for Care Coordination, Office of Wounded Warrior Transition Policy, Office of Secretary of Defense, where she oversees services provided across the continuum of care from for wounded veterans; and Colonel David Sutherland, Director of Wounded Warriors and Special Aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
About USU: Located on the grounds of Bethesda’s National Naval Medical Center and across from the National Institutes of Health, USU is the nation’s federal school of medicine and graduate school of nursing. The University educates health care professionals dedicated to career service in the Department of Defense and the U.S. Public Health Service. The University also has graduate programs open to civilian and military applicants in biomedical sciences and public health committed to excellence in didactic and research training which have awarded more than 300 Ph.D. and 100 M.S. degrees to date.
For more information, visit
About IBMISPS: IBMISPS is a non-profit society organized for the purpose of encouraging basic and clinical scientists who are interested in areas of Brain Mapping and Intra-operative Surgical planning to improve the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients afflicted with neurological disorders.
For more information about the IBMISPS and its mission, please visit:

CORRECTED - (OFFICIAL)UPDATE 1-Celldex:brain cancer vaccine results on track

70 pct of patients progression-free at 5.5 months
Shares fall 20 pct after hours (Removes erroneous references to previous studies in lead and third paragraph, after analyst corrects statement)
By Deena Beasley
LOS ANGELES, May 20 (Reuters) - Celldex Therapeutics Inc's (CLDX.O) experimental brain cancer vaccine helped some patients in a mid-stage trial, and shares fell 20 percent after hours.
The interim results from 40 glioblastoma patients showed that 28, or 70 percent, were alive with no signs of their cancer worsening 5.5 months after treatment, according to research submitted to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"It is a little difficult to read into this," said Joseph Pantginis, an analyst at Roth Capital Partners. "If 70 percent holds true, it is still pretty promising for this patient population in newly diagnosed glioblastoma."
Thomas Davis, chief medical officer at Celldex, said the 70 percent rate is about 40 percent better than would be seen with patients receiving standard care.
He noted that patients in the trial had to have completed chemotherapy treatment without their tumor growing back -- a period about two or three months beyond the time patients would typically be enrolled in a clinical trial.
Patients in the trial were injected with the vaccine after initial treatment with Temodar, known generically as temozolomide.
Davis said the results were "very much the same" as those reported last year from the two smaller trials.
"You can extrapolate to a median progression-free survival of around 14 months," he said.
Results from the trial's total of 81 patients will be available later this year, according to Celldex.
The company has partnered with Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) to develop CDX-110, and the pharmaceutical company is planning a randomized international Phase 3 study, Davis said.
Shares of Celldex, up 64 percent so far this year as of Thursday's close at $7.68, fell 20 percent after hours to $6.17. The stock finished regular trading down $1.25, or 14 percent on Thursday, as the broad market sold off sharply. (Reporting by Deena Beasley, editing by Matthew Lewis and Carol Bishopric)

Creativity, Schizophrenia Share Similarities in the Brain

Finding may explain why both groups tend toward unusual thoughts and concepts, researchers say

Finding may explain why both groups tend toward unusual thoughts and concepts, researchers say.
FRIDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- What do creative people and people diagnosed with schizophrenia have in common? According to new research out of Sweden, both share similar dopamine systems in the brain.
Dopamine, along with serotonin, is a key neurotransmitter - chemicals that are vital to transmitting messages via nerve cells in the brain.
"We have studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors, and have shown that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people is similar to that found in people with schizophrenia," Fredrik Ullen, associate professor at Karolinska Institute's department of women's and children's health in Stockholm, said in a news release.
Ullen and his team gleaned their finding, which was published online May 17 in PLoS One, from work with schizophrenia patients and healthy individuals who were deemed creative after completing psychological testing that focused on problem-solving.
"The study shows that highly creative people who did well on the divergent tests had a lower density of D2 receptors in the thalamus than less-creative people," Ullen said. "Schizophrenics are also known to have low D2 density in this part of the brain, suggesting a cause of the link between mental illness and creativity."
The thalamus region of the brain, the authors noted, is a kind of filter for information before it moves on to the cortex region, which handles understanding and reasoning.
The researchers pointed out that people with highly creative skills have previously been shown to also have a higher likelihood of having mental illness in their family. Creativity itself has also been associated with a modestly higher risk for both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Both groups also share a talent for drawing unusual, sometimes bizarre links between thoughts and concepts.
Creative people, therefore, might benefit from having fewer D2 receptors because a reduced amount of filtering would translate into a higher flow of information, the study team speculated. In turn, this might explain why creative individuals tend to come upon less obvious solutions to problems and, for similar reasons, why the mentally handicapped might also tend to reach "outside the box" in favor of relatively novel associations.
Nevertheless, Ullen and his colleagues stated that they are not yet clear on which specific brain mechanisms are at the heart of this apparent association.

Exelixis Drug Slows Progress of a Deadly Brain Cancer

May 20 (Bloomberg) -- Exelixis Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s experimental drug delayed the spread of an aggressive brain cancer, a study found.
The researchers found that patients who hadn’t previously been treated with an antiangiogenic therapy -- a drug designed to stem the growth of new cancer-feeding blood vessels -- went 16 weeks before their cancer worsened while taking the drug, known as XL184, Exelixis said today in a statement. Patients who had received prior treatment lived 7.9 weeks without their disease spreading, the South San Francisco-based company said.
Glioblastoma is the most common, deadliest type of brain tumor, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Overall, 82 percent of glioblastoma patients in the study showed some tumor shrinkage in at least one brain scan after taking XL184. The results will be presented next month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
The data show “robust clinical activity which we believe compares favorably with current treatment options,” said Michael Morrissey, Exelixis’s president of research and development, in the statement.
The study treated 59 patients with a lower dosage of the drug than had been tested previously. It showed that among those who had not received prior therapy, 11 out of 37 got some benefit from taking XL184. The lower dose was better tolerated by patients while showing a comparable response, Exelixis said in its statement.
Multiple Pathways
XL184 targets multiple pathways involved in tumor growth to keep cancer from spreading. Like Roche Holding AG’s Avastin, which reached sales of $5.7 billion last year, XL184 seeks to block a protein called VEGF, involved in the formation of cancer-supporting blood vessels.
Exelixis’s drug also targets a novel pathway known as MET, short for mesenchymal epithelial transition growth factor. Overexpression of that receptor on cancer cells has been linked to higher spreading and proliferation of cancer cells.
Glioblastoma “remains the largest near-term opportunity for XL184, although improving upon Avastin remains a hurdle,” Joel Sendek, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, wrote in a May 12 note to investors.
The cancer society released 4,500 abstracts of studies today in advance of its conference in Chicago beginning June 4.

