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cancer killer

10/25/12 11:08am

Antabuse May Also Beat Brain Tumors

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The brain's got a friend in disulfiram.
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A drug that's been used for decades to help alcoholics dry out may also help eradicate deadly brain tumors, researchers say. The drug disulfiram (branded under the name: Antabuse) enhances the body's sensitivity to alcohol—which makes drinking physically unpleasant—and it has been used for over 60 years to help wean alcoholics off the sauce. But British researchers have now discovered another life-saving use for the drug: it could be used to fight glioblastoma—a common, and deadly, form of brain cancer. In lab tests, the drug was found to kill glioblastoma cells, especially when combined with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine. The research—published in the British Journal of Cancer—is promising, especially since the drug has been safely used on alcoholics for decades. “One of the big challenges in cancer treatment is how to successfully kill tumour cells without harming the surrounding tissues," says Dr Julie Sharp, from Cancer Research UK, which owns the journal. “Drugs like this one, which can both penetrate the blood brain barrier and increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy, could play an important role in overcoming the problem of resistance to help improve the outlook for people with brain tumours.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

10/25/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: October 25, 2012

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The Stones talk drinking and denial.
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By Chrisanne Grise

drug cartels

10/24/12 5:11pm

41% of Mexicans Believe Zetas Founder Lives On

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Lazcano: still causing trouble from beyond
the grave? Photo via

First Elvis, now cartel leader Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano, nicknamed "The Executioner." Conspiracy theories are flying that the founder of the Zetas, one of Mexico's two biggest drug cartels, is not actually dead as the government declares. A new poll shows that 41% of Mexicans don't believe the police report that Lazcano was killed in a shootout with marines on October 7, with a further 33% unsure. The fact that an armed gang stole the body from a funeral parlor in Northern Mexico the day after the shootout naturally fuels the speculation. Investigators did obtain DNA samples before the body was stolen, but the preliminary identification was based on fingerprints and an examination of the body; the height of the man killed in the shootout reportedly differed from Lazcano’s recorded height. In an attempt to quash the rumors that the government got the wrong man, investigators have obtained DNA from the remains of one of Lazcano’s parents, and are working overtime to prove that the drug lord is dead.

Despite this, Mexican president Felipe Calderón has had plenty of recent success in taking down cartel bosses, as an Economist report illustrates. In March 2009, Mexico released a list of 37 men believed to be running drug gangs; now, all but 12 of them (or 13, if you believe the Lazcano theory...), have been arrested or killed. Still, the most wanted man of all remains at large: Joaquín Guzmán, known as “El Chapo” or “Shorty,” the boss of the Sinaloa cartel. And even if they're finally convinced of Lazcano’s death, the Mexican people remain pessimistic: 47% of those polled said they believe the amount of violence in the country will remain the same, 31% believe it will increase, and just 11% think things will get better.

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By Chrisanne Grise

prescription Drug Abuse

10/24/12 4:20pm

Rx Drug Deaths Down in Florida

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Better times on Florida's horizon? Photo via

The Sunshine State long had a reputation as the country's "pill mill" capital, but a report released today suggests that a crackdown on Rx drug abuse may be working. According to figures released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Attorney General Pam Bondi, statewide deaths caused by prescription drug use fell 6%—from 2,710 in 2010, to 2,539 in 2011. This represents the first drop in over a decade and is being credited to Florida's efforts to combat Rx drug abuse through Drug Enforcement Strike Force teams. Since May 2011, the teams have reportedly made 3,390 arrests (including 61 doctors), closed 254 clinics, and seized 785,295 pharmaceutical pills, 106 vehicles, 530 weapons and $9,899,668. “Within two years of establishing our prescription drug abuse efforts, Florida has seen a decrease in prescription drug deaths for the first time in nearly a decade,” says Attorney General Bondi. "We are saving lives, and we will remain vigilant in our efforts to end prescription drug abuse in Florida." The welcome drop in deaths may also be a local manifestation of a nationwide trend; a recent SAMHSA survey indicated that prescription drug abuse fell overall in 2011, after surging throughout the previous decade, and that young adults accounted for most of this decline.

