News June 2012 Issue

In The News: June 2012

New Anti-Inflammatory Meds May Help Avoid Steroid Side Effects

A new class of anti-inflammatory drugs may someday serve as an alternative to steroid medications, thereby helping to avoid the serious side effects of steroids. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies discovered that a protein that defends the body against cancer also plays an important role in the anti-inflammatory action of steroids. Targeting this protein, called p35, may lead to new drugs that could replace steroid treatments, which can produce serious side effects, such as high blood sugar, muscle weakness, and glaucoma. The protein is best known for suppressing cancer tumors, but is also key to the anti-inflammatory action of glucocorticoids, which play a role in the human immune system. Glucocorticoid drugs are often used to treat disorders in which the immune system is overactive, such as in rheumatoid arthritis. The research findings were published in a recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Predictors of Change Identified in Older Women with Recurrent Pain

Women age 50 and older who experience worsening pain also have a higher risk for depression, obesity, and declining physical function. Persistent complaints of pain are common among women at midlife and older. In a study conducted by Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute, researchers sought to identify factors that can predict changes in pain among women in this group. After examining data from the Women’s Health Initiative, which tracked more than 93,000 women age 50 to 79, some 68,000 women met the criteria for recurrent pain. Pain was reported by 75 percent of the participants, and 40 percent said their pain was worse after three years. The authors concluded that several conditions were associated with worsening pain, notably excess weight, depression, and high comorbidities (the presence of other medical problems). They advised doctors to screen and treat for depression in women with recurrent pain and to pay closer attention to weight management.

High-Load Doses Slow Bone Loss in Spinal Cord Injury

Research carried out at the University of Iowa shows that delivering high doses of “load,” or stress, to bone through the electrical stimulation of skeletal muscle significantly slows the loss of bone in patients who have suffered a spinal cord injury. Although previous research had suggested that stressing bone could slow the loss of bone density, researchers found that only high doses of muscle force are effective in reducing bone loss. The study compared the effect of high-dose loads of 150 percent of body weight on the quadriceps muscle with a low-dose load of 40 percent and no-dose loads of 0 percent. When the researchers applied a load of 1.5 times body weight, they saw a significant impact on bone density. Further, the study found that, after three years, average bone density was almost 40 percent lower in patients who received a low-dose or no-dose load compared to patients who received a high dose. Researchers also found that high-dose loads slow the deterioration of bone found at the joint ends of long bones, where fractures most often occur.

MRI Techniques Can Detect Early Osteoarthritis

Researchers at New York University have found that advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques can be used to detect subtle changes in joint cartilage structure and provide physicians with a tool for finding key markers of early osteoarthritis (OA). Imaging technology, say the study’s authors, is now sensitive and powerful enough to enable detection of subtle changes in the balance of water, chondrocytes, and the collagen fibers and protein molecules that make up joint cartilage, which can point to future OA. The development of innovative MRI techniques, they contend, has opened up a new window into the understanding and treatment of arthritis before irreversible structural changes have occurred. By using MRI techniques during patient exams to identify OA earlier, clinicians can shift the management of the disease from eventual joint destruction to long-term preservation.