How to invent a cellphone cancer scare

Several researchers spent almost $30-million over 10 years on the largest-ever study into the possible health effects of cellphones on the human brain.
The conclusion they reached is that cellphones pose a risk to the brain only if you use one to repeatedly bash someone in the head.
OK, that last part was not technically part of the Interphone study, which involved 13,000 test subjects in 13 countries, and was an attempt to once-and-for-all determine if there was a link between brain cancer and cellphones. But the study did scientifically conclude that “overall, no increase in risk of [brain tumours] was observed with use of mobile phones,” in a paper published this week.Well, that’s certainly pleasing news, isn’t it?
Not according to these stories: “Heavy use of cell phones may increase tumour risk: study” (Globe and Mail); “Cellphone brain cancer link still open question (CBC); “Cellphone, cancer link still unclear after largest-ever study” (Toronto Star).
Goodness. Those headlines sound a lot more ominous than the overall conclusion. What gives? The short answer is that the alleged link between cellphones and brain cancer is the story that will not go away, no matter what the studies say, thanks to the handy established narrative that the heartless wireless lobby has bullied/bought governments the world over into silence about the deadly risks of their devices.
So instead of simply reporting the study’s main finding — no link between brain cancer and cellphone use — much of the world’s media instead framed their stories by focusing on the one element of the research that hinted at trouble, even though the scientists themselves said it could not be trusted.
From the study’s conclusion: “There were suggestions of an increased risk of [tumours] at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation.”
It took, though, until the sixth paragraph of that Globe story before it noted suspicion about the results for heavy cellphone use, and even then only a passing mention that it wasn’t “conclusive.”
I’ll say it wasn’t conclusive. The test subjects who reported the highest amount of cumulative cellphone use, more than 30 minutes a day, often overestimated the time they spent with a phone next to their head. Many reported more than five hours a day in which they were talking on a cellphone and some reported more than 12 hours a day. The paper notes, in a fine bit of understatment, “there is reasonable doubt about the credibility of such reports.” More importantly, because cancer-stricken subjects were told what the study was about, they could have been “more motivated to recall and report a publicized potential risk factor for their disease.”
The biggest knock against the heavy-use findings, though, is that it was the only category that showed any link at all between cellphone use and cancer. For every type of cellphone user other than those who reported more than 30 minutes of calls a day, from occasional to light to moderate use, the study showed a lower risk of brain cancer than for those who never used a cellphone at all.
The study even found that among respondents who did not estimate the cumulative time spent on the phone but instead estimated just the number of calls they made, there was again zero correlation between number of calls made and cancer risk. Even the most frequent callers had a slightly lower risk of brain tumours than did people who never made calls on a mobile device.
As the study says, “the lack of a consistently increasing risk with dose, duration of exposure and time since first exposure weigh against cause and effect.” No cause and effect, you say? Funny, but I didn’t find that line in any of the stories cited earlier.
The researchers acknowledged the positive findings, though you had to read down a way to find them.
“Based on the totality of the scientific evidence, there’s probably not a compelling reason to regulate cellphone use in some way,” one told the Star. He hedged a little with the CBC: “It’s kind of embarrassing as a scientist to say we’ve just spent 12 years and 20-million euros and we think there’s not much of a risk there, but we’re not entirely sure.”
But in a journal article accompanying the study, two scientists wrote “the tired refrain ‘more research is needed’ fully applies in this instance.”
Does it really? It’s not like this study was an outlier. As it says, “Our results are consistent with most of the research published to date.”
So that, then, is why the link between cellphones and brain cancer remains “unclear.” Because there is not one to see.

Bristol drug may work in melanoma tumors in brain

An experimental Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N) cancer drug showed early promise at helping patients with advanced melanoma that had spread to the brain, according to a summary of data from a mid-stage study.
The closely watched biotechnology drug ipilimumab, which enlists the help of the immune system to attack tumors, was found generally safe and showed signs that it was working on tumors in the brain, which are especially difficult to treat.
The phase 2 study is the first to test ipilimumab in patients whose skin cancer had spread to the brain, and the findings, released in an abstract or brief summary, support its potential use in these patients, the researchers said.
The abstract was one of thousands of studies released on Thursday ahead of presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) next month in Chicago.
Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody, an engineered humanimmune system protein that boosts the body's immune response by interfering with another immune compound called CTLA-4, which acts as a sort of brake on immune system cells.
By temporarily removing this brake, the hope is to unleash the immune system to find and destroy the cancer.
Results of a late-stage study of the drug in melanoma patients will be detailed in a "late-breaker" session at ASCO's annual meeting in June.
In the phase 2 trial, researchers said four out of 51 patients with at least one brain lesion had a partial response to the drug, and in 5 out of 51 patients, both brain and other tumors in the body stabilized after 12 weeks of treatment.
The responses lasted from three to 12 months, and patients had no serious toxic side effects. Data from a second arm of the study is still being evaluated.
A separate study of the drug also showed signs it could work in people who first appeared not to respond to the drug.
Researchers reintroduced the drug to 32 patients who were initially treated as part of a study of 634 patients.
Eight of the 32 got ipilimumab alone, 23 got ipilimumab plus a vaccine called gp100, and one got the vaccine alone. All of the treatments appeared safe.
The team found that in patients whose cancer initially progressed while on ipilimumab, whose who were reintroduced to the drug had a disease control rate of 65 to 75 percent, compared to zero in the patient who got the vaccine only.
"These findings may have implications for the use of ipilimumab therapy in the long-term management of advanced melanoma," the researchers reported in the abstract.
Melanoma accounts for about 3 percent of skin cancer cases but causes most skin cancer deaths, and doctors have few effective treatments to offer once the disease has spread.
According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma accounted for more than 68,000 cases of skin cancer in 2009, and 8,650 deaths.

Brain wired to hear own phone ringing fast

Is that your cell phone ringing? A neuroscience study conforms the human brain seems wired to hear familiar noises, such as a person's name or phone tone.
Society for Neuroscience
In the current Journal of Neuroscience, a team led by Anja Roye of Germany's University of Leipzig, tested familiar and unfamiliar ringtone recognition in 12 men and women wearing headphones and brain-wave-reading electroencephalograms.
"The analyzed evoked (electroencephalogram) responses were significantly increased for the personally significant sound," found the researchers.
The study volunteers heard their own ringer about 40 microseconds sooner than unfamiliar ones. "When a stimulus matches a sound template currently held in short-term memory, i.e., the target sound, it may activate a network of distinct (brain) areas that give rise to a fast allocation of attention and trigger the associated motor-response," says the study.
Analyzing brain-wave patterns, the team suggests a "passive listening" network of brain cells reside in portions of the left side of the brain poised for familiar sounds. Asking volunteers to actively listen for familiar sounds also fired up a right-side part of the brain.
"In sum, this study provides evidence that incoming acoustic information is matched with existing memory templates representing the specific, personally significant, and behaviorally relevant stimulus," concludes the study.
In other words, we are always waiting for someone to call our name.

