Health Briefing

Tue, Feb 21, 2012, 00:00

A round-up of today's other health stories in brief

New hope for pancreatic cancer

PANCREATIC CANCER cells can be destroyed by combining two drugs, researchers have found, giving hope that more effective treatments can be developed to combat the disease.

The research by Cancer Research UKs Cambridge Research Institute showed in mice that combining a chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine with an experimental drug called MRK003 sets off a chain of events that ultimately kills cancer cells – multiplying the effect of each drug on its own.

O'Rourke plans not to peak before Olympics

HURDLER DERVAL O’Rourke has said indoor training will give her a strong foundation for the summer 2012 Olympic Games in London. She said yesterday that she was looking forward to competing at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul next month, keeping her focus on one race at a time.

After an inflamed joint in her foot left her sidelined for a week, she is back running and her Olympic training is going well. “Broadly I know the Olympics is the key, but I also know I have loads of events leading up to it,” she said. “I have to not get too excited; it’s still six months away.”

Although indoor hurdling consists of a five-hurdle race instead of 10, O’Rourke said indoor competition sets her up for success. “Indoors is just over 50 per cent of your outdoor race, so if you nail that and you run really well, you’re going into outdoors really ready,” she said.

As for the rest of the Irish Olympic team, O’Rourke thinks that qualifiers for the track and field might be the ones to watch. We should also keep our eyes trained on the boxing team, with a keen look at Katie Taylor and she believes the Irish sailing team has a strong chance.

O’Rourke is also promoting “Bring on the Pros”, a competition from the National Dairy Council’s Milk It For All It’s Worthcampaign. The competition allows secondary schools, colleges and sports clubs a chance to win O’Rourke, or rugby player Rob Kearney, as coach for a day. After completing an online challenge on, entrants are eligible for daily prizes and a look at the importance of nutrition to overall health and fitness.

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Potential to treat lung disease complications

SCIENTISTS AT University College Dublin have identified a potential new treatment for life-threatening complications associated with chronic obstructive lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The research, published in Circulation, shows it may be possible to target and regulate a protein that contributes to pulmonary hypertension – high blood pressure in the arteries of the lung.

Chronic obstructive lung diseases affect more than 100,000 people in Ireland. Most commonly caused by smoking, these diseases make it hard to empty air out of the lungs.

Prof Paul McLoughlin of UCD’s School of Medicine said: “Diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and fibrosis of the lungs cause abnormally low levels of oxygen in the lung. When the lung is starved of oxygen, blood pressure in the arteries of the lung increases which damages blood vessels and makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood, leading, in many cases, to heart failure and premature death.”

The researchers found that when oxygen levels in the lung are reduced, the body produces elevated quantities of a protein called gremlin – suggesting a link between elevated levels of gremlin and pulmonary hypertension.

Further investigations showed that mice whose genes had been mutated to reduce gremlin were protected against pulmonary hypertension, even when in a low oxygen environment similar to that found in lung disease. Further research showed that gremlin was elevated in the lungs of patients with pulmonary hypertension, confirming a key role for the protein in damaging the blood vessels of the lung.