Controlling Brain Circuits With Light

Commenting on Edward Boyden’s article, Ben Barres, Head of the Neuronal & Glial Cell Biology Section of Faculty of 1000 and Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine said: “There will probably be a Nobel prize for optogenetics someday as it has revolutionized our attempts to understand how the brain works. This article provides a fascinating insight into the birth of optogenetics and the roles of the major players.”

The invention of optogenetics literally sheds light on how our brains work. Published in the May 2011 issue of F1000 Biology Reports, Edward Boyden’s revealing article gives a unique perspective on the birth of optogenetics tools, new resources for analyzing and engineering brain circuits. These ‘tools’ take the form of genetically encoded molecules that, when targeted to specific neurons in the brain, enable their activity to be driven or silenced by light, thus revealing how entire neural circuits operate.

By driving or quieting the activity of defined neurons embedded with an intact neural network, Boyden and his colleagues are able to determine what behaviors, neural computations, or pathologies those neurons were sufficient to cause or what brain functions, or pathologies, these neurons are necessary for.

These tools are also being explored as components of neural control prosthetics capable of correcting neural circuit computations that have gone awry in brain disorders. Part of a systematic approach to neuroscience that is empowering new therapeutic strategies for neurological and psychiatric disorders, optogenetic tools are widely accepted as one of the technical advances of the decade, and could one day be used to treat neurological disorders such as Parkinsons.

Using primary sources and his own experiences at Stanford, Boyden reconstructs a compelling case study of the development of optogenetic tools, providing an insight into the hard work and serendipity involved.

About the author

Edward Boyden is the Benesse Career Development Professor, and Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences, at the MIT Media Lab. He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group at MIT which develops tools for controlling and observing the dynamic circuits of the brain. He has received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the Society for Neuroscience Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience, and the Paul Allen Distinguished Investigator Award.

An essential aspect of Boyden’s work is the desire to distribute these optogenetic tools freely and openly, even pre-publication. By publishing this article in the F1000 Biology Reports open-access journal, F1000 hopes to further the understanding of these revolutionary tools.

Eleanor Howell

Faculty of 1000: Biology and Medicine

Adherence To Certain Dietary Pattern Associated With Lower BMI In Adolescent Girls

Adolescent girls whose diet resembles one recommended for adults with hypertension appear to have smaller gains in overall body mass index (BMI) over 10 years, according to a report in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

“Excess weight during childhood leads to numerous health problems and is even associated with premature death as an adult,” the authors write as background information in the article. However, the authors note that examinations of food-based dietary patterns acknowledge that consuming various nutrients together can have positive influences on health. One such diet pattern, the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH), was originally studied as a treatment for adults with hypertension, according to background in the article.

Jonathan P. B. Berz, M.D., M.Sc., of Boston University Medical Center, and colleagues evaluated the effects of a DASH-style eating plan on BMI (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) in a racially diverse sample of adolescent girls. The authors examined data from 2,237 girls 9 years of age who participated in the National Growth and Health Study from 1987-1988 and were followed up for 10 years. Data were gathered annually and each participant was given a DASH food group score based on individual adherence to dietary requirements.

Higher DASH scores were associated with higher total energy intake, as well as higher average intake from each food group (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, low-fat dairy and nuts/seeds/legumes). Girls in the highest quintile of DASH scores had the smallest gains in BMI during the study, and had the lowest BMIs at the end of follow-up. Conversely, at age 19 years, girls in the lowest DASH score quintile had an average BMI that was greater than the threshold for overweight as defined by the 85th percentile for age.

“In particular, higher consumption of fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy products led to less weight gain,” the authors noted. Participants who consumed two or more servings of fruit per day had the smallest gains in BMI during the study years and had the lowest BMI at the end of follow-up. Compared with participants consuming the least amount of whole grains, those who consumed the most had lower BMI scores over time and a lower BMI at the end of follow-up. The same results were seen for girls consuming higher amounts of low-fat dairy products.

“We found that higher adherence to a DASH-style diet resulted in a consistently lower BMI between the ages of 9 and 19 years,” the authors conclude. “Such an eating pattern may help prevent excess weight gain during adolescence.”

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.

Bird Flu Update, Food Standards Agency, UK, 6 April 2006

At its meeting in London today, the Food Standards Agency Board was updated on the preliminary finding of H5 avian flu in a swan in Scotland.

