A promising new line in anti-cancer therapy by blocking the molecular motors involved in copying genetic information during cell division is being pursued by young Dutch researcher Dr. Nynke Dekker in one of this year’s EURYI award winning projects sponsored by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the European Heads of Research Councils (EuroHORCS). Dekker and her team are trying to stop tumor development by interfering with the molecular motors that copy DNA during cell division. This will cut off the genetic information flow that tumours need to grow, and could complement existing cancer therapies, while in the longer term bringing the promise of improved outcomes with greatly reduced side effects.
There are three primary ways of treating cancer at present, and these have fundamentally changed little in 30 years. In the case of solid tumours, surgery can be used to cut out the cancerous tissue, while radiation therapy can kill the malignant cells, and chemotherapy stops them dividing. Dekker’s work is aiming towards a new generation of drugs that target cancer cells much more specifically than traditional chemotherapy, avoiding side effects such as temporary hair loss.
Dekker is focusing on an enzyme called Topoisomerase IB that plays a key role in some of the molecular motors involved in the processes of DNA and RNA copying during cell division. These are responsible for reading the genetic code and making sure it is encoded correctly in the daughter cell. In healthy cells it is important that this process works normally, but in cancer cells it is a natural target for disruptive therapy. “Specifically targeting these molecular motors in cancer cells would then prevent the cancer cells from growing into a larger tumor,” said Dekker. This molecular copying machinery, constructed mostly out of proteins, in effect walks along the DNA double helix reading the genetic code so that it can be copied accurately into new DNA during division. Other components of the machinery are responsible for slicing and assembling the DNA itself. All of these are potential targets for anti-cancer therapy, providing it is possible to single out the tumor cells. Most existing chemotherapy targets all dividing cells, and the aim to find more sensitive techniques.
However Dekker’s work is not just confined to cancer, having the broader goal within the ESF EURYI project of unraveling the underlying physical principles behind these molecular motors that operate at the nanometer scale to process and manipulate the information stored within the DNA and RNA of our cells. Dekker is exploiting a variety of new highly sensitive manipulation and imaging techniques capable of resolving single molecules. These include force spectroscopy, new forms of optical microscopy with greatly improved resolving power and field depth, as well as nanotechnologies. The research involves cross-disciplinary work among scientists in different fields with the long term goal of developing more precisely targeted molecular medicines for a variety of diseases involving disruption to normal cellular functions and not just cancer.
Dekker’s work has already shown great promise, and she has been able to predict what effect certain antitumor drugs would have on the basis of her molecular insights, confirming her hypotheses in yeast cells. “Indeed the work with antitumor drugs is, as far as I know, the first experiment in which single-molecule experiments have resulted in a prediction for a cellular effect,” said Dekker.
Dekker, a 36-year-old Dutch associate professor at the Technische Universiteit Delft in the Netherlands, is currently undertaking single-molecule studies of DNA and RNA and their interactions with proteins, integrated with nanotechnology where appropriate. She gained her PhD in physics at Harvard University, having graduated from Yale.
As well as being awarded multiple grants and fellowship programmes, Dr. Dekker is a member of the Council of the Biophysical Society, and of the Young Academy of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is actively involved in conference organization at the interface of biology and physics. Her group’s research has appeared in Nature and in The Proceedings of the National Academy, USA, among others.
The EURYI awards scheme, entering its fourth and final year, is designed to attract outstanding young scientists from around the world to create their own research teams at European research centres and launch potential world-leading research careers. Most awards are between €1,000,000 and €1,250,000, comparable in size to the Nobel Prize. Dekker will receive his award in Helsinki, Finland on 27 September 2007 with other 19 young researchers.
More on Dekker’s work http://www.esf.org/activities/euryi/awards/2007/nynke-hester-dekker.html
Contact: Thomas Lau
European Science Foundation
Heidelberg, 8 August 2007
Socioeconomic status, and unemployment rates in particular, predict both the type of trauma seen in emergency rooms and the population groups more likely to be victims of trauma, according to Atul Madan (1) from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and his team. Their findings have just been published online in Springer’s World Journal of Surgery.
