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Gene Therapy Approved for Rare Inherited Vision-Loss Disorders

TUESDAY, Dec. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Luxturna, a form of gene therapy, has been approved to treat a rare group of inherited vision disorders that can lead to blindness. The disorders are broadly grouped together and known as biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy. They affect a combined 1,000 to 2,000 people in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday in a news release. Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec-rzyl) delivers a working copy of an existing defective gene that produces a retinal enzyme needed for normal vision. “Today’s approval marks another first in the field of gene therapy, both in how the therapy works and in expanding the use of gene therapy beyond the treatment of cancer to the treatment of vision loss,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. “I believe gene therapy will become a mainstay for treating, and maybe curing, many of our most devastating and intractable illnesses.” Luxturna should be given only to people who have treatment-capable retinal cells, the agency said. Treatment must be done separately on each eye, at least six days apart. The treatment was evaluated in clinical trials involving 41 people ranging in age from 4 to 44. The most common side effects included eye redness, cataracts, increased eye pressure and retinal tear. Luxturna is produced by Spark Therapeutics, based in Philadelphia. More information The FDA has more about this...

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Heroin Vaccine Blunts Drug’s Effect in Animals

TUESDAY, Dec. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — An experimental heroin vaccine has shown promise in an early animal study. In mice and rats, the vaccine triggered antibodies that prevented heroin from crossing the blood-brain barrier. “By eliciting antibodies that bind with heroin in the blood, the vaccine aims to block the euphoria and addictive effects [in the brain],” explained researcher Gary Matyas. He is chief of adjuvants and formulations for the U.S. Military HIV Research Program. “We hope to give people a window so they can overcome their addiction,” he added. However, research with animals frequently doesn’t produce similar results in humans. The researchers also discovered that the vaccine produced antibodies against other opioids, including the painkillers OxyContin, Vicodin and codeine. The vaccine also dampened the impact of high doses of heroin, which suggests it might be able to prevent an overdose. The vaccine was developed at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. The findings were published Dec. 13 in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. “Although we are still in the early phase, this study suggests that vaccination can be used together with standard therapies to prevent the withdrawal and craving symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal,” Matyas said. The United States continues to struggle with an opioid epidemic. Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between...

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FDA Approves Gene Therapy for Rare Form of Blindness

TUESDAY, Dec. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — A new gene therapy to treat children and adults with a rare type of inherited vision loss has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s the first gene therapy approved in the United States for a disease caused by mutations in a specific gene, and only the third gene therapy ever approved. People with this disorder “now have a chance for improved vision, where little hope previously existed,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in an agency news release. The drug — Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec-rzyl) — can be used to treat people with a condition called biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy. It causes vision loss and, in some people, may lead to complete blindness. The condition affects 1,000 to 2,000 people in the United States, according to the FDA. “One of the best things I’ve ever seen since surgery are the stars. I never knew that they were little dots that twinkled,” therapy recipient Mistie Lovelace said at a public hearing in October. As reported by the Associated Press, Lovelace, from Kentucky, was among several patients urging the FDA to approve the treatment. Development of the drug began with research started about 25 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Its co-leader was Dr. Jean Bennett,...

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Gay, Lesbian Teens at Higher Suicide Risk

TUESDAY, Dec. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning (LGBQ) have a much higher risk for suicidal behavior than other teens, a new study has found. Nearly 40 percent of LGBQ teens told researchers that they had seriously considered suicide in the past year. In addition, 35 percent had planned suicide and 25 percent had attempted suicide. By comparison, 15 percent of heterosexual teens had seriously considered suicide, 12 percent had planned it and 6 percent had attempted it, the researchers said. “There have been some indications that LGBQ youth face increased suicide risks, yet many believed the jury was still out,” study co-author John Ayers said in a news release from San Diego State University. “Our study yields a clear verdict: LGBQ youth face staggeringly high suicide risks,” Ayers said. He is an associate research professor with the university’s School of Public Health. Data used in the study came from a federal government health survey of over 15,600 U.S. high school students. The investigators determined that LGBQ teens were 2.45 times more likely to consider suicide, nearly 3.6 times more likely to plan a suicide and about 3.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than were heterosexual teens. To compare LGBQ and heterosexual teens, the researchers adjusted the data to account for differences in age, gender, race, academic grades and English proficiency....

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Friendships May Be Your Defense Against Diabetes

TUESDAY, Dec. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — You probably lean on your friends in tough times. Now, new research suggests your pals might even help you prevent one very big health problem — type 2 diabetes. In a study of nearly 3,000 middle-aged to elderly people in the Netherlands, researchers found that people who had social networks of 10 to 12 people were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people with only seven to eight close friends. Each drop in a social network member was tied to a 5 percent to 12 percent higher risk of diabetes, the study found. The investigators also found that men living alone were more likely to have type 2 diabetes, while living alone didn’t seem to affect a woman’s risk of having the blood sugar disease. “A larger network size may have an important impact on an individual’s lifestyle,” said the study’s lead author, Stephanie Brinkhues. She’s a doctoral candidate at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. “A larger network also means more access to social support when it is needed, more contacts outside the house, and therefore being more socially active. The larger social network may help people to improve their lifestyle, eat more healthy and be more physically active,” she said. Those are important steps for preventing type 2 diabetes, which is linked to sedentary behavior and being overweight. As...

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