Newsbriefs: Degenerative Diseases Treatment; Stain Users; “Physician Partners”

Possible breakthrough treatment for degenerative diseases, but funding is needed

For nine years, UCLA researchers have been working on an experimental drug that may prevent or cure over 30 currently cureless and devastating diseases. These include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Lou Gehrig’s, type 2 diabetes, and many others that have a common underlying mechanism. They developed this drug first in cell cultures, then in animal models of these various diseases. They found that the drug worked without showing side effects. However, given the downturn in the economy and its slow recovery, the emphasis on reducing the nation’s debt, and the sheer numbers of researchers seeking money for their research, it is hard to find the funding they need to move their work forward. The challenge is that the drug works in a way that is entirely different from any drug developed before. And innovative ideas are often are met with resistance. The drug in question is a molecular compound called CLR01 and nicknamed a “molecular tweezer” for the way it looks and functions. With Alzheimer’s disease, for example, it’s thought that an amino acid called lysine, part of the beta-amyloid protein believed to cause Alzheimer’s, was the key to its transition from a regular component of every cell’s normal biological function, to a toxin that kills brain cells and causes dementia. The mechanism that causes this is the clumping together of these beta-amyloid proteins that cause the toxicity. It is therefore critical to find a way to stop this process. The researchers have shown that this new drug safely crosses the blood-brain barrier, prevents and removes those aggregated proteins, and further, protects the existing healthy neurons and synapses in the brain. The challenge now is finding enough funding to continue the research.

Today’s statin users consume more calories and fat, and weigh more, than their predecessors

People who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol appear to have developed a false sense of security that could lead to heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses. A UCLA-led study suggests that people who took statins from 2009-2010 were consuming more calories and fat than those who used statins 10 years earlier. There was no similar increase in caloric and fat intake among non–statin users during that decade, researchers said. In 1999–2000, statin users were consuming fewer calories and less fat than individuals who didn’t take these medications, but that is no longer the case. Increases in body mass index were greater for statin-users than for non-users. The differences may be explained by the fact that statin users simply don’t feel the urgency to reduce their caloric and fat consumption or to lose weight the way statin users 10 years ago did. Also, doctors today may be more likely to prescribe statins for patients who eat and weigh more. Because of the design of this study, the researchers were not able to disentangle the mechanism of the different dietary intake trends. The research was published online Apr. 24, 2014 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

‘Physician partners’ free doctors to focus on patients, not paperwork

Primary care physicians already have enough administrative duties on their plates, and the implementation of electronic medical records has only added to their burden. As a result, they have less time to spend with their patients. But a recent UCLA study suggests a simple way to lighten their load: a “physician partner,” whose role would be to work on those administrative tasks, such as entering information into patient records that take up so much of doctors’ time. A physician partner allows doctors to focus more of their attention on their patients and leads to greater patient satisfaction with their care, the UCLA researchers said. The study was published online May 12, 2014 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. From November 2012 through June 2013, five physicians in two academic practices—three geriatricians and two general internists—each utilized physician partners over a total of 326 four-hour clinic sessions. The physician partners were particularly beneficial for geriatricians, whose visits with patients averaged 2.8 minutes shorter with the partners than without them. Geriatricians also saved an average of 28.8 minutes over the four-hour sessions with the physician partners, compared with doctors who did not have a partner. By contrast, sessions for the doctors lacking a physician partner ran long by an average of 8.1 minutes.

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