Platelet E-News – June 15, 2006


  • General News
    • Mirroring each other
    • Follow the genetic trail
    • D is for defense: Vitamin D may prevent breast cancer
    • Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama recommend changes for medical liability laws
  • Improving Drug Safety
    • Doctors worry more about drug safety
    • Cell-based tests may improve the safety of drug trials
    • Made-to-order medicine may be coming soon
  • Low Platelets in the News
    • Synthetic blood product shows promise for ITP treatment
    • More infants may have low blood platelet counts than believed
    • Korn Frontman Felled by ITP


General Interest News:


Mirroring each other

Smile – it’s contagious! Emotions can be shared through facial expressions. When humans interact, they subconsciously mimic gestures, speech inflections, body language and facial expressions – like a smile. Then, the brain interprets these tiny muscle movements as signals and responds with the emotion connected to the expressions. So, seeing someone smile will make you happy.

People synchronize their emotions to those displayed through visual cues and word choices. In studies of conversations, people matched their word choices to the emotions conveyed by the other. By mimicking emotions, people connect and share each other's moods and minds.

People more familiar with each other are more likely to share emotions. A couple who has been happily married for many years will exhibit nearly identical emotional reactions, but two strangers are much less likely to share emotions.

This emotional response occurs in brain cells, called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons internalize outward signals, whether these are emotional of physical signs. For example, the same area of the brain is stimulated for a dancer or other performer and for the person watching the performer, explaining why people enjoy watching sports, seeing movies and listening to musicians.

To find out more about mirror neurons visit:

"That look -- it's catching!" Stacy Colino. The Washington Post. Tuesday, May 30, 2006.

Follow the genetic trail

Trace your ancestors’ journey around the world through the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. The Genographic Project studies human migratory patterns beginning from the earliest humans to modern-day man. The project collects DNA samples from volunteers around the world and then compares the results to other DNA samples to determine family history. To discover your own family's journey, order a kit from for $99. A few weeks after submitting your DNA, you can view your family's paths across the world through the project’s Web site.

"Way-back gene trace." The Washington Post. Tuesday, May 30, 2006.

D is for defense: Vitamin D may prevent breast cancer

Vitamin D may help prevent breast cancer, according to an April study by Harvard Medical School. In the study, women with the most vitamin D were 50 percent less likely to develop cancer than those with the least. Although the study has not been peer-reviewed, the results concur with pervious studies.

The skin produces vitamin D after being exposed to the sun, but too much sunbathing can lead to skin cancer. The study recommended that people receive a little sun exposure, 10 to 15 minutes a few days a week to receive an adequate amount of the vitamin without incurring a great risk of skin cancer.

The report suggested that vitamin D can also be obtained through fatty fish, fortified milk and some cereals. Multivitamins are a good source of vitamin D, but they should be used in moderation. Intake should not exceed 2,000 IU per day, because too much of the vitamin can cause calcium buildup in the body.

"Higher vitamin D may help prevent breast cancer." Harvard Women's Health Watch. June 2006. Vol 13 No. 10.

Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama recommend changes for medical liability laws

Safety first is the goal of some medical malpractice reforms proposed by Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, in their article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

They suggested changes to malpractice laws that would reduce the number of preventable patient injuries by enhancing communication between physicians and their patients, and increasing compensation for medical injuries. The proposed bill, called the National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation (MEDiC) Bill, will also seek to lower physician's liability insurance and create programs improving patient health.

Under the new bill, health care providers will draft safety plans and designate a patient-safety officer. These officers enforce the plan and would notify patients who may have been harmed by any deviances from the safety code. The injured patients then decide if they wish to negotiate for compensation. The bill ensures that patient information and communications between the physician and the patient would be confidential.

This program will reduce administrative and legal costs for insurance companies and health care providers. From these savings, these companies will be required to contribute money toward physicians’ insurance premiums and to programs to improve patient health.

Grants would be given to increase participation in the program and enhance patient-safety efforts. The bill also proposes three studies to ensure patient safety, to monitor the insurance market and to collect a database of poorly-handled cases.

"Making patient safety the centerpiece of medical liability reform." Hillary Rodham clinton and Barack Obama. The New England Journal of Medicine. May 25, 2006. Volume 354 No. 21.

Improving Drug Safety


Doctors worry more about drug safety

Seven out of 10 physicians are concerned about the safety of prescription drugs after several recent drug-scares, including Vioxx, said a survey by Reuters. To ensure safety, most physicians (68 percent) prefer to prescribe drugs that have been on the market for at least 10 years.

The heightened concern is not limited to doctors. Over 50 percent of patients and 60 percent of pharmacists worry more about drug safety than before the scares.

"Physicians more worried about drug safety: survey." Reuters Health Information. 2006.

Cell-based tests may improve the safety of drug trials

Since the tragic drug trials in U.K. this March, European scientists are seeking alternatives to the current method of drug testing, according to Nature Medicine.