FSA Chair Deirdre Hutton reaffirmed that the Agency’s existing advice is not changed by this development, in line with the expert opinions of the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s independent expert scientific advisers.

She said: ‘If you wish to eat poultry and eggs you should continue to do so, following the normal precautions of cooking thoroughly and by that we mean cooking until there are no red juices, or in the case of eggs, cooking until the white is hard. And that advice applies to cooking chickens generally, not just because of the possibility of avian flu.’

Agency advice

The Food Standards Agency considers that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

Currently, there are no confirmed cases of the avian flu virus (H5N1) in UK birds. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that in areas free from the disease, poultry and poultry products can be prepared and eaten as usual (following good hygiene practice and proper cooking), with no fear of acquiring infection.

Like the WHO, the FSA advises proper handling during food preparation. When handling raw poultry, the person involved in the food preparation should wash their hands thoroughly and clean surfaces and utensils in contact with the poultry products. Soap and hot water are sufficient for this purpose.

In countries where avian flu is present in poultry, the virus may be present in meat and eggs from affected birds. Controls in place are intended to stop the spread of the disease. Even if virus is present in meat or eggs, several factors will contribute to preventing or limiting its effects on people. First, the virus is easily killed by cooking. Second, even if it is still present after cooking, the virus is destroyed by saliva and by gastric acid, as well as the fact that there are very few receptors the virus needs to enter the body in the gut.

European Food Safety Authority

On 26 October 2005 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued advice on the importance of thoroughly cooking poultry and eggs.

This reiterates long-standing advice about cooking poultry and eggs thoroughly to kill bugs. EFSA, like the Agency, is not aware of any reports of people getting avian flu from eating poultry or eggs and recognises that the current risk is from people having contact with live birds that have the disease.

For people, the risk of catching the disease comes from being in close contact with live poultry that have the disease, and not through eating poultry or eggs. Poultry can include chicken, duck, goose, turkey and guinea fowl and so on.

Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food

The FSA asked the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), which provides independent expert advice to Government on questions relating to microbiology and food, to consider recent developments since it last discussed avian, or bird, flu in 2003.

The ACMSF met in December 2005 to consider current information on avian flu and the conclusions from a recent meeting of influenza virologists and epidemiologists, which was chaired by Dr David Brown of the ACMSF. The review group examined current information on avian flu and its implications for foodborne transmission in the UK.

The committee concluded that the recent information on avian flu had not changed its current risk assessment and, following the meeting, the ACMSF’s advice therefore remains as follows:
‘The risk of acquiring avian influenza through the food chain is low, and there is no direct evidence to support this route of infection.

Evidence from human infection indicates that direct contact with infected birds is the main risk factor, and that consumption of infected chickens has not been identified as a risk factor.

‘Several factors will contribute to preventing or limiting infection following ingestion of viruses, including lack of appropriate receptors, and non-specific defences such as saliva or gastric acid. Proper cooking will destroy any virus present in meat or eggs.’

The Committee also proposed that a working group be established to keep a watching brief on developments.

Questions and answers

Is it safe to eat poultry meat and eggs?

On the basis of current scientific evidence, our advice is that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. For people, the risk of catching the disease comes from being in close contact with live poultry that have the disease, and not through eating cooked poultry or eggs.

What evidence is this based on?

Our current advice is based upon the opinions of scientific experts around the world including advisers to the WHO, EFSA and the ACMSF. The FSA has monitored developments since avian flu was first reported in the Far East eight years ago. During that time, most human cases have had close contact with infected birds. We continue to monitor the most up-to-date information and evidence, as it becomes available. The FSA will keep an open mind as to any information that may lead to our advice being updated. However, current scientific opinion agrees that avian flu is not a food safety risk.

Are there measures in place to prevent infected poultry and eggs entering the food chain?

When an outbreak of avian flu occurs in wild birds or a poultry flock, the authorities are required to put in place controls that aim to prevent the spread of the disease. These controls will also mean it is unlikely that infected poultry or eggs will enter the food chain. The Agency has taken account of the low risk of infected products entering the food chain as it developed its advice for consumers and, even if avian flu were present in the UK, current FSA advice that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk to the UK consumer would still apply.

Are controls in place to stop poultry and eggs being imported from affected countries?

