News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized forms.

1. Existing diabetes drug can slow the progress of Parkinson’s Disease

British researchers have suggested that a diabetes drug can slow down the progress of Parkinson’s disease, and seems to not only target its symptoms – but, also the underlying cause of the condition too. The findings provide more evidence that the two conditions work in a similar way.

The drug, called exenatide, comes from a class of compounds originally isolated from the venom of a lizard, called the gila monster. It has been found that the drug also seems that is can protect neurons from toxins.

In a small trial, 31 people with moderate Parkinson’s disease, the drug was given over 48 weeks. The participants self-injected the drug every day—except the day before assessments—while 29 people with a similar level of disease did the same with a placebo.

At the end of eight weeks, those who received the placebo deteriorated by an average of three points on a 200-point scale, a typical rate of decline for people with Parkinson’s.

Those who had taken exenatide showed an average improvement of one point and brain scans proved less degeneration. The effects were however subtle but provided evidence that neurodegenerative diseases may work in a similar way to diabetes.

2. US FDA approves first drug to treat all forms of hepatitis C

The US FDA approved Mavyret to treat all six forms of hepatitis C. Photo credit: AbbVie
The US FDA approved Mavyret to treat all six forms of hepatitis C. Photo credit: AbbVie

The US FDA have approved the first drug to treat all forms of hepatitis C in as little as eight weeks.

Mavyret, the pill combination is from AbbVie, aimed at adults without significant cirrhosis, and many patients who were not cured by prior treatment.

It combines two hepatitis C medicines, glecaprevir and pibrentasvir, taken as three pills together once a day. In a trial including 2,300 adult patients – 97.5% who did not have cirrhosis were cured in eight weeks, after consuming Mavyret. Among patients with severe kidney damage, 98% were cured after 12 weeks of treatment, according to Abbvie.

Side effects include nausea, headache, fatigue, and itchy skin. In patients who previously had hepatitis B infections, treatment with Mavyret can reactivate that virus, potentially causing fatal liver problems.

However, it is the latest drug that is able to treat all six forms of hepatitis C.

3. Gold proven to increase drug effectiveness in treating cancerous tumours

Scientists from Edinburgh University, in collaboration with the University of Zaragoza’s Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon in Spain, have just completed a study which proved that gold could increase the effectiveness of drugs used to treat lung cancer cells.

Gold nanoparticles encased in a chemical device were implanted in the brain of a zebrafish. These chemically-encapsulated gold nanoparticles could be used to target only diseased and cancerous cells rather than healthy cells.

As such, this would drastically reduce the harmful and potentially life threatening side effects of chemotherapy.

Gold was previously not known to have this property as a delivery metal but the researchers say that the study is still very preliminary and more work was needed before it could translate into use for patients.

However, the team says that this could lead to a future device that could be targeted into the tumour and the doctor could control the release of the drug into the tumour alone.

4. Liquid biopsy, a non-invasive prenatal testing for abnormalities in foetal DNA

The NanoVelcro device, shown here, has been used in studies to detect both circulating tumor DNA and cells with fetal DNA. Photo credit: Hsian-Rong Tseng
The NanoVelcro device, shown here, has been used in studies to detect both circulating tumor DNA and cells with fetal DNA. Photo credit: Hsian-Rong Tseng

A liquid biopsy that was designed to identify cancer cells from a blood sample, could also detect abnormalities in foetal DNA, according to researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The NanoVelcro chip the researchers developed comprise nanofibers coated with antibodies to grab onto trophoblasts that are found in an expectant mother’s blood sample. The cells are then cut free from the nanofibers with a laser to extract foetal DNA.

If the trophoblast testing is done right, this form of non-invasive prenatal testing can have market potential. They plan to make some tests available for research use next quarter and possibly carry out clinical trials in 2018.

5. Immunotherapy could slow the advance of type 1 diabetes

The first trial of a pioneering therapy to slow the advance of type 1 diabetes by retraining the immune system, has shown to be safe.

The immunotherapy tested on 27 people in the UK showed signs of slowing the disease, but would need further larger clinical trials to confirm this.

The trial focused on patients newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as they would still have about a fifth of their beta cells left. Retaining these cells would make it easier to manage the condition.

The patients were injected ever two or four weeks for six months. The therapy prevented the need to increase the dosage of insulin during the trial. It is too soon to say that the therapy stops type 1 diabetes and the team is hoping to carry out larger clinical trials soon.

The ultimate goal is to intervene in earlier diagnoses to prevent the disease from starting. MIMS

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