In Brief



Stronger flu shot better for seniors

For seniors seeking a flu vaccine, more might be better. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that those who received higher-dose vaccinations had a greater immune response to influenza than those who received standard-dose shots.

"We think the study provides some hope that a better vaccine, one that will protect a larger portion of the senior population, can be developed," says co-investigator Dr. Robert L. Atmar.

Although the currently recommended dose of influenza vaccine protects younger adults, it's less effective in protecting seniors - who are at a higher risk for complications and death.

Atmar and his colleagues randomly assigned 122 volunteers 65 and older to receive either a placebo or one of three vaccines of different strengths. After one month, those receiving higher doses of the strains had higher concentrations of antibodies in their blood than those receiving standard doses.

Nevertheless, Atmar cautions, more research is needed, particularly on less-healthy seniors, before it can be assumed that all would benefit from higher doses. The study appeared in the May 22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Los Angeles Times


Canadians are in better health

Add Canadians to the list of people who may be healthier than Americans. Americans are 42 percent more likely than Canadians to have diabetes, 32 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, and 12 percent more likely to have arthritis, Harvard Medical School researchers found.

The study, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, is based on a telephone survey of 3,500 Canadian adults and 5,200 U.S. residents in 2002-2003. It was published only weeks after other researchers reported that middle-aged, white Americans are much sicker than their counterparts in England.

"We're really falling behind other nations," said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a co-author of the Canadian-American study. She said Canada's national health insurance program is at least part of the reason for the differences. Her team found that Americans and insured Canadians had about the same rates of disease.

Associated Press


Drug OK'd for cancer treatment

Thalidomide has received federal approval for treatment of bone-marrow cancer, marking further rehabilitation of a drug originally banned more than 40 years ago after it caused thousands of birth defects.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for the treatment of newly diagnosed multiple myeloma - cancers that affect cells in the bone marrow that are key to fighting infection.

Thalidomide, made by Celgene Corp. of Summit, N.J., and sold as Thalomid, is to be used in treating multiple myeloma in conjunction with dexamethasone, a standard chemotherapy treatment. Recent studies have given mixed reviews to the drug's effectiveness with multiple myeloma. The latest shows that thalidomide appears to enable older patients to live longer, but with serious side effects.

Thalidomide was banned worldwide in 1962. In 1998, it received FDA approval for the treatment of leprosy. It is marketed under a restricted distribution program and has severe warnings cautioning patients of the risk of birth defects. Its new labeling also warns of the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs in multiple myeloma patients who take it with dexamethasone.

Associated Press


Slower learning remembered more

The longer it takes the brain to learn muscle movements, the more likely it is to remember the lesson over the long run, scientists at the Johns Hopkins University have learned. They say their findings could affect the way therapists rehabilitate stroke victims.

Researchers at the Hopkins Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences trained a group of volunteers to operate a robot-controlled joystick. The device measured how hard and in what direction it was pushed.

In their report in the May 23 issue of PLoS Biology, the researchers concluded that some parts of the brain learn and forget quickly, while others learn more slowly but remember more.

"We believe our work is the first to show that motor learning involves different time scales and implies that the best strategy in rehabilitating a stroke patient should focus on slow learning because slow-learned motor skills will be maintained longer," said senior author Reza Shadmehr, a professor of biomedical engineering.


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