Controls are in place to prevent imports of live birds, poultry meat and eggs from several non-EU countries that are affected by avian flu. When an outbreak of avian flu occurs in wild birds or a poultry flock in an EU Member State, trade within the European Community may continue, but trade of poultry and poultry products from the affected parts of any Member State will be restricted to protect animal health. These controls will also mean it is very unlikely that infected poultry or eggs will enter the food chain in any affected non-EU country or EU Member State. The Agency has taken account of the low risk of infected products entering the food chain as it developed its advice for consumers, and current FSA advice that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk to the UK consumer would still apply.

How about touching uncooked poultry meat?

Our long standing advice is that you should always wash your hands after handling raw poultry meat and eggs to avoid contamination from any bugs. In countries where avian flu is present in poultry, this will also help prevent contamination with the virus.

Would cooking poultry and eggs properly kill the virus?

Cooking food thoroughly will kill bacteria and viruses. Our advice is that poultry and eggs should always be cooked properly to avoid food poisoning. Even if avian flu were present in the UK, current FSA advice on preparing, cooking and eating poultry meat and eggs would still apply.

People should follow the handling and cooking instructions for cooking poultry. If you’re cooking a whole chicken or other bird, pierce the thickest part of the leg (between drumstick and thigh) with a clean knife or skewer until the juices run clear. The juices shouldn’t have any pink or red in them and there should be no pink meat.

People should not eat raw eggs or use raw eggs in dishes that will not be cooked. Eggs should be cooked until the whites are solid.

Why does this advice differ from that of WHO?

The World Health Organisation advises the cooking of eggs until both yolks and whites are solid. The FSA have discussed this with WHO and they confirm that this advice is precautionary. Their advice on cooking eggs is relevant for all bacteria and viruses that may be present – for all parts of the world.

In the UK, independent expert advice has confirmed that it is not necessary to cook eggs until the yolks are hard to protect against exposure to the avian flu virus.

Is it safe to eat meat and eggs from vaccinated birds?

The vaccines used to vaccinate birds against avian flu do not pose any health concerns. This is provided a licensed vaccine with marketing authorisation is used, and the correct interval between vaccination and slaughter or date eggs are laid is observed.

There is no requirement for meat or eggs from vaccinated animals or birds to be labelled to indicate that they have been vaccinated.

Food Standards Agency, UK

AARP Urgers Lawmakers To Act Quickly To Enact Moratorium On All 7 Regulations Proposed By The Center For Medicare & Medicaid Services

AARP today sent a letter to Congressional leaders and all House and Senate offices encouraging lawmakers to enact moratoria on all seven of the proposed regulations. Here is the letter:

Dear Leaders:

On behalf of AARP’s nearly 40 million members, we urge you to act quickly to enact a moratorium on all seven regulations proposed by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) which would severely cut federal Medicaid funding.

We support sound policies to address fraud, waste and abuse in this vital safety net program that one in six Americans rely on for health and long-term care. However, the regulations go far beyond reasonable program integrity goals and instead would shift costs for many legitimate and necessary services to states and individuals.

While the Administration says that these cuts total $15 billion over 5 years, state Medicaid directors estimate the impact to be nearly $50 billion over the same time period. Many states will be unable to cover this cost shift and may have little choice but to deny needed care to the most vulnerable among us.

Particularly troubling to AARP is the interim final case management rule that will impede efforts to move people out of institutions and into home and community-based services that most of us prefer and that are often more cost effective. Together, all seven of the proposed regulations pose an unconscionable threat to people who cannot afford the health and long-term care that they need.

Both the House and Senate have voted with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities in favor of a moratorium on all seven regulations. We therefore urge you to act now, despite veto threats, to delay implementation of these regulations and allow time to revise them to avoid harmful cost shifting to states and our most vulnerable citizens.


David P. Sloane
Senior Vice President
Government Relations and Advocacy

Breast Cancer Linked To HRT Use

A new study suggests the decrease in breast cancer in the US in 2003 is linked to reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

According to researchers using data from the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) programme, there was a
sharp fall of 6.7 per cent in the age-adjusted rate of new breast cancer cases in the US in 2003.

They suggest this could be linked to the decline in the use of HRT during the same period.

HRT prescriptions fell sharply after the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study suggested that postmenopausal women on HRT using both estrogen and progestin
carried an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and urinary incontinence.

The two HRT drugs most commonly prescribed in the US are PREMARIN (estrogen-only) or PREMPRO (a combination of estrogen and progestin), both made by Wyeth
Pharmaceuticals. Prescriptions for these two drugs fell from 61 million in 2001 to 21 million in 2004.