The researchers looked at the link between unemployment rates and the types of trauma admissions in New Orleans over six years. Unemployment rates were obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The trauma registry of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (Charity Hospital) provided data on the trauma emergency room admissions, including patient demographics.
Between January 1994 and November 1999, there were over 24,000 trauma admissions. During that period, the higher the unemployment rate, the higher the number of admissions for penetrating trauma – injuries that occur primarily by an object piercing the skin or entering a tissue of the body, such as bullets and knives.
The lower the unemployment rates, the higher the number of admissions for blunt trauma – physical trauma caused to a body part, either by impact, injury of physical attack which can result in contusions, abrasions, lacerations and bone fractures. In this instance, the majority of blunt trauma was the result of motor vehicle collisions. The authors suggest that a possible explanation for this surprising finding could be the fact that with higher incomes, more travel is likely, which in turn increases the likelihood of motor vehicle collisions. Alternatively, more tourism to the area may have reduced unemployment but caused more road accidents.
The study also shows that as the socioeconomic status, measured here by unemployment rates, of the community changes, so do the demographics and mortality rates of the trauma population. There were more male patients, African American patients and deaths at times of high unemployment. These results suggest that during times of economic hardship, certain population groups are at higher risk of life-threatening injuries.
The authors recommend that “injury prevention efforts targeted at economically disadvantaged populations and high-risk groups should be stressed when designing community trauma outreach programs, especially during times of economic hardships.”
(1) Madan A et al (2007). Unemployment rates and trauma admissions. World Journal of Surgery (DOI 10.1007/s00268-007-9190-4)
Many could face shortages of food and water
Boston, MA — According to a new survey of people in high-risk hurricane areas conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security, one-third (31%) of residents said if government officials said they had to evacuate due to a major hurricane this season, they would not leave. This is an increase from 2006 when 23% said they would not evacuate.
The survey was conducted in eight states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas—and only included residents of counties within 20 miles of the coast. The poll included a special sample of the New Orleans metropolitan area (Figures 1 and 2).
The top reasons people give for not evacuating involve issues of safety and security. Three-quarters (75%) say their home is well-built and they would be safe there. Over half (56%) feel that roads would be too crowded, and slightly more than one in three (36%) feels that evacuating would be dangerous. One-third (33%) worry that their possessions would be stolen or damaged while one in four (27%) say they would not evacuate because they do not want to leave their pets (Figure 2).
“Public officials need to be concerned that the further we get from the severe hurricanes of 2005, the less willing people are to evacuate,” said Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Officials need to remind people that many homes are vulnerable to major storms. They also need to ensure safe evacuation routes are available and the public is aware of them.”
These findings are based on interviews conducted June 18 – July 10, 2007 with 5,046 adults in high hurricane risk counties in eight states. The complete survey and charts with figures are available at: https://apps.sph.harvard.edu/publisher/upload/news/press-releases/files/Hurricane_2007_Survey_landing_page_overall_results.doc State data is available here: https://apps.sph.harvard.edu/publisher/upload/news/press-releases/files/Hurricane_2007_Survey_state_results.doc The results of this survey will be distributed to state and local officials for use in emergency planning.
Evacuation and Shelter Conditions
If residents of high-risk hurricane areas have to evacuate because of a major hurricane, most would be concerned about the conditions of evacuation shelters if they had to go to one. The biggest worries people have are that shelters would be unsanitary (68%), there wouldn’t be enough clean water to drink (66%), the shelter would be too crowded (65%), they would be exposed to sick people (62%), and medical care would be lacking (58%).
Many residents of hurricane-prone areas have not made critical preparations for a major storm. If running water were cut off due to a hurricane, one in four (23%) would run out of clean water after two days, and over half (54%) would run out after six days. If power were shut off, one in ten (9%) would be without food after two days, and nearly half (44%) after six days (Figure 3).
