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Science & Medicine

Antidepressant results skewed, report says

Boston -- A report in The New England Journal of Medicine said the makers of popular antidepressants published only 14 percent of their unconvincing clinical results.

The report said less-positive results from clinical trials for antidepressants like Paxil and Prozac skew the professed level of effectiveness, misleading doctors and consumers, The New York Times said Friday.

The researchers of the new report said 94 percent of positive results made their way into clinical publications but only 14 percent of the negative results received mention. The report said including these reports into the stated level of effectiveness diminishes the positive results of antidepressants when compared to placebos.

Dr. Erik Turner, the report's first author, said 11 of the 14 journal articles that "conveyed a positive outcome" weren't justified by FDA review.

England approves animal-human DNA study

London -- A government embryological watchdog in England approved the use of genetics hybrids for the use in embryonic stem cell research.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority granted one-year licenses to King's College London and the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to inject human DNA into empty cow eggs to create cytoplasmic embryonic hybrids that are 99.9 percent human, The Times of London said Thursday.

The experiments will provide researchers with information on diseases such as Parkinson's disease by creating stem cells with the genetic defects responsible for the manifestation of such diseases.

Cytoplasmic embryonic hybrids provide an alternate method to pluripotent stem cell technology that is used to influence the production of genetic variants.

Black British woman face early cancer risk

London -- A new study says black women living in Britain were diagnosed with breast cancer at an average age of 46, compared to age 67 for white women.

The Cancer Research UK study, published online in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at 102 black women and 191 white women diagnosed with breast cancer at Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, East London, between 1994 and 2005.

The researchers said their initial findings suggest tumors in the younger black patients were more likely to be aggressive, and a higher proportion of tumors were basal-like -- which means they were less likely to respond to newer types of targeted breast cancer treatments such as Herceptin, the group said Wednesday in a release.

"We think the differences in the way tumors of black and white women behave can be put down to the biological differences between the two ethnic groups," Dr. Rebecca Bowen said in a statement. "We're now trying to find out why the tumors are so different so that we can develop new treatments to target the aggressive forms of breast cancer seen in young black women."

Monkey's thoughts move distant robot

Durham, N.C -- Duke University scientists say a monkey in North Carolina was able to control the walking patterns of a robot in Japan using brain activity.

The experiment, conducted by a team at Duke University Medical Center and the Computational Brain Project of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, is part of an effort to create technology that will help people with paralysis regain the ability to walk, the university said Wednesday in a release.

Two rhesus monkeys were implanted with electrodes that gathered feedback from cells in the brain's motor and sensory cortex. This technology recorded how the cells responded as one of the monkeys walked on a treadmill backward and forward at a variety of speeds. Sensors on the monkey's legs tracked the actual walking patterns of the legs while moving.

Starfish threaten the 'Coral Triangle'

Halmahera, Indonesia -- A study has found crown-of-thorns starfish are threatening the "coral triangle" in Indonesia -- the world's richest center of coral reef biodiversity.

Scientists from the U.S. Wildlife Conservation Society and the Australian Research Council's Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies discovered large numbers of the starfish in reefs in Halmahera, Indonesia -- at the heart of the coral triangle, which lies between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Researchers said the coral triangle is considered the genetic fountainhead for coral diversity found on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and other reefs in the region.

The starfish is a predator that feeds on corals by spreading its stomach over them and using digestive enzymes to liquefy tissue. Scientists said the fear the outbreak is caused by poor water quality and could be an early warning of widespread reef decline.

Fruit flies: New tool in cancer research

Rochester, N.Y. -- U.S. scientists have discovered fruit flies might provide a fast and inexpensive method of finding compounds that increase the body's anti-oxidant activity.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have altered fruit flies (Drosophila) so they emit a green light when they are exposed to cancer-protective chemicals such as those found in broccoli, cabbage, and other foods.

The scientists said a chemical signaling system is one of the major ways the body defends itself against toxic assaults. A gene known as KEAP1 senses danger and then unleashes NRF2, which triggers rampant anti-oxidant activity in a cell.

In the new study, the scientists discovered that pathway, long recognized in people and other animals, is also active in fruit flies.

Study: Less heavy metal in British air

London, El Salvador -- British scientists have determined air quality in the United Kingdom has significantly improved during the past 25 years with the reduction of heavy metals.

Britain's National Physical Laboratory monitored air quality at 17 sites and determined the presence of harmful heavy metals such as lead, iron and copper had diminished.

The results show a 70 percent reduction in all heavy metals tested. Lead showed a particularly sharp decline, falling from 556 nanograms per cubic meter in 1980 to 19.95ng/m3 -- a reduction of 96.5 percent. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.

The decrease in air pollution reflects advances in environmentally focused technology such as unleaded fuel, said Richard Brown, NPL's principal research scientist.

"Taking lead as an example, the steady decline of emissions from coal and oil combustion along with the change in fuel usage, and reductions in industrial output, has resulted in a significant reduction of lead in the atmosphere," said Brown. "We expect to see this decline continuing across the board until levels finally bottom out and become close to those occurring naturally."

Five-year U.K. breast cancer trial starts

London -- Two British charities are joining to initiate the first U.K.-based clinical trial for women with a specific aggressive form of breast cancer.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Cancer Research U.K. said the "Triple-Negative Trial" aims to improve breast cancer treatment for women with hormone and HER2 negative tumors, sometimes referred to as triple negative because they lack hormone (oestrogen and progesterone) and HER2 receptors. Such cancers are more common among younger women and those of African ethnicity.

More than 44,000 U.K. women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, with triple negative tumors accounting for between 15 percent and 20 percent of them. Triple negative tumors do not respond to targeted treatments such as tamoxifen. The new clinical trial is designed to develop a more tailored and effective chemotherapy treatment for such cancers.

Study offers hope for pine beetle defense

Vancouver, British Columbia -- Canadian researchers have discovered how pine and spruce trees fight pests and disease, providing new information about forests' natural defense systems.

University of British Columbia Associate Professor Joerg Bohlmann and colleagues said their genetic analysis will allow forest stewardship programs to reinforce a forest's inherent strength -- breeding trees that could in time repel insects such as British Columbia's notorious mountain pine beetles.

Bohlmann and research associate Christopher Keeling explored the genetic makeup of oleoresin within spruce, discovering a sophisticated ability to produce complex blends of chemicals that continuously evolve to protect the tree from changing conditions and challenges.

"Conifers are some of the oldest and longest living plants on the planet," said Bohlmann. "We've opened the book to understanding how they can survive in one location for thousands of years despite attacks from generations of insects and diseases."

Study: Dinosaurs had early pregnancies

Athens, Ohio -- U.S. scientists have discovered dinosaurs often became pregnant as early as age 8, long before reaching their maximum adult size.

Ohio University and University of California-Berkeley researchers found medullary bone -- the same tissue that allows birds to develop eggshells -- in two new dinosaur specimens from different geologic periods: the meat-eater Allosaurus and the plant-eater Tenontosaurus. It's also been found in Tyrannosaurus rex.

The discovery pinpointed the age of the pregnant dinosaurs -- 8, 10 and 18 years -- suggesting dinosaurs reached sexual maturity earlier than thought, said Andrew Lee, an Ohio University doctoral student who conducted the work as a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley with scientist Sarah Werning.