The study shows that new cases of breast cancer starting falling in mid-2002 and levelled off after 2003. The decrease occurred only in women over 50 and was
sharper for estrogen receptor (ER) positive cancers. In ER positive cancer, estrogen stimulates growth and spread of tumour cells.

The research team, led by Dr Donald Berry from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, suggest that the speed with which breast
cancer rates fell may be because extremely small ER-positive breast cancers stopped progressing, or even regressed, after HRT was stopped following the WHI

NCI Director, Dr John E. Niederhuber, said:

“Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in the United States, and we have made great strides in its treatment.”

“Still, we don’t know all the causes of breast cancer, and breast cancer rates had been increasing for two decades up to 2002. Finding the simple ways, such
as limiting HRT use to decrease breast cancer risk, is a step forward,” he added.

Exactly how stopping HRT affects breast cancer is not well understood. It depends on which treatment is followed and how the patient responds to the drugs.

The NCI suggest that the nationwide reduction in breast cancer due to reduced use of HRT may have run its course and incidence may even rise again. Also,
there is no evidence to suggest that reduction in HRT has long term effects or whether it simply slowed down the detection of tumours — so we may see
incidence rise again.

The scientists explored other reasons that might explain the sharp decline in new breast cancer cases, including changes in reproductive factors, mammography
screening rates, environmental exposure, and diet.

Dr Kathy Cronin of the NCI Surveillance Research Program, said:

“Recent reports have suggested a small decline in mammography use after 2000. Screening may play a role as well, and the contribution of mammography to the
observed decline in incidence is currently being investigated.”

More research is needed, along the lines of randomized clinical trials, to prove a link between HRT use and new breast cancer cases. This study is based on
population statistics and therefore cannot be used to establish cause, only association.

The WHI trial is a randomized controlled trial. A report due later this year is expected to give detailed evidence of the effect of continuing and ceasing
HRT on breast cancer incidence.

A statement released yesterday from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals asks that people treat the findings of this study with a degree of caution, drawing attention to
the fact it is not a randomized trial and therefore cannot establish a causal link between HRT and breast cancer incidence.

They too point out that the long term effects are unknown, and suggest that other factors, such as the reduction in mammography exams may just have reduced
the ability to detect breast cancer early, rather than actually reduced the incident rate. We may well see a rise in detection of later stage breast cancer
if that is the case.

Dr Joseph Camardo, Senior Vice President of Global Medical Affairs for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals said that:

“Reports such as this cause confusion, the hypothesis put forth in this report does not change what we know about hormone therapy, which is based on data
from numerous, more rigorous studies including the Women’s Health Initiative.”

“Hormone therapy remains a good health care choice for the appropriate woman seeking the relief of moderate to severe menopausal symptoms, including hot
flashes, night sweats and vaginal atrophy, and the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis,” he added.

Wyeth recommend that HRT be used at the “lowest dose for the appropriate duration consistent with treatment goals and risks for the individual woman,” and
encourages women to speak to the their doctor about what is the right treatment and to continue with routine mammogram screening.

Dr Christine Berg of the NCI and co-researcher on the study said:

“The decision about use of HRT is complex. While HRT provides relief from the symptoms of menopause, it may also increase one’s risk of breast cancer. It is important that women meet with their doctor to discuss what decision is right for them, particularly if they are at high risk for breast cancer.”

Meanwhile, another study being published today in the Lancet, attributes 1,000 extra ovarian cancer deaths in the UK since 1991 to HRT.

“The Decrease in Breast-Cancer Incidence in 2003 in the United States.”
Ravdin, Peter M., Cronin, Kathleen A., Howlader, Nadia, Berg, Christine D., Chlebowski, Rowan T., Feuer, Eric J., Edwards, Brenda K., Berry, Donald A.
N Engl J Med 2007 356: 1670-1674.
April 19, 2007; Number 16

Click here for Abstract.

Click here for National Cancer Institute (US)

Click here for article: 1,000 Ovarian Cancer Deaths In The UK Caused By HRT, Says New Study.

: Catharine Paddock
Writer: blog

View drug information on Premarin; Prempro.

AACC’s Van Slyke Award For Boston University School Of Medicine Professor

Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD, a professor at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), is the recipient of the 2010 Van Slyke Award from the American Academy for Clinical Chemistry New York Metro Section. The award acknowledges outstanding contributions to the science of clinical chemistry and laboratory medicine.