Woman Loses Brain Tumor, Gets Doctorate

A woman who was halfway through her doctoral studies when she learned she had a brain tumor received her degree Thursday night, WBAL-TV in Baltimore reported.Robyn Gilden accepted her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, Baltimore City."It means recognition for a lot of hard work for me, but also the support of my family, and my husband and children," she said.Gilden was diagnosed in 2008 with a malignant brain tumor. She was 32 at the time, and the mother of two underwent surgery."After surgery, I had a little bit of a complication where I couldn't move the right side of my body and I couldn't talk," she said. "It was a very scary time for my family."Six weeks of radiation and eight months of chemotherapy took Gilden's body to the breaking point, but she refused to slow down.Gilden wanted to keep life normal for her young son and daughter. She also continued teaching at the nursing school and kept on with her doctoral research."She's just a nonstop person," said her husband, Brad Gilden. "She just persevered through everything that happened."Dr. Gilden is now cancer-free."I just had an MRI last week, so we'll see," she said. "As of right now, there is no cancer."She will assume an assistant faculty role, all while savoring every second she has with her family. She's also planning a mission trip this summer and is active in raising money for brain cancer research."I really do understand that we're not promised tomorrow, so I try to make the most of every day," she said.

Argentine rocker in critical condition after 'mini-stroke'

Argentine rock star Gustavo Cerati remained in critical but stable condition following brain surgery for a "mini-stroke" he suffered over the weekend, his doctors said Thursday.

Cerati, whose former band Soda Stereo is among the best known rock bands from Latin America, was in an induced coma at a Caracas, Venezuela, hospital.
"At the moment there is no evidence of neurological deterioration compared to yesterday," hospital director Adolfredo Saez said. "His other organs and systems are functioning normal. Like we have said, his situation is critical."

Reporters asked Cerati's doctor, Vladimir Fuenmayor, if the singer had normal brain activity, but the doctor declined to answer, only saying that he was stable.
According to the 50-year-old musician's website, he suffered a transient ischemic attack, commonly known as a "mini-stroke" after performing in Caracas on Saturday.
On Tuesday, Cerati underwent brain surgery to prevent swelling and damage to the brain, doctors said.
"Gustavo is in delicate condition, but there has not been a regression in the evolution of his problem, to the contrary, there has been an improvement," Cerati's mother, Lilian Clarke de Cerati, told CNN en Espanol Thursday.
Argentinian doctors were scheduled to fly in Friday or Saturday to Caracas to care for Cerati and see about when he may be transferred back to his home country, Clarke de Cerati said.
"I have great faith" in his recovery, Cerati's mother said.
The incident affected his brain, which is his strongest part, besides his heart, she said.
The Cerati family was impressed by the amount of outpouring of support from around the world, Clarke de Cerati said.
Cerati showed no visible symptoms of anything wrong before this weekend, his mother said, but she added that he smoked a lot.
Another Argentine singer, Diego Torres, also noted that Cerati was known for his smoking habit.
"It surprised me a lot," Torres said. "When something like this happens to a colleague it touches an intimate thread because one lives that life, a life of travel, one from stage to stage."

Having filled gap for years, hospital plans future of long-term care

DUBAI // With no purpose-built long-term care facilities yet available for patients with brain and spinal damage in Dubai, staff at Rashid Hospital have been plugging the gap for the past 37 years.

In the past decade, as the emirate has expanded, capacity has become an issue, and the hospital is now looking at alternative options to take the pressure off nursing staff and allow patients to return home.

There are 52 long-term patients at the 500-bed hospital, most of whom are either geriatric patients or expatriate workers who have suffered brain or spinal damage in construction accidents.

“With the increasing population of Dubai came increasing construction site activity, and, so, injuries,” said Dr Lama al Ramahi, the acting head of the hospital’s case management department, which was set up five years ago to address the issue. “The [number] of car accidents began to rise and lifestyles changed.”

Among the hospital’s longest-term residents is 11-year-old Khalifa, who was two when he was hit by a car while playing outside his family’s home. The accident caused spinal damage that left him quadriplegic, and a ventilator supports his breathing.

Aside from one trip to Europe 18 months after the accident for unsuccessful medical treatment, Khalifa has never left the hospital’s intensive care unit.

His mother, Shukria Rahim, leaves her Jumeirah villa every evening and makes the journey to the hospital to spend time with her youngest son.

“I miss him very much and often ask why my child is in the hospital,” said Ms Rahim as she stroked her son’s head. “Khalifa is clever, quiet and very kind. But the care he receives here is very good.”

While the hospital administration is looking into developing long-term care and a project has been prepared for such a rehabilitation centre, Dr Suad Trebinjac, the head of the hospital’s physical medicine and rehabilitation ward, could not confirm when that would be established.

He runs a state-of-the-art rehabilitation ward that was opened last June to provide spinal cord-injury patients with a holistic rehabilitation programme that includes physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Psychological support and advice on adapting family homes to cater for patients’ needs when they are discharged is also provided.

With only eight in-patient beds, staff are forced to select a handful of patients with acute spinal injuries requiring 24-hour nursing who are medically stable and able to tolerate three hours a day of therapy. There is a long waiting list.

Less intensive physical and occupational therapy is available to those patients on general wards.

While it was not an ideal scenario, it was a start, said Dr Trebinjac.

He presented proposals for the further development of rehabilitation services to the hospital’s administration last year. They included community-based rehabilitation units linked to existing primary health care centres, which could provide support to families of spinal cord and brain-injured patients at home; care at a hospital level for both acute and post-acute patients; and specialised centres, similar to facilities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, for more complicated cases.

Dr Trebinjac is keen to develop services so that patients no longer feel the need to travel overseas in search of treatment. “They may get some recovery, but eventually they need to come back and face problems adapting back into society,” he said.

The hospital has begun training individuals selected by the families of patients to act as care-givers in a bid to free up beds and allow patients to return home.

“At the beginning, when you tell them they can take the patient, they refuse, but when you discuss it with them they get familiar with the situation,” Dr al Ramahi said. “They realise that the patient is fine and that we are not closing the door to them.”

Teenage suspect in beating says text angered him

A 15-year-old who attacked a teenage girl at a South Florida middle school has told investigators that a text message that enraged him "wasn't that bad."Wayne Treacy told a Broward Sheriff's Office detective that the text message from Josie Lou Ratley mentioned his brother, who had committed suicide. He said the message angered him and he "couldn't get the feeling to subside."
A recording of Treacy's interview with the detective was posted on the South Florida Sun Sentinel's website.
Treacy is charged as an adult with first-degree attempted murder for the March 17 attack. He has pleaded not guilty and has apologized through his lawyer for the beating. Ratley suffered brain damage in the assault.