In the British trial, six men reacted severely to an experimental leukemia drug, although animal tests showed no negative results. Animal trials cannot accurately predict the safety of drugs, especially those targeted to the immune system, because animals have a different set of antibodies than humans.

Instead, scientists suggest that drugs using antibodies be tested on human cells in the laboratory before being used in animal and human trials. Then, the researchers can determine how a human cell will respond to the drug and eliminate any potentially dangerous drugs. Laboratory test cannot determine how the body may digest a drug; therefore animal and human trials are still necessary.

"Cell-based tests tackle predicting safety of antibody drugs." Nature Medicine. May 2006. Vol. 12 No. 5.

Made-to-order medicine may be coming soon

Medicine may soon be tailored to the individual patient. Traditionally, prescriptions are based on surveys of the general population. But each patient responds differently to a specific drug, because everyone has a unique combination of genes, environmental exposures and lifestyle.

Researchers seek to identify differences among the population and tailor prescriptions to patients. One area of study is the metabolism, or how the body digests foods and drugs. The study of the metabolism, called metabonomics or metabolomics, may allow doctors to predict how a person will respond to different amounts of medication. Already, researchers can predict how individual rats respond to different drug dosages by identifying their metabolic type. These studies cannot be directly applied to humans, but their results show promise. If successful, metabonomics can provide a simple and cost-effective method of determining drug dosages.

Metabonomics can be combined with current medical approaches that also focus on the individual, like pharmacogenomics, which uses a person's genetic information to diagnosis diseases and prescribe medications. For example, physicians use pharmacogeneomics to predict the survival of breast cancer patients.

Scientists hope that personalized medicine will enhance the speed and accuracy of diagnosis, improve patients' responses to medication and reduce side effects.

"Personalized medicine progresses." John N. Haselden and Andrew W. Nicholls. Nature Medicine. May 2006. Vol. 12 No. 5

Low Platelets in the News


Synthetic blood product shows promise for ITP treatment

ITP patients may have an alternative to expensive intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) treatment. While researching how the blood-derived product, IVIg, functions, Alan Lazarus created a synthetic alternative to IVIg, according to Canadian Blood Services. Lazarus, a scientist at the Canadian Blood Services and at St. Michael’ Hospital in Toronto, published his findings in the June edition of Nature Medicine.

In ITP, disease-fighting white blood cells, called lymphocytes, attack the body's platelets, which are blood cells needed for clotting. Many patients with ITP are given IVIg to prevent the lymphocytes from attacking by increasing the number of Fcgamma receptors on the lymphocyte. These receptors act like moderators, preventing lymphocytes from destroying platelets. By increasing the number of Fcgamma receptors, IVIg reduces platelet destruction.

In his research, Lazarus identified other compounds that have the same effect as IVIg by increasing the number of Fcgamma receptors. "IVIg is not the only entity that can induce an IVIg-like ... effect," Lazarus said in his article. These compounds could lead to the creation of a synthetic version of IVIg.

IVIg is expensive and difficult to obtain, and patients must take high doses of it for it to be effective. The new compounds may be less costly and as effective at lower doses than IVIg. If the synthetic version is successful, many more patients would be able to receive the benefits of IVIg through a lower cost substitute.

"Intravenous immunoglobulin ameliorates ITP via activating Fcgamma receptors on dendritic cells." Vinayakumar Siragam, Andrew R.Crow, Davor Brinc, Seng Song, John Freedman and Alan H. Lazarus. Nature Medicine. June 2006.

"Canadian blood services scientist invents poential alternative for high-demand blood product." Canadian Blood Services. May 23, 2006.

More infants may have low platelet counts than believed

Underweight infants are twice as likely to have a low platelet count as previously believed, said a study appearing in the April edition of the Journal of Perinatology.

The researchers collected information on 284 severely underweight infants born at several hospitals during 2003. They found that 73 percent of those infants had thrombocytopenia or a low platelet count. Of these, the smallest infants were the most likely to have thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytopenia occured in 85 percent of the infants weighing less than 800 grams or 1.76 pounds and in 60 percent of the infants weighing between 801 to 900 grams (1.76 to 1.98 pounds). Around half of the infants with birth rates between 901 to 1000 grams (1.98 to 2.2 pounds) had thrombocytopenia.

Nearly half the infants with thrombocytopenia were identified in their first day of life, and within the first week 80 percent of the cases were identified.

The researchers called for further study of thrombocytopenia in infants as well as potential treatments.

"Thrombocytopenia among extremely low birth weight neonates: data from a multi-hospital healthcare system. RD Christensen, E. Henry, SE Wiedmeier, RA Stoddar, MC Sola-Visner, DK Lambert, TI Kiegn and S Ainsworth. Journal of Perinatology. 2006.

Korn Frontman Felled by ITP

Jonathan Davis, Korn frontman, was diagnosed with ITP in London. After experiencing weird bruises all over his body for two weeks he saw a doctor last Friday. After some blood tests he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with ITP. Korn is reported to have cancelled tour dates through July 2 and is hoping to reschedule them later this year.

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