a win for science
July 25, 2018

An experimental Alzheimer's drug far outperformed placebo treatments in slowing the cognitive decline of Alzheimer's patients, Stat reported Wednesday, giving neurologists hope that an effective treatment for the disease is possible.

Patients who were given the drug, called BAN2401 and produced by Biogen and Eisai, "performed 30 percent better on a cognitive test than those getting placebo," Stat explained. The positive early returns may move the companies to approach the FDA for approval before conducting a larger study. But "there are caveats," Stat wrote: The drug's Phase 2 trial showed that the drug only outperformed placebo at its highest dose, and the highest dose was administered to just 161 patients. Moreover, the way Biogen and Eisai measured the drug's effectiveness is a proprietary method that has never been presented to the FDA before in an attempt to win approval.

Still, Stat called the results "unexpected and unprecedented." But it remains to be seen whether the companies will ultimately decide to operate a Phase 3 trial, or whether the FDA might be willing to lower the "traditionally high bar" it sets for approving Alzheimer's therapies, Stat wrote. "I'll remain cautiously optimistic," said Dr. Ronald Petersen, the director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, but "you'd really want to see a Phase 3 to replicate those results." Read more at Stat. Kimberly Alters

April 16, 2018

Researchers in Chicago presented new data Monday that has big implications for lung cancer patients. A clinical trial discovered that pairing immunotherapy drugs with standard chemotherapy could significantly increase survival rates in lung cancer patients, Stat reports.

A trial study called Keynote-189 found that newly diagnosed lung cancer patients were 51 percent more likely to be alive in a year if they underwent a regimen that combined Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug by the pharmaceutical company Merck, with standard chemotherapy, than if they received chemotherapy treatment alone. Patients with the combined treatment were also 48 percent less likely to have their cancer progress in that year.

The data from Merck's trial was presented Monday at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago. The results "eclipsed doctors' expectations," Stat noted. One oncologist told Stat that the results were "practice-changing."

Read more at Stat. Kimberly Alters

February 14, 2018

In a scientific first, doctors were able to enable a transgender woman to breastfeed her child, The Guardian reported Wednesday. A report in the journal Transgender Health published last month detailed the first documented case of "induced lactation in a transgender woman," The Guardian explained.

Doctors were successfully able to spur lactation in the 30-year-old woman through a combination of hormones, chest stimulation, and a drug traditionally used to treat nausea. The woman, who was not identified in the report, had been on hormone therapy for six years, The Guardian said.

The doctors used a method commonly employed to induce lactation in cisgender women who had not been pregnant but who still want to breastfeed. They gradually increased the woman's doses of estradiol and progesterone — female hormones that were already included in the woman's hormone therapy — and used a breast milk pump to physically stimulate her chest. The final ingredient was a drug called domperidone, an anti-nausea medication that commonly causes lactation as a side effect.

The breakthrough could give hope to transgender women everywhere who hope to one day breastfeed their own children, the doctors said. Read more at The Guardian. Shivani Ishwar

December 11, 2017

Through his "Make Our Planet Great Again" grants, French President Emmanuel Macron has changed the lives of 18 climate scientists, including 13 from the United States, who otherwise struggled to secure funding for their research.

Macron announced the grants just hours after President Trump said he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord in June. Originally, the grants were just going to go to Americans, but more than 5,000 researchers from 100 countries applied, with projects on clouds, hurricanes, and pollutions that are expected to last around three years — covering the rest of Trump's first term. "If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science," Macron told the winners Monday in Paris, adding that France will replace U.S. financing of climate research.

One of the winners is Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas at Austin, who will work at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees to see how climate change is affecting wildlife. Knowing Macron is standing up for science "gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do," Parmesan told The Associated Press. Catherine Garcia

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