Research links pesticides with ADHD in children

A new analysis of U.S. health data links children's attention-deficit disorder with exposure to common pesticides used on fruits and vegetables.
While the study couldn't prove that pesticides used in agriculture contribute to childhood learning problems, experts said the research is persuasive.
"I would take it quite seriously," said Virginia Rauh of Columbia University, who has studied prenatal exposure to pesticides and wasn't involved in the new study.
More research will be needed to confirm the tie, she said.
Children may be especially prone to the health risks of pesticides because they're still growing and they may consume more pesticide residue than adults relative to their body weight.
In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that can be measured in urine. Almost universally, the study found detectable levels: The compounds turned up in the urine of 94 percent of the children.
The kids with higher levels had increased chances of having ADHD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a common problem that causes students to have trouble in school. The findings were published Monday in Pediatrics.
The children may have eaten food treated with pesticides, breathed it in the air or swallowed it in their drinking water. The study didn't determine how they were exposed. Experts said it's likely children who don't live near farms are exposed through what they eat.
"Exposure is practically ubiquitous. We're all exposed," said lead author Maryse Bouchard of the University of Montreal.
She said people can limit their exposure by eating organic produce. Frozen blueberries, strawberries and celery had more pesticide residue than other foods in one government report.
A 2008 Emory University study found that in children who switched to organically grown fruits and vegetables, urine levels of pesticide compounds dropped to undetectable or close to undetectable levels.
Because of known dangers of pesticides in humans, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits how much residue can stay on food. But the new study shows it's possible even tiny, allowable amounts of pesticide may affect brain chemistry, Rauh said.
The exact causes behind the children's reported ADHD though are unclear. Any number of factors could have caused the symptoms and the link with pesticides could be by chance.
The new findings are based on one-time urine samples in 1,139 children and interviews with their parents to determine which children had ADHD. The children, ages 8 to 15, took part in a government health survey in 2000-2004.
As reported by their parents, about 150 children in the study either showed the severe inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity characteristic of ADHD, or were taking drugs to treat it.
The study dealt with one common type of pesticide called organophosphates. Levels of six pesticide compounds were measured. For the most frequent compound detected, 20 percent of the children with above-average levels had ADHD. In children with no detectable amount in their urine, 10 percent had ADHD.
"This is a well conducted study," said Dr. Lynn Goldman of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a former EPA administrator.
Relying on one urine sample for each child, instead of multiple samples over time, wasn't ideal, Goldman said.
The study provides more evidence that the government should encourage farmers to switch to organic methods, said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, an advocacy group that's been working to end the use of many pesticides.
"It's unpardonable to allow this exposure to continue," Reeves said.

What does your smile say about your health?

(ARA) - What's the secret to living a longer, healthier life? The answer is - there is no secret. Rather, a healthy life depends on taking several simple steps to improve health-impacting habits, from eating well and maintaining a positive attitude to flossing daily.

Making the change to a healthy lifestyle does not have to be difficult. Simple changes such as taking a daily vitamin, playing board games or practicing healthy oral health habits can help add years to your life. Here are a few tips to help you live a longer, healthier life.

* Maintain a healthy weight by choosing an effective diet you can live with. Consume plenty of antioxidants, like vitamin E, to help slow diseases associated with aging and keep free radical damage at bay. Avoid high fat diets, smoking, excessive drinking and lack of exercise. All reduce your chances of achieving a healthy, older age and increase the likelihood of a longer period of poor health in a shorter life.

* Flossing, while an important part of your daily routine, is often overlooked. Make it easier by choosing a floss that helps eliminate any difficulty or discomfort. For example, Crest Glide Floss is ultra-thin, silky smooth and shred-resistant to help the floss glide through tight spaces easily, helping to make flossing easy and painless.

"Practicing a healthy oral care routine is an important step in helping to maintain a longer, healthier life," says Leslie J. Winston, DDS, PhD, a dentist and Director of Scientific Relations with Crest. "Flossing daily helps protect against gingivitis by removing plaque and food particles, keeping your teeth and gums healthy, while giving you a beautiful smile."

* Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. You don't have to be a fanatic about exercise, but it's important to keep your muscles active. Not exercising can take five years off your life expectancy.

* Give your brain a workout. Social networks and brain-building games can help keep your brain active, which can add years to your life expectancy. Crossword puzzles, bridge, jigsaw puzzles, reading and learning foreign languages can all help keep your brain sharp.

* Manage stress. Stress can cause a hormonal imbalance that negatively affects important organs and impairs everyday functioning. Practice stress-reduction activities like meditation or exercise. And keep a positive attitude about aging - it can add a couple of years to your life.

World Premiere of Interactive, Walk-through Inflatable MEGA Brain to Debut in Glendale, California

The MEGA Brain(TM) is the world's only portable, inflatable brain exhibit designed as an educational walk-through experience that demonstrates the central nervous system's most critical organ.

The MEGA Brain(TM) has never been seen before. For the first time ever and during National Stroke Month in May, people will be able to learn about the brain functions and how to prevent strokes and other brain disorders as they walk through a giant inflatable brain at The Americana at Brand on Sunday, May 23, 2010, from 11 AM to 4 PM (park area), 889 Americana Way, Glendale.

The MEGA Brain(TM) is an 18-foot-long, 14-foot-wide, 12-foot-high replica of the human brain that provides visitors with a close-up view of brain functions, as well as the damage caused by brain trauma, stroke, meningitis and other diseases.

Visitors enter the exhibit through the frontal lobe, which is responsible for personality and higher cognitive functions, and exit through the cerebellum, the portion of the brain responsible for balance and coordination.

In the time it takes to read this, a stroke will claim the life of someone in the U.S. Over the course of the year ahead, that will amount to more than 143,500 deaths more than any other cause besides heart disease and cancer. Still, most strokes are not fatal, and quick action can often make the difference in the outcome.

The goal of the MEGA Brain(TM) is to educate the public that every second counts during a stroke. Depending on how fast you identify the symptoms and take steps to get help, you're either one second closer to minimizing the damage or one second closer to further injury and possibly even death.

This event is being made possible thanks to coordination by Glendale Adventist Medical Center and The Americana at Brand as well as funds raised by the 2010 Glendale Downtown Dash participants and sponsors.

For those that miss the display on Sunday at The Americana at Brand, the MEGA Brain(TM) will also be on display at Glendale Adventist Medical Center on Monday, May 24 and Tuesday, May 25. For more information, please call (818) 408-8100 or visit

Glendale Adventist Medical Center was the first hospital in the San Fernando Valley to be certified as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center, which means that the hospital has the facilities, staff and processes in place to provide fast and effective care for stroke patients. At Glendale Adventist, a team of medical professionals with specialized training in stroke care and other issues related to the brain and nervous system are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Belly fat increases dementia risk

People with fat stomachs could be at a greater risk of developing dementia, scientists from Boston University School of Medicine have warned.

For the study, Sudha Seshadri, and colleagues recruited participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. The sample included 733 community participants who had a mean age of 60 years with roughly 70 per cent of group comprising women.

“Our results confirm the inverse association of increasing BMI with lower brain volumes in older adults and with younger, middle-aged adults,” said Dr. Seshadri.

“More importantly our data suggests a stronger connection between central obesity, particularly the visceral fat component of abdominal obesity, and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Seshadri added.

The study has been published online in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association.

 For women, marriage comes with health risks

Marriage comes with numerous health risks, especially for brides, according to a new book For Better (For Worse): The Science Of A Good Marriage that analyses more than 200 matrimony studies to show that an unhappy marriage can be more harmful to long-term health than becoming single again.

Leading British marriage counsellor Andrew G. Marshall feels most of us tend to ignore marriage’s powerful effect on physical wellbeing.