Holick, an internationally renowned expert in vitamin D and skin research, was chosen to receive the award for his seminal contributions to laboratory medicine. He is a professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics, and director of the General Clinical Research Unit at BUSM and Director of the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston Medical Center.

Since joining BUSM in 1987, Holick has initiated several successful clinical research programs. He helped pioneer the assays for vitamin D and its metabolites which are used worldwide to determine a patient’s vitamin D status and to evaluate disorders of calcium and bone metabolism. He helped establish global recommendations for sensible sun exposure and vitamin D intake for children and adults. His psoriasis work with active vitamin D is considered to be at the forefront of research into the complex disease. The results of his programs have led to significant contributions to the basic science of vitamin D and significant new therapies for a wide variety of medical problems.

Holick has received numerous honors and awards including the Psoriasis Research Achievement Award from the American Skin Association in 2000, the Robert H. Herman Memorial Award in Clinical Nutrition from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition in 2002, the General Clinical Research Centers Program Award for Excellence in Clinical Research in 2006, the 2007 Linus Pauling Functional Medicine Award from the Institute for Functional Medicine, the DSM Innovation Award for international nutrition and the Linus Pauling prize for his contributions in human nutrition.

Nathan Bliss
Boston University Medical Center

Cardiovascular Devices From Medtronic Featured Prominently At EuroPCR

Medtronic, Inc. (NYSE: MDT), announced today the schedule of important clinical data presentations during EuroPCR, a major cardiology meeting taking place May 25-28 in Paris at the Palais de CongrГЁs.

The meeting will prominently feature several of Medtronic’s innovative cardiovascular devices, including the Resolute coronary drug-eluting stent, the IN.PACT line of coronary and peripheral drug-eluting balloons, and the CoreValve transcatheter aortic valve replacement system.

“Medtronic is the only company with technological and therapeutic expertise in coronary and peripheral interventions as well as cardiac and vascular surgery,” said Scott Ward, senior vice president of Medtronic and president of the company’s CardioVascular business. “The breadth and depth of our product portfolio and pipeline for these specialties is unmatched. We are uniquely positioned to work together with medical professionals across disciplines and around the world to advance the treatment of cardiovascular disease.”

EuroPCR 2010 is the first major medical meeting for interventional cardiologists and other interventionalists since Medtronic completed its acquisition of Invatec on April 21. The program includes several presentations on the novel devices developed by Invatec for the treatment of coronary and peripheral vascular disease – most notably, the IN.PACT Admiral, Amphirion and Falcon drug-eluting balloons, and the Mo.Ma proximal embolic protection system.

Highlights of the EuroPCR program for cardiovascular devices from Medtronic follow:

EuroPCR 2010 / Paris

Tuesday, May 25 (Day 1)

- The Great Debate – Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI):
from concept to evidence-driven practice
12:20 – 2:20 pm (Main Arena)
(supported with an unrestricted educational grant from Medtronic)

- Hotline 2 – Endovascular late breaking trials
1:30 – 2:20 pm (Theatre Havane)
Starts with two presentations of clinical data on the Mo.Ma proximal embolic protection system: “Armour trial – Final results” and “Proximal endovascular clamping for carotid artery stenting: 1-year follow-up of a prospective registry of 1,300 consecutive patients”

- Hotline 3 – TAVI Facts, Figures and National Registries
3:00 – 4:05 pm (Main Arena)
Featuring new clinical data from TAVI registries in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. (all include the CoreValve system; the Italian registry includes on the CoreValve system)

- Hotline 4 – Late Breaking Trials
4:05 – 5:35 pm (Main Arena)
Featuring one-year results of the RESOLUTE All-Comers study, the first randomized, head-to-head comparison of the Resolute zotarolimus-eluting and the Xience V everolimus-eluting coronary stents (the first presentation of the primary clinical and secondary angiographic outcomes)

Wednesday, May 26 (Day 2)

- TAVI: mid- and long-term clinical outcomes
12:00 noon – 1:30 pm (Room 243)
Starts with “Stable durability and effectiveness at 2 years with the CoreValve transcatheter aortic valve”; also includes “Medium-term results of transcatheter aortic valve implantation with the CoreValve: the Italian Registry” (one of the largest country-specific registries of CoreValve patients)

