Health briefs: Curb eating with stomach pump, therapy for MS, oxytocin helps beat booze cravings

Curb eating with stomach pump

It's a stomach-turning idea, but an alternative to gastric bypass surgery detailed in a U.S. patent application could let overweight people eat and drink as much as they want and still lose weight.

The idea is to surgically install a valve into a patient's stomach and through their abdominal wall. This allows them to pump out some of their food 20 minutes after they eat. The system, built by Aspire Bariatrics of Philadelphia, is now in clinical trials. It has helped people lose an average of 44 pounds in a year, and some nearly twice that.

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Therapy for MS

It's been a long time coming. An antibody approved 20 years ago to treat leukemia has proved in two large clinical trials to be the best therapy yet for multiple sclerosis.

Certain immune cells cause MS by attacking nerve cells. The drug works by temporarily destroying those immune cells. When they grow back, they no longer attack other cells.

"It's like rebooting a computer," says Alasdair Coles from the University of Cambridge, who led one of the trials.

In both the two-year trials, the drug, alemtuzumab, outperformed the current standard treatment for the condition. Coles says the number of disease relapses was around 50 percent lower than in people on the standard drug. Brain scans showed people taking alemtuzumab had 50 percent fewer brain lesions than those on the standard treatment, and the rate of brain shrinkage - typically 2 percent per year in people with MS compared with 0.5 percent in healthy people - was restored to normal.

The manufacturer, Sanofi, based in Paris, has applied for approval to sell the drug for treating MS in the U.S. and Europe.

Oxytocin beats booze cravings

A whiff of "love hormone" may help people beat alcoholism.

Cort Pedersen, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his team gave 11 alcohol-dependent volunteers two daily doses of an oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo, during the first three days of a detox program. The volunteers also received lorazepam - a detox drug - when their withdrawal symptoms reached a specific level.

The oxytocin group had fewer alcohol cravings and milder withdrawal symptoms than the placebo group, and used just one-fifth of the lorazepam.

"Four (oxytocin) volunteers didn't need any lorazepam at all," says Pedersen.

This is good news because lorazepam is highly addictive. While it reduces anxiety and seizures during alcohol withdrawal, users can experience insomnia and cravings when they come off the drug.

Although it is unclear how oxytocin - famed for its role in social bonding - helps to aid withdrawal, it has no known side effects. Pedersen hopes alcoholics who take the hormone will therefore be less likely to experience the unpleasant symptoms that can lead to relapse.

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