New Shot Could Relieve Migraines for Up to Three Months

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Migraines are the third most common illness in the word, but their underlying causes and how to treat them are still largely a mystery to doctors. Now, NPR reports that an alternative therapy may be on the way for migraine sufferers dissatisfied with pills that only mask the symptoms. A new type of shot has the potential to relieve migraines for up to three months while causing hardly any side effects.

Since the 1980s, scientists have studied how a protein called calcitonin gene–related peptide (CGRP) relates to migraine episodes. Research shows that people experiencing the throbbing head pain, vertigo, and light sensitivity that come with migraines have high levels of this protein in their blood.

When CGRP is injected into the bloodstream of someone who's susceptible to migraines, it triggers these intense symptoms, researchers found. But when people who don't normally get migraines receive a shot of it, their side effects are mild pain at worst. Further studies in mice demonstrated that by blocking CGRP in the brain, researchers could stop their migraine-like symptoms from developing.

The first CGRP-blocking treatment for humans came in the form of a pill in 2011. Though the clinical trials seemed promising, the medication never made it into pharmacies due to its possible effects on the liver. The latest version of the therapy doesn't interact with the liver at all. Instead, monoclonal antibodies, the same immune molecules often used in cancer treatments, are injected directly into the blood. They bypass the organ to block CGRP in the brain.

Four pharmaceutical companies have developed CGRP-blocking medicine for migraines, and based on their clinical trials, the shots relieve pain for periods ranging from one to two days to three months at a time. And unlike current treatments on the market, which include antidepressants and epilepsy medication as well as prescription pain relievers, the most noticeable side effect is pain at the injection site.

Two of the companies developing the drug, Amgen (in collaboration with Novartis) and Teva Pharmaceuticals, will know in June whether the drug has been approved by the FDA, while Eli Lilly and Alder Biopharmaceuticals plan to submit their medications for approval later in 2018. If they are made available to the public, the treatments will likely be pricey, falling in the range of $8000 to $18,000 a year for patients who get the shots once a month. And though there are hardly any side effects in the short term, the drugs haven't been studied enough for long-term side effects to emerge. For those reasons, the shots may work best as a last resort for migraine sufferers for whom all other treatments have failed.

[h/t NPR]

FDA Recalls Thyroid Medications Due to Contamination Risk

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Hypothyroid medications manufactured by Westminster Pharmaceuticals have been recalled after it was discovered that one of the company’s Chinese suppliers failed to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, CNN reports.

The oral tablets contain levothyroxine (LT4) and liothyronine (LT3), which are both synthetic hormones used to treat thyroid conditions.

The medicine was recalled as a precaution after it was discovered during a 2017 FDA inspection that the Chinese supplier in question, Sichuan Friendly Pharmaceutical Co., was not practicing good manufacturing practices.

However, patients with serious thyroid conditions shouldn’t throw out their pills just yet. No adverse effects from the medication have been reported, and the risk of not taking the medication outweighs the risk of taking a recalled pill.

According to the FDA, “Because these products may be used in the treatment of serious medical conditions, patients taking the recalled medicines should continue taking their medicine until they have a replacement product.”

For more information on the specific lots and products in question, visit the FDA’s website.

[h/t CNN]

A 'Zombie Gene' Might Be the Reason Elephants Rarely Get Cancer

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When it comes to cancer rates in the animal kingdom, elephants are an anomaly. As Popular Science notes, cancer should be more common among larger species, but with elephants, that simply isn’t the case. Only about 5 percent of elephants die from cancer, compared to 11 to 25 percent of humans.

In a new study, published in Cell Reports, University of Chicago researchers found what’s believed to be the genetic source of elephants’ cancer immunity. Elephants, like all mammals, have a gene called LIF that is known to suppress tumors. Humans have one copy of this gene, but elephants have 10 copies, which have developed over 80 million years of evolution. However, only one of those copies, called LIF6, is functional in elephants.

The other LIF copies are essentially dead because they lack a specific piece of DNA to make them function. At some point during the evolutionary process, the LIF6 gene copy turned back on, but scientists don’t know why or when this occurred. This “zombie gene” helps kill mutated cells, in true Night of the Living Dead fashion.

“This reanimation of LIF6 occurred perhaps over 59 million years,” Joshua Schiffman, who studies cancer in elephants but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science. “That’s an amazingly long period of time for nature to modify and perfect an anticancer mechanism.”

Scientists aren’t yet sure how this could be applied to cancer research in humans, but they say it’s a promising start and a creative approach to the problem. While these findings are still fresh and need to be duplicated, it raises the possibility of creating a drug that mimics the function of LIF6.

[h/t Popular Science]

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