Hurricane Katrina showed that families can get separated and communication can break down in the aftermath of a major storm, but most residents have not prepared for that possibility. Two in three (66%) have not agreed on a meeting place if their family is separated, and one in two (49%) have not agreed on a phone number outside the region that family members could call. Of those who intend to evacuate and need help to do so (13%), half (50%) do not have that help lined up (Figure 3).
Key Preparedness Information
Past experience with hurricanes has identified some critical information that people should know in order to be prepared for a storm. Many residents of high-risk areas were unaware of some key information. One out of three (34%) do not know if their home is located in an evacuation zone. Thirty-nine percent do not know the location of an evacuation center in their community where they could go if they had to (Figure 4).
A large majority of people would be at risk of eating food that has spoiled due to a loss of refrigeration in a power outage. The USDA recommends that perishable food should not be eaten if refrigeration has been turned off for four hours. Only one in five (20%) knew that perishable food would be safe for just a few hours. One in three (36%) said that food is safe for up to one day, one in four (25%) said two days, and 16% said three or more days. In addition, one in five did not know that each household member requires at least one gallon of clean water per day, the amount recommended by the CDC.
Problems During Past Hurricanes
Nearly one-half (46%) of the respondents in the survey live in communities that were damaged by a hurricane during the past three years. The survey asked them about the problems they had during these hurricanes in order to identify issues that could be prevented in future hurricanes. The most common problem was getting gas to evacuate (35%). Twenty percent reported they did not have enough money at some point, 14% did not have enough water and 12% did not have enough food. Of note, smaller numbers reported needing medical care but not getting it (5%), getting injured (5%) or being threatened by violence (3%) (Figure 5). One area where few people reported problems was getting the information they needed to keep themselves and their families safe (8%).
The survey included a sample of the New Orleans metropolitan area to see if residents there differed from other high-risk area residents. After their experiences during Hurricane Katrina, most New Orleans residents say they would evacuate for a future storm. Only 14% would not evacuate compared to 32% of residents of other high-risk areas. Six in ten (61%) do not know the location of an evacuation shelter if they needed to go to one, which is significantly more than residents of other areas (38%). Despite the dramatic images of people stranded during Katrina, over half (54%) of New Orleans residents are confident they would be rescued if they needed to be during a future storm (Figure 6).
“It is worrisome that New Orleans, the site of one of the most severe hurricanes in U.S. history, has such a large proportion of people who don’t know the location of an evacuation center,” said Professor Blendon. “An important priority for government and voluntary agencies should be to inform people of the location of shelters well before a storm hits.”
Even after Katrina, a substantial percentage of New Orleans residents are not prepared for a major storm. One-half of New Orleans residents (51%) have not agreed on a place for family to meet if they get separated. Thirty-nine percent have not agreed on a phone number outside the region that family members could call. A sizable percentage of New Orleans residents (23%) do not have more than two days of water if the water supply were cut off.
When asked to rate the response of government and voluntary agencies to the problems created by the last major hurricane, 78% percent of New Orleans residents said it was fair or poor compared to 39% of residents of other areas damaged by a hurricane. Only 19% of New Orleans residents said the response was excellent or good compared to 57% in other areas.
Problems Facing Minorities and Low-Income Residents of High-Risk Hurricane Areas
Hurricane Katrina illustrated the additional challenges facing minorities and the poor in these high-risk coastal areas during a major hurricane. This survey finds that although African-Americans (73%) and Latino-Americans (71%) are more likely than whites (59%) to say they would evacuate if government officials said they had to leave in the event of a major hurricane, they are also more likely to need help to do so. Seventeen percent of African-Americans and 10% of Latino-Americans say they need help to evacuate and do not have that help lined up compared to 3% of whites (Figure 7). Low-income residents also would have more problems evacuating than those who are better off financially. Eighteen percent of those making less than $25,000 a year and who intend to evacuate do not have the necessary help compared to 4% of those making $25,000 a year or more.
