Health Scan: Diabetes, exercising your mouth

Some diabetics will be able to inhale their insulin.

exubera 88 (photo credit: )
exubera 88
(photo credit: )
The Health Ministry will put Exubera, an inhaled form of insulin, on the fast track for approval after an application for its import is presented. The drug was recently okayed by the US Food and Drug Administration as the first alternative to injections for controlling blood sugar in diabetics since insulin was introduced in the 1920s. Diabetes experts said that while the Pfizer drug cannot be used by everybody and at all times, it would be a boon to Type I (autoimmune) diabetics, including children, who have to inject insulin several times a day, and to Type II diabetics who have been reluctant to inject themselves to control their blood sugar. Other pharmaceutical companies are busy developing their own brands of inhalable insulin. Exubera is not for everyone because the long-term risks to the lungs have not been properly tested, especially because Exubera causes a slight reduction in patients' ability to breathe, especially in patients with respiratory problems. The FDA recommends that it not be used by patients with pre-existing respiratory diseases, and that those who have been prescribed Exubera get their lung function tested before starting and then every half year to a year afterwards. Smokers or those who have quit within half a year should not use Exubera because their lungs absorb too much of it, making them laible to overdose. It has also not yet been approved for children. The insulin is delivered in a powdered, non-refrigerated protein form with pressurized air by a special inhalation device; most of the work was done by Nektar Therapeutics in California. (Insulin cannot be swallowed because gastric juices destroy it.) The device, when taken out of a case the size of an eyeglass holder, is three times as long and very visible, which may deter some patients. The price in the US has not yet been determined, but analysts predict it will cost two or three times as much as injected insulin. Most diabetics have Type 2, which is a lifestyle disease usually connected to lack of physical activity and overweight; the body does not effectively use its insulin to process blood sugar and gradually loses the ability to produce enough of it. Only a minority of Type 2 diabetes patients inject themselves, but some experts recommend this, especially if they do not control their sugar/insulin balance properly. Type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood after the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them, making the patient completely dependent on insulin injections. Exubera was approved by the FDA for adults with either type of diabetes, but is meant to be inhaled only at mealtimes, so Type I patients will still have to test their blood sugar levels and inject themselves with insulin once or twice a day, as will some of those with Type II. EXERCISING ONLY YOUR MOUTH Snacking and watching TV - especially major sports events - go together like ice cream and apple pie. Researchers at the US Calorie Control Council (yes, the US has such an institution - a non-profit association of companies that make low-calorie and reduced-fat foods and beverages,) say that Super Bowl Sunday is also the "Super Bowl" of snacking. On that one weekend, Americans eat almost 15 million kilos of snacks - mostly potato chips, tortilla chips, pretzels, popcorn and nuts. The average armchair quarterback will consume 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat just from snacking (excluding meals). Potato chips, the snacking favorite, will account for 27 billion calories and 1.8 billion grams of fat - which is equal to the weight of 13,000 National Football League offensive linemen. The council advises TV sportsmen to prefer no-fat and low-fat chips and dips. When it comes to dips, eat fat-free salsa, reduced-fat sour cream and no-fat yogurt instead of fatty alternatives. Add fresh vegetables to your tray for a healthy appetizer. Beth Hubrich, a council dietitian, recommends working out before settling in to watch the game. "For example, to burn off 1,200 calories from snacking during the Super Bowl, it would take three hours of walking around a football field, or 105 minutes of running. The non-profit Web site teaches how to lose weight and keep it off, while recipes for cutting fat and keeping the flavor" are available at SPERM ON THE LAUNCHING PAD Bar-Ilan University researchers have discovered something new about human, cow, rat and mouse sperm that promises to improve the treatment of male infertility and provide new male and female contraceptives. A new paper in a recent issue of Genes & Development lends novel insight into the cellular changes that occur in sperm while they reside in the female reproductive tract. It had been believed for decades that spermatozoa are "translationally silent." However, Dr. Yael Gur and Prof. Haim Breitbart now show that, in fact, protein translation does take place in mammalian sperm prior to fertilization. After ejaculation, sperm reside in the female reproductive tract for several hours. During this time, a number of biochemical changes take place within the sperm, collectively known as "capacitation" that render the sperm competent to penetrate and fertilize the female oocyte. In their new report, Gur and Breitbart demonstrate that such sperm all incorporate labeled amino acids into polypeptides during the capacitation phase. They identify that mitachondrial translation machinery (as opposed to cytoplasmic) directs translation of nuclear-encoded genes in sperm, and that its inhibition leads to a marked decrease in sperm motility and in-vitro fertilization rates. Thus, protein "translation" in sperm is essential for sperm functions that directly contribute to fertilization.