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Health Capsules: Oct. 24

Is a vaccine for acne on the horizon?

Researchers could be getting closer to a vaccination for acne.

Even though acne is not a life-threatening problem, it causes major emotional and psychological distress for teenagers and young adults. Up to 85 percent of adolescents struggle with it – and for those who suffer from severe cases, acne can be impossible to conceal and seem equally difficult to treat at a time when their self-esteem is especially vulnerable. 

Current medications for acne, which range from topical creams to oral antibiotics and the vitamin A derivative Accutane, are often insufficient. They can cause difficult-to-tolerate side effects ranging from skin dryness and irritation to increased risk of birth defects, depression and suicidal thoughts. 

But a new way to fight acne before it takes hold may be on the horizon. Researchers report that important steps have been taken toward the development of an acne vaccine, saying they have demonstrated for the first time that antibodies to a toxin from bacteria present in acne can reduce inflammation in human acne lesions.

This vaccine would be the first to target bacteria already in human skin, rather than invading pathogens. Its goal would be to prevent the acne-causing properties of P. acnes, the primary acne-causing bacteria, without actually destroying the bacteria entirely.

Still in the investigation phase, the vaccine has been tested in mice as well as on skin biopsies taken from acne sufferers.  The next step is a clinical trial phase in actual acne patients. “Once validated by a large-scale clinical trial, the potential impact of our findings is huge for the hundreds of millions of individuals suffering from acne vulgaris,” explained lead investigator Chun-Ming Huang, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego.  The research was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Washington University study finds no safe level of drinking

It may be time to rethink that daily cocktail or glass of wine long thought to be harmless – and perhaps even good – for your health, a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis claims.

The Wash U researchers found that for both men and women, having one to two drinks four or more times per week, an amount thought to be healthy for decades, increases the risk of premature death by 20 percent compared with drinking moderately three times a week or less. The increased risk of death was consistent across all age groups.

“It used to seem like having one or two drinks per day was no big deal, and there even have been some studies suggesting it can improve health,” said the study’s first author, Sarah M. Hartz, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry. “But now we know that even the lightest daily drinkers have an increased mortality risk.”

Although some earlier studies have linked light drinking to improvements in cardiovascular health, the new study shows that those potential benefits are outweighed by other risks, particularly an increased overall risk of cancer, Hartz said, which becomes more important to think about as one gets older.

“A 20 percent increase in risk of death is a much bigger deal in older people who already are at higher risk,” Hartz said. “Relatively few people die in their twenties, so a 20 percent increase in mortality is small but still significant. As people age, their risk of death from any cause also increases, so a 20 percent risk increase at age 75 translates into many more deaths than it does at age 25.”

The study included more than 400,000 Americans between the ages of 18 to 85. It was published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

SLU to test new type of flu vaccine in children, adolescents

Young volunteers are currently being recruited for an early-stage clinical trial to test a nasal influenza vaccine at Saint Louis University’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit [VTEU]. The 13-month trial will include 50 healthy children between the ages of 9 and 17. 

Although annual flu vaccines are recommended for everyone over six months of age, changes in the flu viruses circulating from year to year have meant that the annual vaccine is often a partial mismatch – leading to a more serious flu season such as last year’s. The nasal vaccine being tested at SLU, intended to supplement the annual flu vaccine, is designed to increase its effectiveness by providing more broad-based immunity. “We are hopeful that newer kinds of influenza vaccines, such as the candidate being tested in this trial, will provide protection even if their components do not precisely match the currently circulating influenza virus strains,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

Half of the trial participants will receive the experimental nasal vaccine, and the other half will receive a dose of inactive saline solution. Three months later, all volunteers will receive an injection of a licensed, quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccine. Researchers hope to determine whether the combination of the two vaccines leads to broader protection against influenza viruses compared with the licensed vaccine alone.  

The trial will include seven clinic visits and two phone calls with research staff. Each participating child will be compensated $75 per visit and $10 per phone call. It is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIAID], part of the National Institutes of Health. For more information about the study, contact the Vaccine Center at (314) 977-6333 and refer to Study No. 326, IRB: 258011.

On the calendar

BJC of St. Charles County offers free flu shots on the following upcoming dates: 

• Monday, Oct. 29 from 5-8 p.m. at Middendorf-Kredell Branch Library, 2750 Hwy. K in O’Fallon 

• Thursday, Nov. 8 from 5-8 p.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B 

• Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 5-8 p.m. at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, Medical Office Building 1, Suite 117  

Advance registration and appointment times are required and can be made online at bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events. 

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BJC of St. Charles County hosts an American Red Cross Community Blood Drive on Friday, Nov. 2 from noon-4 p.m. at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, Medical Office Building 1, Suite 117; and at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. Appointments are not required, but may speed the donation process. Use sponsor codes BJSTPETERS or PROGRESS WEST when signing up online at redcrossblood.org or by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS (733-2767).

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