- Emerging technologies and therapies in endovascular interventions -
Drug-eluting balloon in peripheral vascular interventions
1:30 – 3:00 pm (VendГґme)
Includes “The value of drug-eluting balloons for below-the-knee interventions”(a presentation of the Leipzig 100-patient single-center clinical data on the IN.PACT Amphirion drug-eluting balloon)

- Cardiovascular Innovation Pipeline EuroPCR
4:30 – 6:30 pm (Room 243)
Spans nine recent technological advances, including “Continuous sinusoid technology – the future of Medtronic’s stent pipeline” (based on the Integrity® bare-metal stent)

Thursday, May 27 (Day 3)

- TAVI: new insights from imaging
8:00 – 9:00 am (Room 253)
Includes “Serial echocardiographic evaluation of the CoreValve aortic bioprosthesis: the Italian Registry,” an examination of left ventricular remodeling following CoreValve implantation

- What do Resolute All Comers data tell us about the treatment of complex disease and complex patients
12:00 noon – 1:30 pm (Theatre Havane)
(supported with an unrestricted educational grant from Medtronic)

- From drug-eluting stent to drug-eluting balloon:
the role of drug-eluting balloons in percutaneous coronary intervention
4:30 – 6:00 pm (Theatre Havane)
Features the first presentation of the Homburg/Saar 23-patient single-center clinical data on the IN.PACT Falcon drug-eluting balloon for coronary in-stent restenosis; also includes additional presentations on the use of the IN.PACT line of drug-eluting balloons in coronary arteries, including small vessels, and peripheral applications (supported with an unrestricted educational grant from Medtronic)

In the United States, the Resolute drug-eluting stent is limited by U.S. federal law to investigational use only. The Integrity bare-metal stent, the CoreValve transcatheter aortic valve, and the IN.PACT Amphirion and Falcon drug-eluting balloons are not available for sale or investigation in the United States. All of these devices have received the CE (ConformitГ© EuropГ©enne) mark, making them widely available outside the United States and Japan.

The CardioVascular business at Medtronic is committed to advancing the treatment of coronary, peripheral, aortic and structural heart disease through collaboration with leading clinicians, researchers and scientists worldwide.

Medtronic, Inc.

Cancer Experts Issue Seasonal Warning On Grilling — With An Important Research Update

This year, as Americans make ready to fire up millions of backyard grills, there’s a new scientific wrinkle: according to an exhaustive analysis of international research on diet and cancer, it’s time to start looking for an alternative to the humble hot dog.

Experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) are marking the onset of cookout season by issuing their yearly advice on ways to lower potential cancer risks associated with grilling. But this year, new information has come to light on the precise nature of those risks, and AICR’s advice reflects this development with a shift in emphasis.

According to AICR, what you grill is the most important issue. US consumption of hot dogs and hamburgers soars during cookout season, and a recently published landmark AICR report on diet and cancer prevention concluded that diets high in red meat (beef, pork and lamb) and especially processed meats (such as hot dogs) are now a convincing cause of colorectal cancer.

Based on this report, AICR recommends limiting consumption of red meat to 18 ounces (cooked) per week. But the evidence on diets high in processed meat is even more troubling: according to the AICR report’s analysis of the available evidence, every 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of processed meat eaten per day increases risk for colorectal cancer by 42 percent. Because of this, AICR now advises avoiding hot dogs – along with sausages, bacon, ham, cold cuts and other processed meats.

The AICR expert report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, reviewed over 7000 studies on all aspects of diet and cancer risk.

Experts Put Risks in Perspective

Compared to such clear and compelling risks, the risks associated with the grilling process itself should be of secondary concern. It is clear that grilling animal products (both red and white meat) causes potent carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to arise within food.

These substances have been shown in laboratory experiments to trigger the cancer process. The AICR report concluded that there is limited but suggestive evidence that these substances factor in human cancer, providing one more reason to limit consumption of red and processed meat, however it is cooked.

“We get asked about the risks of grilling every year about this time, and this year the AICR expert report helps put them in perspective,” said AICR Nutrition Advisor Karen Collins, MS, RD.

“There are risks associated with the grilling process, and it makes sense to take precautions to reduce those risks. But keep an eye on the big picture: the evidence is now overwhelming that red meat – especially processed red meats like hot dogs – is a cause of colorectal cancer. So instead of seeing cookout season as incentive to eat more of these foods, look on it as an opportunity to try new things.”

