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Vol. LXVII, No. 4
February 13 2015

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NIH Study Shows Many Americans Are at Risk For Alcohol-Medication Interactions

Nearly 42 percent of U.S. adults who drink also report using medications known to interact with alcohol, according to results from an NIH study.

Nearly 42 percent of U.S. adults who drink also report using medications known to interact with alcohol, according to results from an NIH study.

Photo: Erin Bryant

Nearly 42 percent of U.S. adults who drink also report using medications known to interact with alcohol, an NIH study has found. Among those over 65 years of age who drink alcohol, nearly 78 percent report using alcohol-interactive medications.

Such medications are widely used, prescribed for common conditions such as depression, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The research is among the first to estimate the proportion of adult drinkers in the U.S. who may be mixing alcohol-interactive medications with alcohol. The resulting health effects can range from mild (nausea, headaches, loss of coordination) to severe (internal bleeding, heart problems, difficulty breathing).

“Combining alcohol with medications often carries the potential for serious health risks,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Based on this study, many individuals may be mixing alcohol with interactive medications and they should be aware of the possible harms.”

The study appeared in the February 2015 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The main types of alcohol-interactive medications reported in the survey were blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, pain medications, muscle relaxers, diabetes and cholesterol medications, antidepressants and antipsychotics.

Based on recent estimates, about 71 percent of U.S. adults drink alcohol.

NIH-Funded Study Uncovers Range of Molecular Alterations in Head, Neck Cancers

Investigators with the Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network have discovered genomic differences—with potentially important clinical implications—in head and neck cancers caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States; the number of HPV-related head and neck cancers has been growing. Almost every sexually active person will acquire HPV at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers also uncovered new smoking-related cancer subtypes and potential new drug targets and found numerous genomic similarities with other cancer types. Taken together, this study’s findings may provide more detailed explanations of how HPV infection and smoking play roles in head and neck cancer risk and disease development and offer potential novel diagnostic and treatment directions.

The study is the most comprehensive examination to date of genomic alterations in head and neck cancers. The results were published online Jan. 28 in the journal Nature.

“These new data are allowing us to rethink how we approach head and neck cancers,” said Dr. D. Neil Hayes, senior author of the study report and associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Diaper Compound May Expand Power of Microscopes

Pour, mix, set, add water and voilà—highly detailed images of the inside of cells. A study, partially funded by NIH, showed that a modified form of the super-absorbent chemical used in disposable diapers can expand brain structures to four and a half times their original size. The process called expansion microscopy will allow scientists to take super-resolution pictures of healthy and diseased tissue throughout the body using common microscopes.

“For centuries, a scientist’s ability to look at cells has been constrained by the power of the lenses they used to magnify them,” said Dr. Edward Boyden, associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leader of the study published Jan. 15 in Science. “We decided to try something different and physically magnify the cells themselves.”

“Expansion microscopy is a potential game changer,” said Dr. Walter Koroshetz, acting director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “This is the kind of outside-the-box technical innovation that expands the capability of microscopes widely used in the scientific community to explore the fine structure of the nervous system in health and disease.”

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