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By May Wilkerson

Effects of marijuana

10/24/12 2:53pm

Why Was a Pot-Doesn't-Cause-Cancer Study Ignored?

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Different beholder, different eyes
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If a major study suggested that smoking marijuana not only doesn't cause lung cancer but may even reduce its incidence among those who smoke tobacco, you'd assume it would cause something of a media sensation. Well, it didn’t. A fascinating AlterNet article highlights how the mainstream media completely ignored the startling 2005 findings by Donald Tashkin, professor of pulmonology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

Tashkin, who will discuss his past findings and current research at a University of California San Francisco doctors' course tomorrow, doesn’t fit the lazy stereotype of a marijuana advocate. His pioneering work in the 1970s first identified the toxic compounds in pot smoke, and his lab was the first to report that one of tobacco’s most carcinogenic components—benzpyrene—is prevalent in marijuana smoke too. Tashkin’s data, showing that marijuana smokers were more likely to cough, wheeze and produce sputum than non-users was widely propagated to scare people away from smoking pot. His work made him a darling of the government's National Institute of Drug Abuse, which seized on his findings; NIDA then gave Tashkin a large grant to conduct a widespread, population-based study to prove beyond doubt that long-term marijuana use increases your risk of lung cancer.

But the annoying thing about science—as Richard Nixon learned when he ordered an investigation of marijuana risks back in 1972—is that sometimes it tells you things you don’t want to hear. Tashkin’s findings were the opposite of what NIDA expected. His work indicated that increased pot use alone, despite causing some damage to respiratory cells, doesn't increase the risk of lung and pharyngeal cancer. Tobacco smokers, in contrast, were found to be at a greater risk the more they smoked. Amazingly, people in Tashkin's control group, who smoked both tobacco and marijuana, were found to be at slightly lower risk than their tobacco-only counterparts.

The startling implication was that something in marijuana stops damaged cells from becoming malignant: Tashkin theorized an anti-proliferative effect of THC, which has been previously observed in cell-culture systems and animal models of brain, breast, prostate, and lung cancer. THC has been shown to promote known apoptosis (damaged cells die instead of reproducing) and to counter angiogenesis (the process of blood-vessel formation, which is a requirement of tumor growth). Tashkin thought other antioxidants in cannabis may also help counter malignancy.

It’s no surprise that a pro-prohibition institution like NIDA chose not to publicize this report. But why did mainstream media look the other way when Tashkin’s findings emerged in 2005? They did the same in 2009, when Tashkin went public to counter a New Zealand study, claiming that marijuana increases the risk of lung cancer, which he called “statistical sleight of hand.” A very small sample size didn't stop it receiving far wider publicity at the time than Taskin's study. It seems that marijuana scare stories simply sell.

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By Tony O'Neill

addiction on film

10/24/12 1:45pm

Denzel Washington Plays Alcoholic Airline Pilot

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Washington lands a hefty role. Photo via

Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic, cocaine-snorting airline pilot in his new film, Flight, which premiered last night in LA. His character, who "lies, manipulates people, [and] drinks too much," successfully lands a plane in a storm and is revered as a hero—until it's discovered that he was heavily intoxicated during the landing. "He does try for the first two or three days right after the crash, to not drink," explains the actor. "Then when he finds out what the consequences are, he walks unfortunately right past a bar. One leads to 100." Washington hopes his character's struggles—which are hardly unknown among real-life pilots—will resonate with anyone touched by addiction, and "spark different conversation" from some of his other work. The film features recovery, too—both on and off the screen. The pilot's friend and drug dealer is a recovering heroin addict played by John Goodman, who reveals that alcoholism "is something I came to terms with five years ago, and with daily grace I'm still sober."

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By May Wilkerson

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