“Because we have this rosy view of love conquering all, we think we can neglect it and things will just keep trundling along. We don’t realise that if this building block in our lives collapses, our health goes with it. I’ve had clients who get terrible migraines, panic attacks and depression.”

Marshall believes marriages can particularly affect women’s health.

He said: “For a man, marriage is wonderful because you don’t really have to think about looking after yourself. But women end up doing the worrying for two.”

Billion-dollar brain

With potential applications ranging from high-tech games to helping sufferers of neurodegenerative diseases communicate, scientific attempts to make it possible to ‘read’ our minds are drawing lots of money and researchers

The Japanese man is sitting with an electrode cap on his head, on a chair connected to a device that looks like a small refrigerator. He looks very sleepy, although he is participating in a historic experiment: He is about to operate a robot solely by the power of thinking. The people around him are poker-faced. One of them hands him a card with a picture of a hand and the words “right hand.” The man with the electrodes thinks, the lights on the refrigerator behind him turn on. And then the camera moves over to Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility ‏(ASIMO‏), the famous white robot, manufactured by Honda, which is standing next to him. ASIMO comes to life.

“Yes! I received the result, I think it’s correct,” says ASIMO in Japanese. “It’s the right hand!” He takes one step forward and waves his hand. Of all those participating in the experiment, he is the one with the greatest charm and vitality.

This film clip, publicized by Honda last June, is proof of the power of thinking. The area of research called “brain-computer interface,” one of the hot scientific fields today, tries to link up the brain with various types of computers in order to activate the world: where a chip in the brain or electrodes connected to it will read brain signals. Think about a concept you want to know more about and the chip in your brain will survey the Internet and broadcast the information directly to your consciousness, without the unnecessary bother of typing, choosing and clicking.

In laboratories the world over researchers have been “reading thoughts” at an increasing level of sophistication, although the day is far off when someone with the proper equipment will be able to understand from a distance what you really think of the boss, for example. The business application in most cases is still far off, but the potential is huge: from thought-operated computer games to a real improvement in the lives of the ill and disabled: The target audience of brain-machine developments includes all of us.
ASIMO, the famous white Honda robot.

“If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you it would take another 100 years, but it’s happening much faster,” says Prof. Matti Mintz of the biopsychology research unit in Tel Aviv University’s psychology department. “Within 10 years I anticipate that brain-computer interface will be used for simple but essential functions. A colleague of mine in the United States is already building such a chip for people who have a problem with balance. In Europe and the U.S. they are channeling very large budgets in these directions. After all, the population is aging, and an effort is required to maintain brain functions by various methods.”

“Brain-computer interfaces have become a major topic,” confirms Prof. Hezi Yeshurun, of TAU’s school of computer science. “Everything we do originates in the brain. If we understand the brain’s code, we’ll be able to operate other systems − for example, assembling a bionic hand that can receive signals from the brain and function instead of damaged limbs. To a certain extent we already know how to do that. Let’s say, for instance, that you imagine that you are drumming on the table with your fingers: We will be able to tell with which finger you want to drum.”

Many studies on brain-computer interface are trying to rehabilitate brains damaged by disease, strokes, accidents or simply from aging, to bypass the damaged neurons and enable renewed control over real or artificial limbs. Mintz is working on constructing a computer circuit that will replace areas in the brain that have been damaged due to a tumor or age. In experiments now being conducted on animals, he is learning about the stimuli that reach the damaged area of the brain and about its anatomical connections. Later he builds an artificial circuit whose structure and activity are identical to that of the damaged brain, puts it on a chip and implants it beneath the skin of the skull or the chest, connecting it to the damaged region of the brain.

The chip receives nerve signals from the brain region and activates the limb. Meanwhile, Mintz says, he is dealing only with the regions responsible for reflexive behavior, which is easier to deal with. But one of the advantages of the chip is that it is capable of “learning” the subject’s surroundings in a manner similar to the learning that takes place in the brain. In other words, if the person with the implant comes across a hot iron once, the chip learns that it is very hot and the next time it will identify the shape of the iron and will warn the person to stay away from it − just like a child becoming familiar with his surroundings.

In similar studies in the U.S., monkeys wearing an electrode cap succeeded in moving an artificial hand via the power of thought alone. One can only imagine the magnitude of the change that such a development will bring about in the lives of disabled people. The pursuit of a bionic eye is also in full swing, in Israel among other places.
Helping the blind

In the laboratory of Prof. Yael Hanein, of the TAU electrical engineering department, a plate with electrodes in it, on which various nerve cell formations are growing, is connected to an amplifier that translates the electrical pulses emitted by the neurons into a series of pulses registered by a computer. Hanein and her assistant Mark Shein − in cooperation with the laboratory of Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU’s physics department − are growing neurons on a special material called carbon nanotubes.

One of their possible uses is for creating an advanced corneal implant that will be able to help the blind to see. The pursuit of the artificial cornea is not limited to Hanein’s lab. An Australian firm is involved in it, a German company carried out a successful trial last month in which blind people managed to see objects from a distance, and the Israeli firm Nano Retina, which works in collaboration with Hanein, is pursuing the same objective.

Nano Retina estimates the potential sales of the implant at 180,000 units per year, at a cost of $60,000 per implant; in other words, sales could reach a billion dollars. Founded by medical entrepreneur Yossi Gross, the company received $2.5 million from Rainbow Medical, a foundation that belongs to Gross and Efi Cohen-Arazi, and it is expected to receive another $2.5 million in the future. The implant is meant to replace damaged light receptors in people who became blind as a result of a degenerative disease.
“The eye has 15 million light receptors, but in many diseases the light receptors die, even when all the other nerves are still working,” explains Nano Retina’s director, Ra’anan Gefen. The implant is supposed to be on the market in another five years, and will enable only black-and-white vision. It will contain a camera that receives the image, and on the other side, an electrode that will stimulate the remaining nerves. “The electrode has to be the maximum size of five microns, while the size of a standard electrode is about 100 microns,” explains Gefen.

A lot of work is still to be done on the implant: At the moment the researchers in Hanein’s lab are concentrating on studying the dynamics between the neurons on the one hand, and miniaturizing the electrodes on the other.

Hanein is not interested in the business aspect: She is fascinated by the study of communication among brain cells. During her research she succeeded in stimulating the neurons with electrical currents, and seeing how they arrange themselves on the electrode in various formations. The aim is to examine how the formation changes the communication among them.

“One of the big questions is how we progress from a single nerve cell, which can be studied separately, to a brain with billions of cells working together,” she explains. “As in the case of ants, where the individual is of no importance, only the collective, the same is true here: Communication among the components is the main thing. We know a great deal about how isolated cells work, the mechanisms and structure that dictate activity, and a great deal about the brain, which regions do what. The question is how the two ends connect.”

Gefen, on the other hand, is concerned about other things: standards, regulation and miniaturization. In the wake of initial newspaper articles about the firm, he notes, he received letters from blind people and their families who asked to volunteer for the clinical tests, which have yet to begin. “One family with two daughters who are going blind, and a grandmother who has never seen her grandchildren,” he says.

In the U.S., such studies received a big push from the administration of former president George W. Bush, due to the number of soldiers who returned from Afghanistan and Iraq with disabilities.

