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Fresh hope for hay fever sufferers

Researchers are set to discuss and make recommendations on the safety and efficacy of oral tablets used to treat ragweed allergy symptoms, during a public meeting of the Allergenic Products Advisory Committee, organised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There is more to seasonal allergies than a little congestion and sneezing. If you notice eating watermelon, cantaloupe or avocado make you cough and itch, it may be a symptom of ragweed allergy. But more help might be on the way for some of the 23 million hay fever sufferers.

“The committee is likely to approve these tablets which will mark great improvement in the fight against allergy,” allergist Michael Foggs, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), said. 

“Once the committee and then the FDA approve the tablets, allergy sufferers will have another form of treatment available to them.”

Currently, the best treatment for those with moderate-to-severe allergy symptoms is allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy. 

This treatment requires tiny injections of purified allergen extracts. A pill a day may seem more appealing than getting shots. So why bother with allergy shots anymore?

Dr. Foggs said that allergy shots can be customised to provide relief to multiple allergens, including tree, grass, weed, mold, house dust, dander, and mold, while offering the assurance of more than 100 years of experience in causing remission, not just symptom relief in allergy.

How brain perpetuates chronic pain 

Researchers have pinpointed two molecules involved in perpetuating chronic pain in mice.

Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland said the molecules also appear to have a role in the phenomenon that causes uninjured areas of the body to be more sensitive to pain when an area nearby has been hurt.

“With the identification of these molecules, we have some additional targets that we can try to block to decrease chronic pain,” Xinzhong Dong, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said. “We found that persistent pain doesn't always originate in the brain, as some had believed, which is important information for designing less addictive drugs to fight it.”

In the new research, the scientists focused on a system of pain-sensing nerves within the faces of mice, known collectively as the trigeminal nerve, which is a large bundle of tens of thousands of nerve cells.

Dong said chronic pain seems to cause serotonin to be released by the brain into the spinal cord. There, it acts on the trigeminal nerve at large, making protein TRPV1 hyperactive throughout its branches, even causing some non-pain-sensing nerve cells to start responding to pain.

Hereditary genes linked to higher cancer risk from alcohol

A new study has shown that people carrying certain mutations in two hereditary cancer genes, BRCA2 and PALB2, may have a higher than usual susceptibility to DNA damage caused by a byproduct of alcohol, called acetaldehyde.

The scientists, who conducted experiments on human cell lines in laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, said they suspect that the two genes in their normal forms evolved to protect cells against the damaging effects of acetaldehyde, which can lead to cancer.

“We need to identify which behaviors in certain populations increase disease risk, and keep in mind that our genetic susceptibility plays a large role in cancer risk,” Scott Kern, M.D ., the Everett and Marjorie Kovler Professor in Pancreas Cancer Research at Johns Hopkins, said.

Acetaldehyde is produced during the metabolism of alcohol and is known to cause DNA damage. The scientists found that BRCA2 and PALB2-mutant cell lines exposed to acetaldehyde had up to 25 times more growth reduction when compared with related cells lacking these mutations.

The significant reduction in cell growth indicates that these cell lines, which lack the two genes, are more susceptible to the DNA damage caused by acetaldehyde, said the scientists.

They suggested that the DNA-damaging effects of acetaldehyde exposure in people lacking these genes may accelerate cancer growth.

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