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New Clinical Trial to Study Effects of Biofeedback, Meditation on Fighting Disease

The genesis of Dr. Tracey's research was to figure out how better to control the body's immune system.
One of the immune system's weapons is TNF, or tumor necrosis factor. A "big gun," TNF causes both a local (pain and redness) and a systemic (slowed heartbeat) response. (This is good-to a point.) TNF also activates other cells to produce proinflammatory cytokines. (This can be too much of a good thing.) Dr. Tracey and his team of researchers recently discovered that a major nerve that wanders through the body, the vagus nerve, which innervates the heart, liver, lungs, spleen and kidneys, also inhibits TNF production. They made this surprising finding while trying to develop a drug that would do the same thing. As he describes in Nature, they injected it directly into the brain of an animal subject and then cut nerves one by one; by a process of elimination they found that the vagus nerve alone was transmitting the signal to the organs that contain the immune system.
And here's where the intriguing mind/body connection is made: The vagus nerve normally controls the heart rate. Biofeedback, meditation and prayer have been shown to slow the heartbeat. Are these alternative therapies actually stimulating the vagus nerve? And if so, can those therapies and others be shown to have an ameliorating effect on autoimmune conditions such as abdominal aortic aneurysm, sepsis and peripheral ischemia, in addition to Crohn's and rheumatoid arthritis, by modulating the immune response?
Dr. Tracey said, "We hope to begin studies soon with both normal volunteers and patients with autoimmune diseases. We will teach them to increase their vagus nerve activity (through biofeedback and meditation) and study the effect on TNF. I'm very excited that our findings may translate into some clinically relevant scenarios."
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'Clear' bacteria link to Crohn's

The clearest evidence yet that Crohn's disease is caused by a type of bacteria blamed for a similar animal disorder has been published by US researchers.
Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (Map) was found for the first time in the blood of people with the disorder.
Half of the 28 people with Crohn's tested positive for Map.
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BBC News

Gel may 'replace pills and jabs'

Medication in a gel form could replace hard to swallow pills and painful injections, Indian scientists hope.
They have developed a gel that can deliver drugs to the stomach without being broken down on the way and can be taken orally.
This could avoid injections for diabetic patients and get directly to the problem area in gut disorders, they told Polymer International.
The properties of the gel also mean it avoids a common complication encountered by drugs that have to be swallowed - break down in the stomach by the acidic digestive juices.
The gel keeps hold of most the drug in the acid environment, only depositing the medication once it reaches the alkaline environment of the bowel.
According to its designers, this makes it ideal for treating bowel diseases like Crohn's disease. The other area of disease where it might be useful is diabetes, they said.
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BBC News

Can Autoimmune Disease Be Detected Early?

For many autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Addison's disease and rheumatoid arthritis, antibodies to the diseases appear years before symptoms.
Knowing that antibodies are present before the disease develops, doctors can alert patients to symptoms to watch out for, and researchers may be able to develop early treatments, according to a report in the May 8 issue of The Lancet.
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HealthDay News

MR May Allow Earlier Diagnosis of MS

Using magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy, researchers developed a method called whole brain N-acetylaspartate (WBNAA) to measure the severity of a patient's MS and gauge how well the drugs used to treat the disease are working. The new procedure is performed at the same time the patient undergoes clinical MR imaging. The radiologist adds MR spectroscopy, which provides chemical information at the cellular level.
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Hormonal Clue to Autoimmune Diseases Found

Researchers used cell cultures to examine several specific pathways where estrogen interacts with immune cells. They found a decrease of estrogen levels results in an increase in levels of CD16, a molecule of the cell surface that regulates inflammation.
This increase in CD16 starts a chain reaction of inflammation that affects joint and organ tissues.
The researchers say this shows that changes in estrogen can make a woman more vulnerable to rheumatoid arthritis and other kinds of inflammatory autoimmune diseases. Changes in estrogen can also increase the severity of symptoms caused by these diseases.
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HealthDay News

Though Diabetes Epidemic Worsens, Researchers Make Strides

Researchers are now able to identify those at highest risk for type 1 diabetes years before the appearance of symptoms. This ability, coupled with advances in immune tolerance research and a better understanding of the autoimmune process that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells, has laid the groundwork for planned clinical trials to prevent type 1 diabetes and treat it in new-onset patients.
Scientists have identified several genes that contribute to diabetes susceptibility. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are complex genetic diseases that arise from the interactions of various genes and environmental factors.
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HealthDay News

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