Better AIDS Cocktails

A newly approved medicine has enabled physicians to develop AIDS drug cocktails that are easier to take, cause fewer side effects and appear to work more effectively in children.

Over the past few years, drug combinations containing a breakthrough class of medicines called protease inhibitors have made AIDS a treatable disease. Yet some patients fail to benefit, largely because they cannot cope with taking 15 or 20 pills a day on a precise schedule.

Two new studies suggest that Sustiva, one of a new class of AIDS medicines, may actually work better. Sustiva, generically called efavirenz, was approved last year. It is already joining protease inhibitors as one of the first-line treatments for the AIDS virus.

Sustiva is taken once a day, while protease inhibitors often must be taken three times daily.

Two studies underscoring Sustiva's effectiveness were published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Defibrillator Implants

Implantable defibrillators, which shock a quivering heart back into a regular rhythm, strongly outperformed drugs in fending off cardiac arrest in a study of more than 700 patients.

Researchers said the study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, is bound to expand use of defibrillators, now implanted in roughly 100,000 patients. About the size of a beeper, they are inserted under the skin in the shoulder and connected by leads to the heart, restoring its normal beat in episodes of potential cardiac arrest.

The study involved 704 patients at 85 U.S. and Canadian hospitals who were suffering from coronary artery disease, irregular heartbeats and weakly pumping hearts. Defibrillators reduced the five-year risk of cardiac arrest by 76 percent over drugs.

Decoding Plant DNA

Scientists have decoded the DNA of a complete plant chromosome for the first time, a milestone in understanding the deepest secrets of the plant kingdom and a step toward developing improved crops.

Researchers unraveled the genetic structure of two chromosomes from Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the mustard family. That meant identifying millions of building blocks that make up the chromosomes.

Two research teams, one at the Institute of Genomic Research in Rockville and the other in Europe, published the results of their work in today's issue of the journal Nature.