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Howard Hughes Medical Institute




Interrupted Alzheimer’s vaccine study yields hopeful results, as new clinical trial prepares to open at UM- Training the body's immune system to fight back against Alzheimer's disease may still offer a promising option for slowing or even preventing the tragic brain disorder that affects 4.5 million Americans.  That's the conclusion of two new papers published in the journal Neurology by an international team of researchers who vaccinated hundreds of Alzheimer's disease patients with beta amyloid, a protein that builds up in Alzheimer's-affected brains.  5/09/05

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute published an article, The Synapse Revealed, on the function of synapses in learning, behavior, thinking and memory and the importance of synaptic plasticity.  In a related article, Prions on My Mind, they suggest that prions, despite their role in many neurodegenerative disorders such as Mad Cow Disease, may also function in memory storage.  2/09/05

Digital Evolution-See this story on the Biology Page. 1/30/05

Medicinal Critters-Relatively recently, the FDA has approved two animals for use as medical devices. Leeches have long been used in medicine for various reasons, but lately their use for appendage reattachment surgeries and plastic surgery has become commonplace. They are useful for their ability to relieve the vascular congestion which can prevent healing.  For further reading see this commentary , from an otolaryngolgist.  Also see Biopharm Leeches, MSNBC, FDA

Also medical maggots have been shown to be quite effective in debriding ulcers and wounds. They are placed in the wounds and covered with mesh so they don’t escape. They only eat necrotic tissue and are believed to produce secretions with antibiotic properties.  Here is some related commentary.  Also see MSNBC, CNN.

Perhaps even more interesting is the recent use of the pig whipworm, Trichuris suis, which is an enteric parasite for inflammatory bowel disease. A study that used 4 patients with Crohn’s Disease and 3 with ulcerative colitis, they were given a single dose of 2500 live Trichuris suis eggs orally, and then followed every 2 weeks for 12 weeks. Six of seven patients achieved remission. The effect was temporary however, except for patients who continued maintenance therapy every 3 weeks. They showed continued benefit and no adverse effects for greater than 28 weeks.   Source: Trichuris suis seems to be safe and possibly effective in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 98(9):2034-41, 2003 Sept. Also see Medical Observer, and Breakthrough Digest 1/29/05


Brain Driven Prostheses-A company called Cyberkinetics Inc is developing  a device known as the BrainGate™ Neural Interface System which consists of an implant into the motor cortex of the brain linked to processors which allow a subject to interact with a computer which in turn drives prosthetic devices.  Clinical trials are already underway.  Given the plasticity of both the cortex of the brain and computers, the possibilities for further applications of this system seem endless.  References:  Discover, Cyberkinetics Inc. 1/25/05.


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