Explore Other Grilling Options

Grilling vegetables and fruit produces no HCAs or PAHs, and thus poses no potential cancer risks. Diets high in plant foods are associated with reduced risk of several cancers.

What about turkey burgers and hot dogs made from turkey or chicken?

Unlike red and processed meat, neither poultry nor seafood has been linked to cancer. But because turkey hot dogs and similar products haven’t been well studied, scientists can’t yet determine if those foods affect cancer risk. The possibility cannot be dismissed, because if, for example, turkey hot dogs are processed in the same manner as beef hot dogs, and some aspect of processing (such as the addition of nitrates) is found to be responsible for increased risk, then turkey hot dogs may confer similar risk. More research is needed.

Note that grilling any form of poultry or fish does produce HCAs and PAHs, so people may choose to take precautions that can minimize the production of these carcinogens.

Smart Precautions Reduce Grilling Risks

If you do choose to cook any kind of meat on the grill this year:

- Select smaller cuts of meat, such as kabobs, and limit your portion size.
- Select leaner cuts, to prevent dripping fat from causing flare-ups, which deposit carcinogens on the meat.
- You can also reduce flare-ups by spreading aluminum foil on the grill. Make small holes in the foil to allow fat to drain.
- Try a marinade. Some laboratory research suggests that even briefly marinating meat significantly reduces the formation of HCAs.
- Partially pre-cook meat briefly in the microwave before grilling, to speed up grilling time.
- Flip meat frequently, which reduces the amount of carcinogens that arise.

The New American (Picnic) Plate

This cookout season, the most important thing to do is to make sure that meat – especially processed meat – isn’t the focus of your meals.

Fill at least 2/3 of your picnic plate with plant foods like salads, beans and grains. Leave a bit of room – 1/3 of your plate or less – for whatever meat you’ve cooked up. That’s a meal model AICR calls the New American Plate, and it’s a pattern of eating that helps you maintain a healthy weight while conferring protection against cancer and other chronic disease.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, aicr. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

American Institute for Cancer Research

CellScope Project To Bring Low-Cost Lab Tools To The Field

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are proving that a camera phone can capture far more than photos of people or pets at play. They have now developed a cell phone microscope, or CellScope, that not only takes color images of malaria parasites, but of tuberculosis bacteria labeled with fluorescent markers.

The prototype CellScope, described in the July 22 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE, moves a major step forward in taking clinical microscopy out of specialized laboratories and into field settings for disease screening and diagnoses.

“The same regions of the world that lack access to adequate health facilities are, paradoxically, well-served by mobile phone networks,” said Dan Fletcher, UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering and head of the research team developing the CellScope. “We can take advantage of these mobile networks to bring low-cost, easy-to-use lab equipment out to more remote settings.”

The engineers attached compact microscope lenses to a holder fitted to a cell phone. Using samples of infected blood and sputum, the researchers were able to use the camera phone to capture bright field images of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria in humans, and sickle-shaped red blood cells. They were also able to take fluorescent images of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterial culprit that causes TB in humans. Moreover, the researchers showed that the TB bacteria could be automatically counted using image analysis software.

“The images can either be analyzed on site or wirelessly transmitted to clinical centers for remote diagnosis,” said David Breslauer, co-lead author of the study and a graduate student in the UC San Francisco/UC Berkeley Bioengineering Graduate Group. “The system could be used to help provide early warning of outbreaks by shortening the time needed to screen, diagnose and treat infectious diseases.”

The engineers had previously shown that a portable microscope mounted on a mobile phone could be used for bright field microscopy, which uses simple white light – such as from a bulb or sunlight – to illuminate samples. The latest development adds to the repertoire fluorescent microscopy, in which a special dye emits a specific fluorescent wavelength to tag a target – such as a parasite, bacteria or cell – in the sample.

“Fluorescence microscopy requires more equipment – such as filters and special lighting – than a standard light microscope, which makes them more expensive,” said Fletcher. “In this paper we’ve shown that the whole fluorescence system can be constructed on a cell phone using the existing camera and relatively inexpensive components.”

The researchers used filters to block out background light and to restrict the light source, a simple light-emitting diode (LED), to the 460 nanometer wavelength necessary to excite the green fluorescent dye in the TB-infected blood. Using an off-the-shelf phone with a 3.2 megapixel camera, they were able to achieve a spatial resolution of 1.2 micrometers. In comparison, a human red blood cell is about 7 micrometers in diameter.

