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New drugs tackle TB

After decades rampaging across the globe, tuberculosis has a real fight on its hands. That's thanks to the arrival of a drug combination that could for the first time dramatically shorten treatment and tackle both ordinary and multidrug-resistant strains of TB.
Called PaMZ, the pill is a combination of the standard TB drug pyrazinamide with the antibiotic moxifloxacin - not previously used against TB - and PA-824, a drug whose potential against TB was reported by New Scientist in 2001.
PaMZ could wipe out several resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis - the cause of most cases of TB - that have been spreading through South Africa, India and the countries that made up the former Soviet Union. What's more, it could work in a sixth of the time of existing treatments, at a tenth of the cost, as well as slashing by a third the number of pills required.
"We may have a major solution here," says Mario Raviglione, director of the World Health Organization's Stop TB campaign.
It also shows promise in treating TB in HIV-positive people, a real problem in sub-Saharan Africa.
Andreas Diacon at the University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, the studies' lead researcher, hopes to begin a larger trial next year.
"If that's successful, we may be able to roll the treatment out within four or five years," he says.

Can coffee cure tremors?

Coffee can give you the shakes, but caffeine seems to have the opposite effect in people with Parkinson's disease, helping to relieve tremors and get them back on the move.
In the past, caffeine has been shown to reduce the risk of Parkinson's, but its effects have never been tested in people who already have the disease.
Ronald Postuma, of McGill University in Montreal, and colleagues gave 61 people with Parkinson's a six-week course of pills containing the caffeine equivalent of about three cups of coffee every day, or a placebo.
Only people in the caffeine group showed a significant improvement in tests for motor problems, such as the severity of their tremors, and general mobility (Neurology).
Motor problems associated with Parkinson's are caused by a lack of dopamine in areas of the brain where dopamine-producing cells are destroyed. Adenosine receptors normally inhibit the production of dopamine. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors and so acts to boost available dopamine.
Drugs that target adenosine receptors are already in clinical trials, but caffeine could provide a cheaper alternative.

Implications of health gadgets

Ask a medical patient how he feels about the Internet and he may well wax lyrical. The Web offers copious information about symptoms, diagnoses and treatments - empowering individuals to understand and discuss their illness.
Ask a physician, however, and you may well be met with a resigned roll of the eyes. Even if patients have tapped into a reliable source of information, their understanding of how it applies to them may be way off-base.
One can easily imagine this divide widening thanks to the "self-tracking" movement, which stands to revolutionize doctor-patient relationships. Monitoring your own vital signs promises significant benefits: continual health checks, advance warning of illness and personalized medicine.
But here's the rub. How should a doctor react to someone with no symptoms anxiously brandishing their own analysis of data from a consumer gadget? Equally, will patients eventually be compelled to understand or even conduct such analyses to secure proper treatment? Taking our health into our own hands is about to get a lot more complicated.

Fall babies may live longer

Good news for autumn babies: Those born in the fall are more likely to live to 100 than those born in other seasons.
The month of your birth can influence the environment in which you develop - inside the womb and out. Evidence suggests that this can have a lifelong impact on your health.
Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova, at the University of Chicago, gathered birth and death data from more than 1,500 centenarians born in the U.S. between 1880 and 1895. To counter genetic and socioeconomic influences, they compared the figures with those from the centenarians' siblings and spouses, who would have experienced similar genetic and early or later life environments.
Significantly more centenarians were born between September and November, with the fewest born in March, May and July.
"The most popular hypothesis is that seasonal infections in early life are creating long-lasting damage to human health," says Gavrilov.

Compiled from wire service reports