Originally created 07/29/99


Disease diagnosis

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic think it may be possible to diagnose Parkinson's disease in some people before they have any symptoms.

The Mayo scientists use a new radiopharmaceutical called beta CIT that binds to a type of nerve cell in the brain that is decreased by Parkinson's disease. By giving this drug to people and then scanning their brains, the researchers expect to determine when an individual is in the earliest stages of the disease.

The strategy has worked in preliminary tests, showing a lower amount of the drug in Parkinson's patients, a higher amount in people without the disease, and a range somewhere in between among people who are at risk of the disease because they have relatives with Parkinson's.

"We know that overall there is a 3 percent lifetime risk of developing Parkinson's disease," said Dr. Demetrius Maraganore, the Mayo neurologist who led the study. "We also know that for persons having two or more relatives with Parkinson's disease, their lifetime risk is nearly 30 percent.

Restoring bone mass

A synthetic version of a human protein called parathyroid hormone can restore lost bone mass in many women suffering from osteoporosis, researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have found.

A study led by Claude Arnaud found that new drug restored bone mass in two-thirds of the women treated with it. That is about three times more effective than results from other treatments, Dr. Arnaud said.

There has been some concern about using the synthetic parathyroid hormone because it has caused bone tumors in rats. But Dr. Arnaud said that available information suggests that wouldn't be a problem in humans, especially in the older women who would be the target of osteoporosis therapy.

Gulf War enzyme

The elusive nature of the medical complaints of some veterans of the Persian Gulf War may have a genetic origin, new research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suggests.

"One of the biggest questions about the Gulf War syndrome has been why one person got sick when the person next to him didn't," said Robert Haley, the center's chief of epidemiology. "But now we know that there appears to be a genetic reason why some people got sick and others didn't, and this genetic difference links the illness to damage from certain chemicals.

The study led by Dr. Haley showed that some people have genes that enable their bodies to create large amounts of an enzyme that can break down toxic chemicals while others produce the enzyme in much smaller quantities. The researchers have found that soldiers complaining of Gulf War syndrome usually have a genetic makeup associated with low levels of the detoxifying enzyme.

Artificial proteins

An experimental drug, nesiritide, that is identical to a naturally occurring human protein called b-type natriuretic peptide appears to benefit patients with heart failure, researchers report in the July issued of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In a study of more than 100 patients, physicians found that those treated with nesiritide were able to leave the hospital sooner than others. Other drugs used to treat patients can be difficult to use or have serious side effects.

Fertility drink?

Many couples who struggle to have a baby find out that the man has poor sperm quality, yet medical science can't explain why or make it better. No wonder, then, that a new dietary supplement that claims to "optimize sperm quality" is attracting the attention of infertile couples and their physicians -- even though there is little proof yet that it works.

ProXeed, a citrus-flavored drink powder made by Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md., contains two types of carnitine, an amino acid naturally present in the body. It is being sold over the Internet ($570 for the standard six-month regimen) and heavily promoted to urologists and obstetrician-gynecologists. But leading American fertility specialists say studies are small and poorly designed.


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