Health Scan: Vioxx - gone but not forgotten

Researchers have found the drug can prevent headaches like those commonly felt during fasts such as Yom Kippur and Ramadan.

October 21, 2006 22:07
4 minute read.


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Exactly two years ago, the world's most popular arthritis and acute pain drug, Vioxx, was withdrawn after a major study found it increased risk for heart attack and stroke. But researchers nevertheless continued to study its effects, and a team at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer have found it and other COX-inhibitor drugs can prevent headaches like those commonly felt during fasts such as Yom Kippur and Ramadan. Dr. Michael Drescher and colleagues recently published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain the results of a study they conducted using the pain reliever. Drescher's team assembled a group of 105 people between 18 and 65, all of whom had a history of Yom Kippur headaches, to participate in a double-blind clinical trial. Half received 50 milligrams of rofecoxib (the generic name for the drug), while the rest received a placebo. All were asked to report whether they had headaches, their intensity and how they felt in general. Of those who received the drug, only 18.9 percent had headaches while fasting, compared with 65.4% of those who took the placebo. Those on Vioxx who did have headaches reported they were milder than those who took the placebo. But a couple of days after the study was finished, the Merck pharmaceutical company withdrew the drug from shelves around the world. Drescher does not recommend looking for illegal supplies, but believes other COX inhibitors that are still legal, such as Celebrex, may be just as helpful, even though it has shorter-term effects. In any case. COX inhibitors are prescription drugs, and a physician must be consulted. POMEGRANATE JUICE BOON Men who have prostate cancer may be able to prevent or delay a recurrence if they drink pomegranate juice, according to research at the University of California. They gave the juice on a regular basis to one group of survivors and none to a control group. The prostate-specific antigen in their blood, which is a marker for prostate cancer, was found to remain lower among those who drank the juice. Published in Clinical Cancer Research, the study induced Israel Cancer Association chairman Prof. Eliezer Robinson to note the ability of powerful antioxidants such as those in pomegranate juice to prevent the growth of tumors or shrink existing ones. "This study joins previous ones that clearly show eating vegetables and fruits containing antioxidants can help prevent the development of cancer. We call on the public to adopt a diet rich in vegetables and fruits." Antioxidants are found in abundance in yellow and red peppers, corn, melon, mango, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, watermelon, sweet potatoes, oranges, persimmons, clementines, broccoli, green grapes and kohlrabi. Eating produce of a variety of colors is best. A separate study at the University of Wisconsin, conducted on mice, found that pomegranate juice injected into the rodents suppressed human prostate cancer cells. RAMBAM'S PLEASANT SURPRISE Rambam Medical Center in Haifa had unpleasant surprises during the war in the North, when it was hit by Hizbullah rockets. But it has received a very pleasant surprise -- a $15 million donation from the Rappaport family of Switzerland, who have offered to build a new children's hospital building on campus. During the second week of the war, hospital director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar got a call from the Rappaports - for whom the Technion's medical faculty is named - and was asked what he would do if an anonymous donor gave the hospital a "generous sum." Beyar, who did not know who was planning on giving, referred the family to Prof. Amos Etzioni, head of the Mayer Children's Hospital on campus. LAUREATES GET RESEARCH GRANTS A total of $1.65 million in grants for cancer research will be awarded to 52 Israeli scientists for the 2006/07 academic year by the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) - the North American organization that underwrites promising cancer researchers. Profs. Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion, recipients of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, and Prof. Howard Cedar of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School lead the list of ICRF awardees. Each obtained ICRF professorships - the highest designation - and is receiving $50,000 a year for seven years. Hershko and Ciechanover were the first Israelis to receive the Nobel Prize in the sciences; their Nobel was for the discovery of the ubiquitin system of regulated protein degradation, which led to the drug Velcade for multiple myeloma (a cancer of the bone marrow). ICRF began funding their research in 1984. Cedar, a recipient of the Israel Prize in biology, is conducting pioneering research in DNA methylation - a molecular process that turns genes on and off. Research by another ICRF grant recipient, Prof. Eli Canaani of the Weizmann Institute, led to the development of the important cancer drug Gleevec, the first to directly target cancer cells, and which is now being used for leukemia. Canaani, whose studies have been funded by ICRF since 1981, is receiving an ICRF Project Grant of $30,000 per year for 2006/07 for his studies of the ALL-1 gene, which is directly involved in acute leukemia, particularly in infants. ICRF's scientific review panel, comprised of 36 physicians and cancer researchers from across the US and Canada, selects the recipient each year through a rigorous peer review process similar to that used by the US National Institutes of Health. Winners of ICRF's annual grants are Israel's most prominent and promising scientists, said ICRF chairman Dr. Yashar Hirshaut, a noted oncologist who is associate professor of Weill-Cornell Medical College-New York Hospital. In addition to the four noted above, these institutions this year are: Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Sheba Medical Center, the Hadassah Medical Organization and Tel Aviv University.

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