Brand new and exciting medicine for any and every ailment, from cancer to kleptomania! If you’ve got it, chances are we’ve got medicine for it
First up is Provenge, the prostate cancer vaccine that made good this week, prolonging the lives of patients in a clinical trial and making it that much closer to FDA approval. A potentially less toxic cancer treatment radiation and conventional chemo, Provenge isn’t a traditional vaccine either – instead of preventing cancer, it works to activate the body’s immune system, sending white blood cells to pile on malignant prostate cancer cells and send them packing.
This week also saw big news in anaesthetics, from ones designed to save lives to those merely helpful in saving face. Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston may have turned saxitoxin, the powerful paralytic at play in shellfish poisoning, into a promising next generation painkiller. By packaging the poison in specially engineered fat cells, scientists can turn it into a slow release anaesthetic effective for days at a time that could benefit patients recovering from surgery as well as individuals suffering from chronic pain. Early tests in rats show that the designed fat cells, known as liposomes, trickle saxitoxin into the bloodstream at a safe rate, numbing tissue without damaging surrounding cells.
But chronic pain sufferers aren’t the only ones with reason to rejoice about recent advancements in anasthesia. Men with hair triggers (and presumably their partners) can get excited about PSD502, a topical anaesthetic spray shown in trials to help men suffering from premature ejaculation last as much as 6 times longer in the sack. Just, y’ know – don’t get too excited.
Now stop getting excited and start getting spooked about the prospect of your memories being edited by pharmaceuticals. Scientists at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn have been working with PKMzeta, a substance that may be among the holy grails of neuroscience – the molecule responsible for the creation of memories in the brain. After isolating and studying the molecule, researchers injected ZIP, which interferes with PKMzeta, into the brains of rats, who promptly forgot how to avoid shocks as they had been trained for months to do. Substances like ZIP could, theoretically, be used in treating trauma, addiction and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Of course, they could also be put to about a billion and one thoroughly malevolent purposes.
Speaking of chemical treatments for addiction, an existing one, naltrexone, looks to be branching out. Used for years in the treatment of alcoholism, it appears that naltrexone may also be effective in treating other compulsive behaviors, including kleptomania. In a study at the University of Minnesota, researchers have found that naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, dulls the giddy rush that accompanies petty theft and that is so hard to give up for many kleptomania sufferers, effectively neutering the urge to steal because it feels good.
But with all of these staggering medical advances, the plague of fir tree lung remains treatable only by surgery. So far.