“What’s interesting about the entire cyborg [bionic human] industry is that it is driven to a great extent by medicine,” notes Doron Friedman, a lecturer at the communications school of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and the head of the advanced virtuality lab there. “We are used to thinking about horror films and science fiction, but the idea behind the research is that there’s an industry here involving large sums of money, whose aim is to help people. In medicine there is no ethical question at all: It does work, and it does help in certain cases.”

For its part, the Israel Defense Forces apparently still prefers to invest in weapons instead of in methods for repairing damage caused to soldiers.

Generally, studies in Israel in this field are financed by local research foundations, with relatively small sums, and by European or American foundations, which are more generous. Mintz and his partners from TAU, Mira Marcus, Hagit Messer-Yaron and Yossi Shacham, are funding the research and the students engaged in the work from a generous budget from a European foundation, but it is about to dry up soon.
In the not-too-distant past, groups of local academics tried to establish a large, wide-ranging research foundation, but their effort was abandoned after only one year.
Available funding in Israel is relatively limited and many of the researchers report genuine budgetary distress, which prevents them from going ahead with big projects. Help for the ill is of course the best justification for such research, since no foundation will finance a study whose main purpose is the development of an innovative computer game.

Smart cars

But even commercial firms around the world are involved in electrode research, with the intention of achieving a technological advantage and become innovators in their fields. Japanese car manufacturers, like Honda, for example, have accumulated a great deal of knowledge in the development of sophisticated and automatic assembly lines, and they are exploiting this knowledge in order to develop sophisticated interfaces.

The ultimate goal is to design smart cars that will, for example, be able to open the trunk and even drive for us, according to instructions from the brain. But along the way scientists are developing medical applications such as the wheelchair announced by Toyota last year, which is activated by thought alone: The chair is equipped with a small table with a laptop, and the person seated in the chair wears an electrode cap. Electroencephalograph sensors transmit signals from the brain to the computer, which in turn translates them into directional signals for the chair.

Wheelchairs that are operated by the power of thinking are nothing new, but the one made by the auto manufacturer has reduced the time between a thought and its implementation, which in earlier versions lasted several nerve-racking seconds, to only a thousandth of a second. The target market of the product is mainly invalids, and in light of Japan’s aging population and that of the world in general, this invention would be beneficial to mankind and also makes business sense: According to figures of the magazine National Health Review, in 2002 there were 1.6 million wheelchair-users in the U.S. living outside nursing institutions, although only 155,000 of them used electric wheelchairs, while the others used manual ones. One can only imagine the number of financial and psychological obstacles that will stand in the way of a chair operated by brain waves.

Other commercial firms are taking steps towards developing real products, although at the moment they are only at an initial stage: Friedman, who is cooperating with an Austrian firm called g.tec, describes their new product, which enables patients with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ‏(ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease‏) to dictate a letter to the computer by means of brain waves. These are patients who cannot move their bodies or speak, but are fully conscious.

By means of the machine, the patient who wears electrodes concentrates on a specific letter of the alphabet, and the electrodes identify brain activity and decipher the letter the activity is referring to. Accuracy in choosing the letter, according to the firm’s Web site, is liable to take between two and 20 attempts, and the use requires a long training period, on two levels: The equipment has to learn to identify the user’s brain waves, and the user has to know how to use his brain in such a way that the machine will be able to understand him.

“It’s still limited, but it works,” explains Friedman. “The main problem is the pace: You can only dictate one letter every few seconds; for a healthy person that’s a frustrating experience that requires a lot of patience and concentration. But for someone who is paralyzed, it is sometimes the only way to communicate.”

But brain-computer interface is not only for medicine: Computer games are an $11.7-billion market in the U.S. alone, according to 2008 figures from the Entertainment Software Association. In effect, firms like Nintendo have been working for years on games operated via the brain.

Meanwhile, Emotiv has already released to the market a package of three games that work on “neuro-feedback,” among them a virtual ping-pong game and another that is called − in a geeky gesture to the products of science fiction that foresaw the future long ago − the Jedi Mind Trainer. The game requires wearing an electrode helmet, which is sold on the company’s Web site for $300, and which is used to move the players. However, Friedman explains that what the helmet reads might not be brain waves, but messages that come from the facial muscles and that “the electrical activity of your muscles and body is far greater than the electrical activity of the brain.”

Renan Gluzman, head of the program for designing and developing computer games at Hamidrasha School of Art in Beit Berl, claims that the games have not yet become sufficiently popular, partly for cultural reasons.

“People are not yet willing to wear a kind of strange helmet; it looks frightening and unattractive to them,” he claims. “And besides, the technology is not fast enough. A neurotic and anxious player who wants immediate satisfaction won’t find it there.”
No less interesting and frightening is the application aimed at digging into our brains in order to make us more vulnerable to marketing efforts: neuro-marketing or neuro-advertising. Two years ago, neuroscience company Nielsen announced an investment in NeuroFocus, which places electrodes on viewers to assess the emotional effectiveness and the level of attention commanded by commercials or Internet film clips, with the aim of making them so attractive to our overloaded brains that we will have no choice but to order Coca-Cola from the neighboring virtual kiosk.

We can think of more sinister uses for the technologies being created; the moment the brain-machine genie is out of the bottle, there is no way of knowing who will use it in order to get money or information. And of course one could say that the whole business is in effect based on “mind reading,” in spite of the reservations of cautious scientists about such hyperbolic terms. In order to use brain waves to operate something, first of all we have to understand what the brain is saying. Fortunately, perhaps, at present the coding of our thoughts is still too complicated to read in its entirety.

“The maps of the brain are relatively known. We know which regions control which functions,” Yeshurun notes. “Whatever you think about leads to a certain pattern of activity in the brain. But if, for example, you are thinking about a cat, that’s already more abstract coding. We can identify whether you want to turn right or left, but we are very far from knowing whether you want to read Tennyson’s poems at the moment. We still don’t know how that decision looks in the brain.”

There has, however, been interesting progress in this area. A group of researchers in Pittsburgh has succeeded in understanding, by reading an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) brain simulator, which words a person is thinking of from a given list. The researchers exploited the fact that thinking about words and pictures in various semantic categories − for example, buildings, tools or food − activates certain patterns of brain activity. In the study, which was published two years ago, they told a person to think about a specific word and then, having mapped the regions of the brain that were activated, asked the computer to guess which word the subject had thought of. The degree of accuracy, according to their reports, was 90 percent, as long as familiar words were being used.

“These results are interesting, but they should be seen in the proper context,” says Yeshurun, trying to tamp excessive enthusiasm. “We’re talking about a relatively small number of words, separated into categories, that activate relatively familiar regions. It’s still impossible to tell someone to think about something, and then to understand what he’s thinking about.”