“LEDs are dramatically more powerful now than they were just a few years ago, and they are only getting better and cheaper,” said Fletcher. “We had to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we needed to spend many thousands on a mercury arc lamp and high-sensitivity camera to get a meaningful image. We found that a high-powered LED – which retails for just a few dollars – coupled with a typical camera phone could produce a clinical quality image sufficient for our goal of detecting in a field setting some of the most common diseases in the developing world.”

The researchers pointed out that while fluorescent microscopes include additional parts, less training is needed to interpret fluorescent images. Instead of sorting out pathogens from normal cells in the images from standard light microscopes, health workers simply need to look for something the right size and shape to light up on the screen.

“Viewing fluorescent images is a bit like looking at stars at night,” said Breslauer. “The bright green fluorescent light stands out clearly from the dark background. It’s this contrast in fluorescent imaging that allowed us to use standard computer algorithms to analyze the sample containing TB bacteria.”

Breslauer added that these software programs can be easily installed onto a typical cell phone, turning the mobile phone into a self-contained field lab and a “good platform for epidemiological monitoring.”

While the CellScope is particularly valuable in resource-poor countries, Fletcher noted that it may have a place in this country’s health care system, famously plagued with cost overruns.

“A CellScope device with fluorescence could potentially be used by patients undergoing chemotherapy who need to get regular blood counts,” said Fletcher. “The patient could transmit from home the image or analyzed data to a health care professional, reducing the number of clinic visits necessary.”

The CellScope developers have even been approached by experts in agriculture interested in using it to help diagnose diseases in crops. Instead of sending in a leaf sample to a lab for diagnosis, farmers could upload an image of the diseased leaf for analysis.

The researchers are currently developing more robust prototypes of the CellScope in preparation for further field testing.

Other researchers on the team include Robi Maamari, a UC Berkeley research associate in bioengineering and co-lead author of the study; Neil Switz, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Biophysics Graduate Group; and Wilbur Lam, a UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow in bioengineering and a UCSF pediatric hematologist.

Funding for the CellScope project comes from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Blum Center for Developing Economies, both at UC Berkeley, and from Microsoft Research, Intel and the Vodafone Americas Foundation.

Sarah Yang

University of California – Berkeley

Anaheim To Host World’s Largest Cystic Fibrosis Medical Meeting, USA

An international medical meeting will draw more than 3,000 cystic fibrosis experts from all fields of science and medicine to Anaheim Oct. 3 – 6, 2007 to present the latest information and advances in cystic fibrosis drug research and care.

The 21st annual North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference is an annual ritual for leading CF research scientists and clinicians to collaborate in an open and noncompetitive environment. Key topics will include:

- Advancements in drug discovery and development and the importance of clinical trials;
- Aztreonam lysine for inhalation as a potential new CF therapy;
- Quality improvement and patient outcomes;
- The importance of newborn screening; and
- Serving the Hispanic CF population in the United States.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that affects approximately 30,000 children and adults in the United States. Ten million people are unknowing carriers of a CF gene. Fifty years ago, most children with CF died before reaching elementary school. Today, because of Cystic Fibrosis Foundation-supported drug research and care, people with CF are living to a median predicted age of 37.


The 21st Annual North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference, the largest international gathering of leading cystic fibrosis research scientists and clinicians.

When & Where:

Wed., Oct. 3 – Sat., Oct. 6, 2007 at the Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif.

Plenary Session Highlights:

- Thurs., Oct. 4, 4:20 p.m. – “From Basic Science to the Clinic: Where Are We & What Is Still Missing?” Margarida D. Amaral, Ph.D., University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal.

- Fri., Oct. 5, 8:30 a.m. – “CF Drug Development: What’s New?” Felix Ratjen, M.D., Ph.D., The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario.

- Sat., Oct. 6, 9:00 a.m. – “Improving Patient Outcomes Using the Tools We Have Now” Michael Boyle, M.D., The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland.

Interviews available with:

- Plenary speakers and other leading CF research scientists and clinicians
- Robert J. Beall, Ph.D., President and CEO, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
- Preston W. Campbell, M.D., Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

About the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is the leading organization devoted to curing and controlling cystic fibrosis. Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., the Foundation funds CF research, has 80 chapter and branch offices throughout the country, and supports and accredits a nationwide network of 115 CF care centers, which provide vital treatments and other CF resources to patients and families. For more information, visit cff.