Advances and News in Brief

By Jonathan Friedman

Published August 15, 2003, issue of August 15, 2003.
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Cancer Screening

The National Prostate Cancer Coalition plans to screen more than 10,000 men across the country this year in its “Drive Against Prostate Cancer” with a mobile screening unit that will enable local physicians to administer a prostate-specific antigen blood test and a physical examination.

“Studies show early detection of prostate cancer saves lives,” the coalition’s president, Richard Atkins, said in a statement. “There are countless men in America who are unable to participate in the preventative healthcare maintenance they desperately need.”

The clinic will travel to poor communities throughout the United States in an attempt to screen as many uninsured men as possible. More than 20 million Americans cannot afford to be screened for prostate cancer, the most prevalent nonskin cancer in the United States. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives, with 29,000 fatalities annually.

Dysautonomia Meeting

With a grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, the Familial Dysautonomia Hope Foundation will sponsor a conference titled “You Could Be My Cousin — Our Jewish Genetic Heritage” to be held at Fordham University on November 13, 2003.

The conference is intended to educate Ashkenazi Jews about the importance of being screened for familial dysautonomia (FD). One in 27 people of Ashkenazic descent carries the mutated gene, the same carrier rate as for Tay-Sachs. In 2001, scientists identified the gene that can cause FD and the IKAP protein deficiency. Carrier and prenatal tests were quickly made available.

Ovarian Cancer Test

A new screening test for ovarian cancer is being refined at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit in preparation for Food and Drug Administration approval, according to an article in The Detroit Jewish News. Michael Tainsky, who developed the project and is director of the molecular biology and genetics program at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, was drawn to ovarian cancer because of the significant number of Jewish women who are diagnosed with the disease.

More than 80% of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed at a late stage when they have less than a 20% chance of surviving for five years. Patients diagnosed in an earlier stage have a 95% chance of surviving for five years.

Tainsky’s screening test is based on the patterns of proteins in a patient’s blood serum by detecting subtle antibodies circulating in the blood. A large number of antibodies may be the body’s response to the disease.

The test used now, CA125, measures the level of a protein that is abnormally high in about 80% of women who have advanced ovarian cancer and in about 50% of women in earlier stages. The test is not specific to ovarian cancer because the protein appears in great quantities in many other types of cancer, and many patients are misdiagnosed as a result.

Tainsky hopes his test will be available to women with BRCA1 mutations in two years and to the general public in four years, The Detroit Jewish News reported.

Genealogy Cruise

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies will sponsor its first annual “genealogical cruise” in December, it announced in a news release. The IAJGS is the umbrella group for more than 70 Jewish genealogical societies with more than 10,000 individual members searching for their roots.

While at sea, participants will attend lectures and gatherings with Jewish genealogists and others involved in similar research. Lectures will include an introduction to Jewish genealogy and overviews of Jewish geography; federal, state and local records in the United States, and Holocaust research. The lectures will also train the participants to continue research on their own through online resources, the network of Mormon family history libraries around the world and resources available through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Speakers will include Daniel Schlyter of the Mormon libraries and Peter Lande, a researcher at the national Holocaust museum.

Kidney Experiment

Professor Yair Reisner of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science has succeeded in growing functioning miniature human kidneys in mice using human stem cells, according to the institute’s magazine, Interface.

Reisner said he hopes that if the trials continue to produce positive results, human trials could begin in just a few years. More than 50,000 Americans are in need of kidney transplants, and many die because of the long wait for the organs.

Stem-Cell Consortium

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Gamida-Cell are forming a consortium for the development of stem cell technologies, according to a report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Teva has also joined the Pharmalogica Consortium, which unites biotechnology and bio-informatics companies, in an effort to predict the chances of transforming active molecules into drugs.

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