Decision reading

A study now being conducted in Yeshurun’s lab goes one step further, and is intended to make it possible for others to understand what we have decided even before we know it ourselves. In the study by Omri Perez, a doctoral student in brain research working under the guidance of Yeshurun and Prof. Yitzhak Fried of the TAU school of medicine, subjects were asked to operate a driving simulator, with their brains connected to electrodes that record neural activity. The second subjects decided whether to turn right or left, they were asked to report it; the aim was to examine whether it is possible to know in which direction they decided to turn even before they themselves were aware of their decision.

A similar study by German researchers, published two years ago, found a gap of up to 10 seconds between the brain activity that indicates that a decision is being made and the direction in which it is tending, and the awareness of the decision that has been made. In other words, researchers can guess what the subject is about to do even before he himself knows.

The researchers concluded that the delay in awareness reflects the brain’s preparation for making the decision and acting on it. “Decision reading” works after the fact. too: In another study, published a year ago by Yeshurun, Prof. Talma Hendler and research student Alon Talmor, subjects were asked to perform a specific activity, for example, to enter a certain room and remove a bill from a wallet in a coat pocket. Afterward subjects were shown films of various activities, and demonstrated a particularly strong reaction to a film in which someone removes money from a wallet. The interesting finding, adds Yeshurun, was that the activity was not located in the emotional parts of the brain, but in “mirror cells” − a region responsible for the reflection of activities that we see. This is an area that causes us, for instance, to mimic the movements of an interlocutor unconsciously.

The brain identified the activity that had been carried out previously, and reacted to it more strongly. It’s not hard to think of practical applications for these findings, for example, constructing a sophisticated truth machine in which Hitchcock films would be screened, for example, in order to expose people suspected of murdering blondes in the shower.

We can think of groups that would have the ability and the interest in using your findings for negative purposes.

Yeshurun: “True. But negative use can be made of any study done in the university, even studies of Hebrew literature.”

The brave pioneer in the field of the study of awareness of decisions was Prof. Benjamin Libet of the University of California, San Francisco, who already in the 1970s discovered the time gap between a decision to act and awareness of making that decision. His findings ignited a stormy debate regarding the ancient philosophical question of free will: Are our decisions, the basis for our ostensible free activities, made before we are aware of them? In other words, does the brain ostensibly decide for us? And to what extent do we actually make our decisions consciously?

“For those engaged in brain research, the question of free will is meaningless, because it is not well defined,” explains Yeshurun. “But in terms of what is generally thought, the fact that your brain has actually decided in your absence and that I can know what you’ve decided before you do, paints a picture of an automaton.”

The question of free will will certainly continue to arise in the coming years. Research in the field of brain-computer interface is progressing along with technological advances, and we can reasonably assume that a designer will be found to turn the electrode helmet into the next hot accessory − or that in the future, we will all walk around with a tiny chip in our brains and will try to alert the washing machine to the fact that we are out of clean shirts. However, while the devices themselves will become increasingly miniaturized, the ethical questions are only expected to grow, as the bionic man becomes the person walking toward us on the street rather than a fictional character.

Encouraging Data Presented on Oncophage(R) Vaccine at International Conference on Brain Tumor Research and Therapy

Antigenics /quotes/comstock/15*!agen/quotes/nls/agen (AGEN 1.07, -0.01, -0.93%) today announced that data from a multi-center Phase 1/2 clinical trial of Oncophage (vitespen) for recurrent high-grade glioma (brain cancer) was presented at the International Conference on Brain Tumor Research and Therapy. The study was conducted by the Brain Tumor Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
Data from 32 evaluable patients suggest that vaccination with Oncophage may improve overall survival in patients with recurrent high-grade glioma. An overall median survival of 44 weeks after tumor resection was observed. Approximately 70% of the evaluable patients survived beyond 36 weeks, and 41% survived up to or longer than one year. This is considered a significant achievement in the treatment of recurrent high-grade glioma. In addition, Oncophage was well tolerated, with no serious adverse events attributable to the vaccine.
All patients tested to date exhibited a significant innate immune response following vaccine administration. Furthermore, the majority of these patients showed an adaptive immune response, demonstrated by significant increases in CD8 and CD4 T cell responses. An innate immune response is defined as a generalized response, whereas the adaptive immune response is tumor antigen-specific. Taken together, these immune responses have the potential to kill tumor cells and may lead to patient benefit.
"The results from this trial suggest clear biological activity associated with Oncophage treatment as evidenced by stimulation of robust immune responses in the patients evaluated to date," said Andrew T. Parsa, MD, PhD, associate professor in the department of neurological surgery at UCSF, and principal investigator of the trial, who presented the update. "Furthermore, I am encouraged that recurrent glioma patients treated with Oncophage are experiencing longer than anticipated survival without treatment-related toxicities. These data could potentially justify advancement into late-stage trials."
In a separate, more recently initiated Phase 2 trial enrolling patients with newly diagnosed glioma (n=8), there have been no significant toxicities associated with concurrent treatment of Oncophage and Temodar(R) (Merck: temozolomide), a chemotherapeutic that is the current standard of care. Clinical and immunologic evaluation is ongoing.
Study Details
The Phase 2 portion of the recurrent high-grade glioma trial is designed to enroll approximately 50 patients. The overall goal of this investigator-initiated, multi-center, single-arm, open-label study is to evaluate median overall survival, progression-free survival and immunologic response to vaccine treatment. Patients undergo surgery to remove their tumors, which are then used to manufacture their patient-specific vaccines. Patients receive four weekly doses of Oncophage and then bi-weekly doses thereafter in the absence of disease progression, unacceptable toxicity, or vaccine depletion. To date, side effects observed in this study have been minor and have included injection-site reaction, fatigue, and headaches. The trial is supported in part through a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Last year, the trial was expanded to include New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and the Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.
The Phase 2 newly diagnosed glioma trial is designed to enroll about 60 patients. This single-arm, open-label, investigator-initiated trial is designed to evaluate median overall survival, progression-free survival and immunologic response to vaccine treatment. Patients undergo surgery to remove their tumors, which are then used to manufacture their patient-specific vaccines. According to the protocol, patients receive Temodar concurrently with Oncophage once weekly for four consecutive weeks and monthly until vaccine depletion. The trial is supported through a grant from the American Brain Tumor Association and the National Cancer Institute Special Programs of Research Excellence.
Antigenics will assess data from the glioma trials as it matures and is currently assessing potential product registration strategies for Oncophage in this indication in the US and other territories.
About Oncophage
Nearly 800 patients in clinical trials throughout North America and Europe have been treated with Oncophage produced in Antigenics' commercial facility located in Lexington, Massachusetts. Studies with Oncophage have demonstrated efficacy signals in multiple cancers, including melanoma, glioma, colorectal, pancreatic, renal cell carcinoma, gastric cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Oncophage is approved for sale in Russia for the adjuvant treatment of kidney cancer patients at intermediate-risk for disease recurrence.
Derived from each individual's tumor, Oncophage contains the 'antigenic fingerprint' of the patient's particular cancer and is designed to reprogram the body's immune system to target only cancer cells bearing this fingerprint. Oncophage is intended to leave healthy tissue unaffected and limit the debilitating side effects typically associated with traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Oncophage has been studied in Phase 3 clinical trials for the treatment of kidney cancer and metastatic melanoma and is currently being investigated in Phase 2 trials in recurrent and newly diagnosed glioma.
Oncophage has received fast track and orphan drug designations from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for both kidney cancer and metastatic melanoma as well as orphan drug designation from the EMEA for kidney cancer. In 2009, Oncophage also received orphan drug designations from the FDA and EMEA for glioma.
In April 2009, the World Vaccine Congress named Oncophage as the best therapeutic vaccine.
About Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors
The American Cancer Society estimated that 22,070 malignant tumors of the brain or spinal cord would be diagnosed during 2009 in the United States, and that about 12,920 people would die from these tumors. Primary malignant brain tumors are uniformly fatal, and the five-year survival rate for the highest grade of malignant glial neoplasm, glioblastoma multiforme, is less than 2 percent. Brain and spinal cord tumors account for about 1 percent of all cancers and 2 percent of all cancer-related deaths.
About UCSF
UCSF is a leading university that consistently defines health care worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences, and providing complex patient care. For more information, please visit
Dr. Parsa has not received any financial support or travel expense reimbursement for this presentation or for consulting activities on behalf of Antigenics. Dr. Parsa does not have an equity interest in Antigenics or other financial relationship with the company.
About the American Brain Tumor Association
For more than 37 years, the American Brain Tumor Association has provided critical funding to researchers working toward breakthroughs in brain tumor diagnosis, treatment and care, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure. The ABTA is also the recognized resource for comprehensive information and compassionate support for the brain tumor patients, families and caregivers who are living with this disease.
About Antigenics
Antigenics /quotes/comstock/15*!agen/quotes/nls/agen (AGEN 1.07, -0.01, -0.93%) is a biotechnology company working to develop treatments for cancers and infectious diseases. For more information, please visit
This press release contains forward-looking statements, including statements regarding trial enrollment expectations, availability of data and registrational strategies, the potential of Oncophage to improve overall survival and the potential advantage of Oncophage in effectively generating an immune response. These statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected in these forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties include, among others, that the results of the Phase 2 trials of Oncophage in glioma may be unfavorable; even if the results from these trials are positive, significant additional trials, the outcome of which are uncertain, would be required before submitting an application for marketing approval; decisions by physicians, patients, and regulatory agencies; and the factors described under the Risk Factors section of Antigenics' Form 10-Q as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the quarter ended March 31, 2010. Antigenics cautions investors not to place considerable reliance on the forward-looking statements contained in this press release. These statements speak only as of the date of this document, and Antigenics undertakes no obligation to update or revise the statements. All forward- looking statements are expressly qualified in their entirety by this cautionary statement. Antigenics' business is subject to substantial risks and uncertainties, including those identified above. When evaluating Antigenics' business and securities, investors should give careful consideration to these risks and uncertainties.

