Friday, September 14, 2007

Loneliness Is Detected At the Genetic Level

People are more likely to get sick and die young if they're lonely, and researchers said yesterday that they may have found out why -- their immune systems are haywire.

Researchers used a "gene chip" to look at the DNA of isolated people and found that people who described themselves as chronically lonely have distinct patterns of genetic activity, almost all of it involving the immune system.

The study, published online in the journal Genome Biology, does not show which came first, the loneliness or the physical traits. But it does suggest there may be a way to help prevent the deadly effects of loneliness, said Steve Cole, a molecular biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles who worked on the study.

"What this study shows is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes, the activity of our genes," Cole said.

The team worked with a group of volunteers who have been followed for years by John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago for research into the health effects of loneliness. Cole and Cacioppo's team studied 14 of these volunteers, six of whom scored in the top 15 percent of an accepted scale of loneliness. The other eight were the least lonely of the group.

All 22,000 human genes were studied and compared, and 209 stood out in the loneliest people, and "a big fraction of them seemed to be involved in the basic immune response to tissue damage," Cole said.

Studies have shown that people who describe themselves as lonely are more likely to die prematurely.

Misuse of Pain Drug Linked to Patient Deaths

Cephalon Inc. has warned doctors about deaths linked to improper use of Fentora, its drug for cancer pain, according to a letter from the firm posted on the Food and Drug Administration's Web site.

Cephalon spokeswoman Candace Steele said the company has received reports of three deaths related to inappropriate prescribing of the drug. The deaths occurred during the summer and were most likely due to respiratory failure, she said.

Two deaths were in patients who could not tolerate narcotics and were prescribed Fentora for headache or migraine. One death was associated with improper dosing, Steele said.

The FDA approved the drug in September 2006 for use only by cancer patients already taking morphine or other prescription narcotics for their pain. Fentora contains fentanyl, which is similar to morphine, but far more potent.

Salmon Are Coaxed To Produce Trout

Japanese researchers have put a new spin on surrogate parenting by engineering one fish species to produce another, in a quest to preserve endangered fish.

Idaho scientists attempt the next big step in October, when they will try to produce a type of salmon highly endangered in that state -- the sockeye -- this time using more plentiful trout as surrogate parents.

The new method is "one of the best things that has happened in a long time in bringing something new into conservation biology," said University of Idaho professor Joseph Cloud, who is leading the U.S.-funded sockeye project.

The Tokyo University inventors dubbed their method "surrogate broodstocking." They injected newly hatched but sterile Asian masu salmon with sperm-growing cells from rainbow trout and watched the salmon grow up to produce trout.

The success, described in today's edition of the journal Science, is capturing the attention of conservation specialists, who say new techniques are badly needed.

-- From News Services

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