Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Eating fish is good for you and bad for you at the same time. Omega-3 fatty acids are brain food for fetuses, babies and children, and they promote cardiovascular health in adults. But fish also are contaminated with mercury, a toxin which interferes with the development of the nervous system in those same fetuses and babies. I wrote about the science behind a controversy brewing between two federal agencies that regulate fish for consumption -- the FDA and the EPA -- in a two-part article for the Los Angeles Times.

After carbon dioxide, methane is the second biggest contributor to the greenhouse gases involved in global warming. A new natural source of methane was identified by a monitoring station in Greenland during freeze-up in the fall of 2007. Results were published in Nature earlier this month and I interviewed the lead author, Torbin Christensen of Sweden, about the story behind the story (subscription only) for Nature's Authors Page.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I wrote about the movement towards broader testing for HIV for the Los Angeles Times. In the past, the test was only offered to people in high-risk groups, such as i.v. drug users and gay men. Now, everyone between the ages of 13 and 65 should be screened, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Age 13, you say? So did I, as the mom of a 12-year-old. Think of it as a necessary education in today's world. AIDS isn't going away soon, and as teens contemplate their sexuality and parents do their best to talk to their teens, a doctor saying, let's test for cholesterol and HIV, will drive that point home.

For the Author's Page at Nature (subscription only), I profiled Barry Trost, a medicinal chemist who found a shortcut to a complex chemical structure -- one that may pave the way for new anti-tumor drugs. Trost believes chemistry and development of synthetic tools is the key to improving the quality and the diversity of leads pursued by the pharmaceutical industry.
Can people be vaccinated against high blood pressure? I wrote about two companies that think it's a viable therapy for Nature Biotechnology (subscription only). The vaccine stimulates the body to make antibodies against angiotensin -- a circulating hormone that tightens blood vessels -- and the target of most current antihypertensive medications. Early results in small studies have shown the vaccine to be safe and to have some efficacy. However, the products are up against two hurdles: showing they work better than standard treatments and overcoming physician skittishness about biologic products (as opposed to traditional pharmaceuticals).

One group of doctors who are very comfortable with biologics are rheumatologists. A biologic drug that has offered real hope for people suffering rheumatoid arthritis is infliximab (Remicade®), which is an antibody against an inflammatory mediator called tumor necrosis factor or TNF. I covered the Janssen Award symposium for the New York Academy of Sciences (subscription only) honoring the drug's inventors, Marc Feldmann and Ravinder Maini of Imperial College London. Their first success was reported in 1993 in a small study of 20 patients, whom Maini described described as “train wrecks—severely disabled people who had been through the gamut of therapies with no hope of benefit.”