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Vol. LIX, No. 8
April 20, 2007

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  A transmission electron micrograph of an ultra-thin specimen reveals some features seen in 1918 influenza virus virions.  
  A transmission electron micrograph of an ultra-thin specimen reveals some features seen in 1918 influenza virus virions.
Photo by CDC/C.S. Goldsmith and T. Tumpey
Responding to an Outbreak

How important is speed in containing a pandemic? Extremely, according to two independent studies funded by NIH and published online this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers supported by NIAID and NIGMS looked specifically at the response rate to the influenza pandemic in 1918. They found that in American cities where multiple social containment measures were imposed within a few days after reports of the first local cases, weekly death rates were cut by up to half compared with cities that waited a few weeks to respond. This suggests that while producing vaccines remains very important for such events, nonpharmaceutical interventions could buy time at the beginning of a pandemic.

Non-Smoking Genes?

The power to quit tobacco may be in our genetic makeup. Scientists supported by NIDA have for the first time identified genes that might increase a person's ability to abstain from smoking. Published in the journal BMC Genetics, the study's data came from a genome-wide analysis of the DNA of two types of nicotine-dependent individuals: one who could successfully quit smoking cigarettes and one who could not. Researchers identified 221 genes that distinguished the successful quitters. This knowledge could help health care providers choose the most appropriate treatments in smoking-cessation programs, leading to a greater quitting success rate.

Targeting Lung Cancer in Mice

Meanwhile, researchers at NCI have found that rapamycin, an FDA-approved immunosuppressant drug, can be highly effective in preventing the development of tobacco-related lung tumors in mice. The study, published in the Apr. 1 issue of Clinical Cancer Research, found that mice that were administered rapamycin 1 week after exposure to a common, tobacco-specific carcinogen showed a 90 percent decrease in the number of tumors, a notable decrease in tumor size and fewer abnormalities within cancer cells. The work also showed that mTOR, a protein that rapamycin targets, plays a critical role in the early developmental stages of certain lung tumors caused by tobacco exposure.

News in the Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

For people with bipolar disorder who are depressed and taking a mood stabilizer, adding an antidepressant medication is no more effective than taking a placebo, or sugar pill. These findings, from a study published online in the New England Journal of Medicine in March, are part of a the large-scale Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD) clinical trial funded by NIMH. Another STEP-BD study, published in the April issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, showed that intensive psychotherapy is more effective than brief therapy for treating bipolar depression. If people who take medications for bipolar disorder receive intensive psychotherapy, the research showed, they are more likely to have a faster and lasting recovery. Both studies add to researchers' knowledge of identifying the best treatment tools to use in the fight against symptoms of this illness.

Hormone Therapy, Heart Disease And Menopause

New findings suggest that the effect of hormone therapy on the risk of heart disease may vary in women by age and proximity to menopause. Secondary analyses of results from the NHLBI-funded Women's Health Initiative suggest that if women begin hormone therapy within 10 years of menopause, they may have less risk of coronary heart disease due to the therapy than women farther away from the onset of menopause. These findings, published in the Apr. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, did not meet statistical significance, but they do suggest that health consequences of hormone therapy may vary by the amount of time from menopause.

Small Dogs, Big Findings

And here's proof we can learn something from man's best friend. A team led by NHGRI recently identified a genetic variant that's a major contributor to small size in dogs. The findings, published in the Apr. 6 issue of Science, are exciting, according to researchers, because the underlying gene, that's present in all dogs, is also present in humans. This points to the great potential for research in understanding the inheritance of traits, including those that influence health and disease.-

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