If minorities and low-income residents are unable to evacuate because they do not have help, they are less prepared to stay in their homes and weather the storm and its aftermath. Approximately one-third of African-Americans (32%), Latino-Americans (35%) and low-income residents (33%) say they are not prepared if a major hurricane were to strike their community in the next six months. This compares to 14% of whites and 19% of those making $25,000 a year or more. A greater percentage of African-Americans (18%), Latino-Americans (11%) and low-income residents (14%) do not have enough food on hand to last more than three days compared to whites (6%) and those making $25,000 a year or more (8%).
This is the 25th in a series of studies by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security. The study was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The project director is Robert J. Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health. The research team also includes Tami Buhr, John M. Benson, and Kathleen J. Weldon of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Melissa J. Herrmann of ICR/International Communications Research. Fieldwork was conducted via telephone for the Project by ICR/International Communications Research of Media (PA) between June 18 and July 10, 2007.
The survey was conducted with a representative sample of 5,046 non-institutionalized adults ages 18 and over in high hurricane risk counties in eight states. Survey participants included residents of all counties within 20 miles of the coast in Alabama (503 interviews), Florida (1,006), Georgia (506), Louisiana (1,004), Mississippi (513), North Carolina (504), South Carolina (507), and Texas (503). The survey included 502 residents of the New Orleans metropolitan area, where interviews were conducted with adults from cellphone-only households, as well from households with landline telephones.
The results were weighted to represent the total adult population in the high hurricane risk counties of the region as a whole. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points; for the New Orleans-area sample, plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
Possible sources of nonsampling error include nonresponse bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Nonresponse in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases, sample data are weighted to the most recent Census data available from the Current Population Survey for gender, age, race, education, as well as number of adults in the household. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, callbacks staggered over times of day and days of the week, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.
Embargoed for release: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 12:01 A.M. ET
The Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a grant to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). HSPH provides ASTHO and the CDC with technical assistance for public health communication by monitoring the response of the general public to public health threats.
Heidelberg/New York, 23 July 2007
Experts urge preventive strategies to address the problems of those who are homeless
Experts are urging a new focus on prevention to address the plight of millions who are homeless in the U.S. and Europe. A two-pronged approach that helps those who are currently homeless while simultaneously closing the “front door” on homelessness before people find themselves in shelters, or on the streets, is showing success.
In a special issue of Springer’s Journal of Primary Prevention¹ entitled Homelessness and Mental Illness: Perspectives on Prevention, a dozen articles converge on the value of prevention and outline innovative strategies that are working to prevent and end homelessness. The articles speak to the unique needs of specific groups at high risk for homelessness, including veterans, individuals with substance use and mental health conditions and vulnerable families.
The publication results from a unique collaboration between the Journal of Primary Prevention and the federal Center for Mental Health Services’ (CMHS) Homeless Programs Branch, part of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). An electronic version is available for free at http://www.springerlink.com/content/1573-6547 (Vol. 28, Nos. 3-4, August 2007).
“Each year some two to three million individuals experience a night of homelessness, and approximately 800,000 people are homeless in the United States on any given night,” said SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline, Ph.D. “By raising awareness about effective homelessness prevention and intervention programs, this special issue can help local organizations make informed decisions about the approaches that will work best in their communities.”
In the issue’s preface, CMHS Director Kathryn Power notes that “business as usual is no longer acceptable and fundamental service and systems change is needed to bring about meaningful outcomes for individuals and communities. We are grateful that Springer has opened access to the articles so that many can benefit from the information.’’
SAMHSA is a public agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is responsible for improving the accountability, capacity and effectiveness of the nation’s substance abuse prevention, addictions treatment and mental health services delivery systems.
About the Homelessness Resource Center
The Homelessness Resource Center, a SAMHSA sponsored project, is an interactive community of providers, consumers, policymakers, researchers and public agencies sharing state-of-the art knowledge and promising practices to prevent and end homelessness, especially for those with mental health conditions, substance use issues and histories of trauma.
Springer is the second-largest publisher of journals in the science, technology, and medicine (STM) sector and the largest publisher of STM books. Springer is part of Springer Science+Business Media, one of the world’s leading suppliers of scientific and specialist literature.
1. Special issue of Journal of Primary Prevention, Vol. 28, Nos. 3-4/August, 2007
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