Doctors Remove Half of Infant's Brain to Relieve Seizures

A baby boy, suffering from a rare brain disorder that left him having up to 200 seizures a day, is recovering after doctors removed part of his brain, WOWT-TV in Omaha, Neb., reported.
When little Aaron McDonald and his twin brother, Conor, were born in March — their parents couldn’t have been happier. But that joy soon turned into fear when doctors discovered Aaron had Ohtahara syndrome, which is a neurological disorder characterized by seizures.
It affects newborns, usually within the first three months of life in the form of epileptic seizures, the National Institutes of Health said on its Web site.
"You go from being so excited that you have two sons born, and then you go to that drop-off-a-cliff feeling of horrible sadness when you find out what's wrong," Aaron’s dad, Dan McDonald, said.
Because the seizures were so severe, doctors were left with no other choice but to operate. On May 17th, Aaron underwent a 12-hour surgery at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn.
"Now they don't take out the entire brain, but they do remove part of it, and they disconnect the other parts,” McDonald said. “And then if the right side is not specialized yet, it's able to partially or fully pick up functions."
McDonald said Aaron has not had any seizures since the surgery, and is already grasping things with his right hand, which means the right side of his brain has taken over for the part that was removed.
“Yeah it's a miracle, it is," McDonald said.

Visceral Fat Has Link to Brain Volume

Middle-age patients with lots of visceral fat may have low brain volume, researchers say.

In a cross-sectional study, visceral fat was significantly associated with lower total brain volume, even when controlling for body mass index (P=0.02) and insulin resistance (P=0.01), Sudha Seshadri, MD, of Boston University, and colleagues reported online in the Annals of Neurology.

"Our data suggest that the association is stronger for central obesity versus global adiposity and is particularly prominent and robust for the visceral fat component of abdominal obesity," they wrote.

Obesity in midlife has been associated with an increased risk of dementia, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood.

Studies have shown that different fat compartments carry different metabolic risks. For example, there's growing evidence that abdominal obesity and visceral fat have a stronger relationship with vascular risk than global BMI.

So to examine the relationship between measures of body mass and brain volume in middle-age, the researchers looked at 733 patients, mean age 60, from the Framingham Offspring cohort, who'd had an MRI to assess brain volume.

Overall, they found that greater BMI, waist circumference, waist-hip ratio, and subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue were associated with lower total brain volume, regardless of vascular risk factors.

The association between visceral fat and brain volume was the strongest and most robust, they said, and was also independent of BMI and insulin resistance.

However, all of the associations were attenuated and were no longer statistically significant after adjusting for C-reactive protein levels.

Also, there were no associations between abdominal fat measures and temporal horn volume, white matter hypersensitivity volume, or brain infarcts.

Zaven S. Khachaturian, PhD, of the Campaign to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease by 2020 and the former director of the office of Alzheimer's research at the National Institutes of Health, said the findings are preliminary because they "merely establish a correlation" between brain volume and obesity.

"This needs to be studied further," he told MedPage Today, adding that one of the primary values of the research by Seshadri and colleagues is "opening new ideas for studies."

For instance, the "relationship between obesity and brain changes may be mediated through vascular pathology," and that should be investigated further, he said.

But Khachaturian cautioned that physicians should not yet suggest that reducing weight will decrease risk of Alzheimer's disease.

"You want people to control their weight for other reasons, such as the relationship with diabetes and vascular disease," he said. "You can't use this study to say, 'Reduce your weight and that will reduce Alzheimer's.' That relationship is tenuous."

"We need to understand [the relationship] before we can make recommendations," Khachaturian added.

In their paper, Sheshadri and colleagues wrote that the mechanisms underlying the relationship are speculative.

Inflammation could be an important mediator, they suggested, as obesity is highly associated with inflammatory markers. Cytokines such as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha, for example, are produced in adipose tissue, and it also contains inflammatory monocytes and macrophages.

Diabetes and insulin resistance are other potential mediators, the researchers noted, but their results imply that they are not the sole mediators.

Their results also imply that global brain atrophy could be the main mechanism behind the association between BMI and cognitive decline and dementia, rather than vascular brain injury.

Still, further study is needed, the researchers acknowledged, since theirs was limited by its cross-sectional design, which can't establish causation, by a lack of a direct measurement of hippocampal volume, as well as by absence of longitudinal measurements.